25 July 2013

Talking Heads?

Locations of some heads are circled
Anton Teutenberg would have had no inkling when he departed Hüsten in Prussia on 11 March 1866 that he would be remembered almost 150 years later, in a small country on the other side of the world, for his stone carvings of famous people and gargoyles.

Born on 4 December 1840, Ferdinand Anton Nicolaus Teutenberg was the son of Ludwig Teutenberg, a gunsmith to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia. It was his brother Frederick, who had travelled to New Zealand with Gustavus von Tempsky (a fellow Prussian, and a soldier and painter of some repute), who convinced Anton to come to New Zealand with his two sisters and a nephew.

Perhaps to amuse himself during the long trip out from England, on the Clyde-built ship the Rob Roy, Anton carved some wooden scrollwork for the ship captain’s gig. It was an auspicious amusement, as the captain showed the work to local architect Edward Rumsey, who was impressed enough subsequently to commission Teutenberg to prepare some carvings for Auckland city’s new Supreme Court (now the Auckland High Court) in Waterloo Quadrant in the central city.

The Duke and Duchess of Kent

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Though he was an engraver by trade and had never carved in stone before, Teutenberg was paid 15 shillings a piece for a series of limestone heads of foreign and local dignitaries to adorn the label-stops of the grand new building, which sported imposing Gothic-style castellated towers.

According to an article in the Evening Post of 12 October 1926, Teutenberg ‘began with the figures on the colonnade, and moulded the figures of the Duke and Duchess of Kent (father and mother of Queen Victoria), Queen Victoria herself and her beloved Prince Albert, Lord Westbury and Lord Chief Justice Campbell, from sketches and photographs supplied by the architect.’ 

As well as these six heads, the portico features two more, ten heads adorn the windows high on the western side of the building (the side now enclosed in the foyer of the modern extension to the court building), and still others adorn the windows of the tall central tower. I counted thirty heads but there may be more as I can’t see the back part of the central tower. There are, in fact, some duplications: there’s a particularly grumpy-looking woman who’s been reproduced three times, there are two Queen Victorias, and two heads of Blind Justice, amongst others.

The three grumpy old women

The two Queen Victorias

The identification of many of these heads remains uncertain - if only they could talk. In his New Zealand Sculpture, author Michael Dunn states that the other heads included people of importance in New Zealand’s early history, twice-governor Sir George Grey and Edward Gibbon Wakefield. An Auckland Star article, dated 15 February 1936, says Teutenberg

girdled the building with a series of heads, including those of judges many of whom in the present day cannot be identified. There must have been a streak of Puckish humour in this artist of the 'sixties, for it is shown clearly in his arrangement of some of the figures and his personification of some characters, which may even be caricatures. Bossing the label moulds of the Gothic arches at the side of the portico are the partnered heads of Socrates and the Maori warrior Hone Heke, while below them are two other heads similarly opposite in character.

Though Teutenberg himself considered the carvings no more than a hobby, he went on to carve similar heads for at least two more Auckland buildings, the Shortland Street Post Office (now-demolished but catalogued in wonderful detail by local historian Lisa Truttman in her Timespanner blog) and the Pitt Street Methodist Church (watch out for a future blog). 

The simple lines of his work betray his exceptional artist ability, and Supreme Court architect Rumsey was so pleased with Teutenberg’s heads that he then gave the sculptor free reign to design the remarkable gargoyles that adorn the rest of the building … but that, as they say, is another story.

Possibly Lord Westbury and Lord Chief Justice Campbell

Identities unknown

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