New Approaches to Medieval Architecture

By Labrecque, Claire | Canadian Journal of History, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

New Approaches to Medieval Architecture


Labrecque, Claire, Canadian Journal of History


New Approaches to Medieval Architecture, edited by Robert Bork, William W. Clark, and Abby McGehee. AVISTA Studies in the History of Medieval Technology, Science and Art, volume 8. Burlington, Vermont, Ashgate, 2011. xiii, 244 pp. $119.95 US (cloth).

This book is the eighth volume of the Studies in the History of Medieval Technology, Science and Art series published by AVISTA (Association Villard de Honnecourt for Interdisciplinary Study of Medieval Technology, Science and Art), a scholarly organization whose main purpose is to promote the study of medieval works of art and architecture relating to the practical sciences or technology. The articles in this volume result from conference papers presented by AVISTA members at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, between 2007 and 2009. The book containing sixteen articles is divided into four sections which reflect as many different interpretative strategies for the study of medieval architecture. The introduction traces the main landmarks in the development of medieval--although mostly Gothic--architectural history in the second half of the twentieth century. The new approaches in the field come as a breath of fresh air after fifty years during which architectural historians first drew particular attention to the formal and aesthetic aspects of medieval architecture, then shifted their interest towards a more inclusive conception of architecture they saw further as a social space, and finally--in the last decade of the twentieth century--made the "cultural and technical environment" of architecture a key point of focus.

The unquestionable experience of the editors--distinguished architectural historians Robert Bork, William W. Clark, and Abby McGehee--is undoubtedly perceptible in the way they quite cleverly grouped the articles illustrating the current state of research, certainly a difficult task on account of the authors' varied approaches and goals. In Part 1, "Re-assessing the Master of Narratives of Medieval Architecture," the authors propose a revaluation of the past categorization and discourses on Byzantine (N. Camerlenghi and V. Marinis) and French Gothic. churches (E. Shortell and S. Murray) in the light of recent discoveries resulting from the use of new technologies. In Part 2, "The Patronage and Institutional Context of Medieval Architecture," it is more about the intentions of patrons and artists beyond the material evidence, which are highlighted by the authors (W.W. Clark and T.G. Waldman; C.F. Barnes Jr. and M.M. Reeve) quite efficiently using surviving primary sources such as liturgical records, charters, drawings and "courtesy literature." Part 3, "Geometry and Workshop Practice in Medieval Architecture," explores aspects of workshop practices related to medieval architecture such as the standardization of the stone cutting in the making of column statues (J.E. Snyder), the empirical versus the scientific planning of space as a conscious choice in the planning of church design (N. Hiscock and S. Van Liefferinge), and Villard de Honnecourt's dual conception of architecture resulting from the combination of the information he gleaned in the Reims Cathedral building workshop with his imagination (R. Bork). Part 4, "New Technologies for the Study of Medieval Architecture," examines the contribution of modern tools and techniques such as ground-penetrating radars (V. Paul, S. Udphuay, M. Everett and R. Warden), photogrammetric technique (H. Titus), computer-controlled lasers and scanners (L. Reilly, C. Keller and E. Triplett, A. Tallon), and visualization technology (M.

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