Two new fragments of cornice are displayed on the classical cornice of the Main Galleries, built by Sydney Smirke when the Royal Academy of Arts moved to Burlington House in 1868. Although at first glance the cornices appear non-figurative and apparently unrelated, closer inspection reveals their profiles to be the coastlines of Essex and Cornwall which have simply been extruded.
The cornices can still be read as abstract objects. But to those who recognise the shape of their profile, they appear as architectural elements with a specific meaning that connects to personal myths and biographies: a trip to the seaside, childhood holiday or simply part of everyday life.
The components of classical architectural decoration have been variously described as originating in timber construction principles, in Grecian sacrificial rituals and in stories of warfare, combat and territory. In The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture for instance, George Hershey described the mouldings, capitals and dental courses of classicism as representing the decapitated heads, removed teeth and bones of military prisoners and the their profiles as a method of draining blood from sacrificial altars.
Whilst the specific meanings of these historical forms may be lost to us today, we are perhaps free to speculate on new ones, developing alternative origin myths relating to contemporary life. These artworks explore the capacity for seemingly abstract mouldings to contain explicit narrative and symbolic meaning. The pieces also explore scale, shrinking large-scale objects into small ones and thus question the ideas of human proportion at the heart of classical architecture.
[From Origins: A Project by Ordinary Architecture]