Art and Architecture in Medieval France: Medieval Architecture, Sculpture, Stained Glass, Manuscripts, the Art of the Church Treasuries

By Whitney S. Stoddard | Go to book overview
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Evolution of Romanesque Architecture

OVER A HUNDRED YEARS of experimentation and gradual evolution lie behind the churches just discussed. Indeed, Romanesque as a whole is an extension and refinement of architectural ideas that date from the Early Christian era. The basilican plan, with its emphasis on simple horizontal massing, was the creation of the Early Christians in the fourth century, based largely on the transformation of the pagan Roman civic basilica. This longitudinal plan was gradually modified during and after the Carolingian period (late eighth and ninth centuries) by the addition of the soaring west façade, crossing tower, and monastic choir. But it was the tenth and eleventh centuries which witnessed the development of vaulted naves, ambulatories with radiating chapels, and more complex compositions of massing. In order to point up this evolution within Romanesque times (late tenth to early twelfth centuries), five interiors of naves, four exteriors, and four Provençal cloisters will be analyzed.

The nave of the priory of Saint-Etienne at Vignory (fig. 65) was constructed in the first half of the eleventh century. With its wooden, trussed roof and clerestory windows, Vignory is a somewhat belated extension into Champagne in eastern France of architectural ideas developed in the Carolingian and Ottonian empires. With the exception of the vaulted Palatine Chapel of Charlemagne at Aachen (late eighth century) and its copies, Carolingian monasteries continued the unvaulted tradition of Early Christian architecture. Semidomes over the apse and groins in the narthex and two-story chapels of the western massing were the only vaulted sections of longitudinally planned churches. Vignory does not contain any alternation of piers and columns which characterizes Saint Michael's at Hildesheim (early eleventh century) or Gernrode of the tenth century. Rather, Vignory has continuous square nave piers which support a doubled and arched false gallery opening into the aisles. Clerestory windows and a wooden roof illuminate and enclose the nave.

In contrast to Vignory, the nave and aisles of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou ( 1001-1026,

fig. 66
) are vaulted with barrel vaults supported by two sets of four shafts separated by two piers. The barrel vaults over the aisles buttress the slightly higher barrel of the nave. The nave arcade springs from simple capitals upheld by thin, short columns. Light enters the church only through small windows in the outside walls. Canigou is one of hundreds of small vaulted churches which can be found in northern Spain, on both sides of the Pyrenees, along the northern shores of the Mediterranean, and in northern Italy. This first Romanesque style, Premier Art Roman, extending from the 950's to the early eleventh century, is characterized by a simple basilican plan and vaulted nave and aisles, each terminating in an apse (see fig. 71 for the exterior of Canigou). Most churches of this early date are small, but, unlike their Carolingian and early Ottonian predecessors, they are vaulted.

The interior of the chapel over the narthex of Saint-Philibert at Tournus (figs. 67, 68) exhibits developing Romanesque forms. This part of Tournus was constructed between 1028 and 1056 and is thus one generation later than Canigou.


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Art and Architecture in Medieval France: Medieval Architecture, Sculpture, Stained Glass, Manuscripts, the Art of the Church Treasuries
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