"This picture was taken early on a foggy autumnal morning, and when I enhanced the colouring, this wonderful yellow emerged." J J Marshall
URBANPIX CAPTION for this Oxford card:
When Christopher Wren built the Sheldonian Theatre, he commissioned 14 stone heads from William Byrd who was a mason and stonecutter working in nearby Holywell. The heads were made of good quality Headington freestone, and were completed in 1669. Each is a head-and-shoulders sculpture of a male with a beard, placed on a tall square pillar. One theory is that they are ‘termains’ or boundary marks named after ‘Terminus’ the Roman god of boundaries. No one knows for certain who the heads were meant to represent. They have been variously called the Apostles or the Philosophers, but most commonly they are called the Emperors. Each head has a different beard and it has also been suggested they represent a history of beards.
In the early 1700s, one of the heads had to be removed to make way for the Clarendon Building, but the remaining 13 lasted 200 years until they were replaced in 1868. Unfortunately, the replacements were made of poor quality stone and gradually eroded until they were called ‘the faceless Caesars’ and were taken down in 1970. The third and current set of heads is made of durable Clipsham stone and each head weighs one ton. They were commissioned from Oxford sculptor Michael Black. He took two years to complete the commission, and they were erected in October 1972.