The Cat’s Eye?

One of my favourite shapes of windows is that which in French is called ‘oeil-de-boeuf’ but which is anglicised into ‘bull’s eye’ and Italianised in ‘occhio di bue’.

It’s a small circular, or oval-shaped, window which is usually placed between the roof and the last floor of the house and is generally either grated in or glassed in. Its purpose is to lighten the attic storey of a house or, if there’s no glass in it, to provided added ventilation to the ‘soffitta’.

‘L’occhio di bue’ is a classic feature of Italian renaissance architecture. Indeed it’s also a major feature in its gothic architecture where the ‘rosone’ (or rose -window) can be gorgeously elaborate traceried. We saw a beautiful example of a rosone at the front of San Giusto cathedral on our recent visit to Trieste.

Amazingly, one of the largest bull’s eye windows is not to be found on the facade of any gothic or renaissance building but in the centre of the roof of that greatest of classical Roman buildings, the Pantheon, where, termed ‘oculus (the eye), it’s used glass-less to lighten the whole of this extraordinary building. I’ve been there when it was raining and it was a fantastic sensation to hear the drops descending from the oculus on to the marble floor of this two thousand year old building just as it would have done in Imperial Roman times.

There are variants of the ‘occhio di bue’ window – so many of which may be seen in the country villas around Lucca and in Luccan palazzi themselves. (Indeed, in Bagni di Lucca itself). These windows can also be hexagon or cusped. The oval shape, too, can be either vertically or horizontally inclined.

In the UK this high attractive window shape realized its most widespread use in the Georgian architecture of the eighteenth century.

We noticed on a house front in the Tuscan landscape this cat who was happily adapting the ‘bull’ eye’ window for its own special purpose: that of gazing on the world as it passed by. In that case should not this window also be termed ‘l’occhio del gatto?’ – the cat’s eye? What a lucky cat I thought!




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