On Dragon Spouts

I first noticed dragon spouts in Krakow, in the Wavel castle courtyard, and have kept an eye out for them since. You can just see them in the general view of this amazing courtyard, with it loggia supported on classical columns that are also Gothic colonnettes (Fig. 1).
Fig_01_Krakow_6029_DxO_rect_1000There are some amazing late gothic and art deco doorways here as well, but that is for another time. Like Krakow itself (before it was ruined by drunken youths from Northern Europe on cheap weekend booze-ups), they are evocative of the depths of central Europe, a long, long time ago, with the tartars/cossacks about to arrive at any moment from the steppes. They are everything that constipated classicism is not, and, since our subconscious architectural aesthetic still suffers from neoclassical/modernist constipation, they are generally considered not appropriate to serious architecture.

It would be wonderful to watch these spouts in action. The only time I have seen something similar is I think in a downpour in the Ducal palace at Urbino, but they were just pipes. Functionally they work, provided they are long enough, but building regulations today do not permit them as the primary means of shedding roof water as they threaten the foundations (and the neighbours). But as overflow pops …

Usually they are too high to see properly without a good zoom lens, but one in the lower courtyard at Schloss Ambras can be seen at relatively close quarters from the upper loggia just outside the Kunstkammer. There is a wonderfully romantic view past this to the main castle (Fig. 2).Fig_02_Schloss_Ambras_0086_1000

This one is remarkably sculptural, and has evidently been cast (Fig. 3).

There is an elaborate rusty clamp tying it to the cast pipe, and a very elaborate wrought iron brace (Fig. 4).Fig_04_b_Schloss_Ambras__0089_1000

Because of their length, dragon spouts necessarily have such braces.


Another is tucked away in a courtyard at Luzern (Fig. 5).Fig_05_Luzern_Dragon_0081_1000This seems to be of pressed metal, and, as at Schloss Ambras there is a tongue, which probably has a functional purpose to make the water flow out of the centre of the mouth. The dragon is crowned, and there is a kind of rudimentary tail or body curving up behind. There is a cross-form at the end; I am not sure if its is meant to be bent down like this. The wings are riveted on. Because of the extended overhang of the eaves, the pipe part is not very long. The wrought iron brace is much simpler than at Schloss Ambras, and very elegant (Fig. 6).Fig_06_Luzern_Dragon_0082_crop_1000

All of these dragon spouts make much of cursive pointed forms, which may as much reflect the medium as the imagery working in sheet metal it is impossible not to end up with lots of pointed curved offcuts!

But those at Krakow are in many ways the best, perhaps because of, rather than in spite of, the fact that they are more obviously ornamented pipes (Fig. 7).

Fig_07_Krakow_6068_1000The head seems to be of beaten metal, with wonderful ‘ears’ behind. These are very delicately made in sheet metal that seems to have been beaten over a form to get the ridges in the curved leaves, which are like the plumes of baroque stage costume (Fig. 8).Fig_08_Krakow_Ears_800

Then there is a section of simple tube, and two fish-wings. These seem to be more strongly in relief, as if the ribs are cast metal (Fig. 9).Fig_09_Krakow_Wings_800

The green colouring suggests that the material is copper, but there is some corrosion on the head and around the (evidently iron) bolts attaching the fish wings. There is quite elaborate flaring and riveting where the tube attaches to the gutters. There is no brace from beneath because of the huge overhang of the roof, and instead there is an iron rod at the top running at a shallow angle to an attachment point among the roof tiles that passes through a specially made opening in the snow barriers (Fig. 10).Fig_10_Strut_Krskow_6025_1000

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