The Origins of Medieval Architecture: Building in Europe, A.D. 600-900

By Hodges, Richard | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2006 | Go to article overview

The Origins of Medieval Architecture: Building in Europe, A.D. 600-900


Hodges, Richard, The Catholic Historical Review


The Origins of Medieval Architecture: Building in Europe, A.D. 600-900. By Charles B. McClendon. (New Haven: Yale University Press. Pp. xii, 264 with 175 b/w and 35 color plates. $65.00.)

This accessible and well-illustrated book provides a thoughtful overview of the history of architecture between the later Roman period and A.D. 1000. Dedicated to the memory of Richard Krautheimer, it in fact brings to mind Krautheimer's seminal volume on the architecture of the Byzantine world as well as Kenneth Conant's companion volume on Carolingian and Romanesque architecture. Indeed, in many ways this is a shorter, updated version of these two great volumes squeezed comfortably into 208 handsomely illustrated pages.

Part one reviews the legacy of "late antiquity," the Roman response to the cult of relics, Romanitas and the barbarian West, and the Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England. Part two focuses principally upon the Carolingian era and its aftermath in six chapters which include a review of the eighth century, the impact of Rome on Charlemagne's Aachen, private patronage and personal taste, the monastic realm, the innovation of later Carolingian architecture, and an epilogue that examines the architecture at the turn of the millennium in terms of the foregoing history. These contents illustrate immediately that, notwithstanding the reference to the new discoveries thanks to recent medieval archaeology in the introduction, this is essentially a history of ecclesiastical architecture following closely the works of great masters such as Krautheimer. Moreover, if there is one point that reveals the author's thesis, it is to be found on page 195, where, in sum, he argues that early medieval architecture evolved in response to the later Roman cult of relics. Over time this architecture was fashioned in "an array of shapes, sizes, and decorative textures" by the Franks, Lombards, Visigoths, and Anglo-Saxons, all of whom, McClendon contends, sought to emulate Roman techniques. So, he concludes tellingly "the so-called Carolingian Renaissance . . . marked a shift in degree rather than kind." In other words, while he identifies the new architectural forms of the era after c. …

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