|The spandrels in the middle arch were splendid!|
A spandrel, in architecture,is the space between two arches or between an arch and a rectangular enclosure.
On the Pitt Street facade of the GPO in Martin Place, the architect, James Barnet, commissioned the Italian sculptor, Tomaso Sani, to create a series of basso-relievo in the spandrels of the arches of the ground floor arcade. Barnet wanted the carvings to show the practical side of the operation of a Post Office.
|The carvings represented: Telegraph, Literature, the Press, Professions, Commerce, and Mining.|
Even before they were finished, the carvings came under attack and Barnet was accused of a lack of aesthetic taste and professional judgement. A bitter debate ensued for more than seven years. The affair was an example of the type of cultural cringe that existed in colonial society in the nineteenth century.
|The spandrels also represented Agriculture, Pastoral, Science, Art, Banking, and the Post Office.|
It reflected the division between the elitists in all things English and the supporters of an emerging Australian culture building its own traditions. The idea that a great public building might not follow slavishly in the Classical tradition was abhorrent to some self-appointed arbiters of taste. Barnet and Sani were attacked in the press, and in the parliament. The criticism was seldom objective and often abusive. The entire kerfuffle was finally put to bed by Henry Parkes who gave the self-appointed arbiters of taste a right 'serve' in the parliament.
Today, most passersby do not even notice the carvings and would find them innocuous if they bothered to look up.