Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Romanesque Treasures of Catalonia

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Romanesque Treasures of Catalonia

Article excerpt

ARTISTIC styles tend to be strongly associated with the countries where they originated (as in the case of Renaissance art in Italy or the Gothic style of northern France) or with the countries where their most important works were produced (such as Baroque painting in Spain).

But styles are also associated with certain countries for other reasons. Thus the Romanesque style is associated with Catalonia although, judged in terms of the numbers of high quality works found there, Gothic would seem to be a more representative Catalan style. Furthermore, many works of architecture, sculpture and painting from the Romanesque period in Catalonia largely inspired by foreign models from southern France and, especially, from northern Italy.

Catalonia's association with Romanesque art stems from the fact that the country's historical origins and the affirmation of its nationhood date from the tenth and eleventh centuries. There are two factors in the art of this period which, I believe, explain this sense of beginning and affirmation. These are an early form of Romanesque based on the indigenous forms of a previous tradition, and an internationalist ambition.

The pre-Romanesque tradition

Apart from the main trends in Romanesque architecture represented by the Lombard style of northern Italy, remarkable buildings were being constructed in Catalonia in the early decades of the eleventh century which continued an earlier style.

A major monument such as the monastery church of Sant Pere de Rodes at Gerona, consecrated in 1022, represents a continuation f the great international architecture of the previous century, the most typical example of which is the church of Sant Miquel at Cuxa, on the northern slope of the Pyrenees, which was associated with the Benedictine abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, France.

Sant Pere de Rodes church is notable for the presence of classical architectural features, such as the superposed order of the columns and the monumental quality of the construction. This continuation of pre-Romanesque art is also represented by two outstanding early eleventh-century illuminated bibles from the monasteries at Rodes and Ripoll, which are preserved, respectively, in the Bibliothique Nationale, Paris, and the Vatican Library, Rome.

Meanwhile, the architectural trend from Lombardy reached Catalonia and became widely influential. The Lombard type of construction dominates the architectural landscape of the early Romanesque period in Catalonia with such remarkable buildings as the church of Sant Pere de Casserres, the monastery of Santa Maria at Ripoll, and the building which is to my mind the paradigm of this style, the collegiate church of Sant Vicenc at Cardona (Barcelona). Inspiration from Italy and France

The international character of Romanesque art is another feature which associates it with Catalonia, whose outwardlooking spirit during the Romanesque period was an expression of political and religious assertiveness. This is reflected in the importance of religious centres such as Ripoll and Cuxa and the cathedrals of Vich, Gerona and Barcelona. These were cultural centres of European importance frequented by people like Pletro Orseolo (991-1008), Duke of Venice, and the monk Gerbert of Aurillac (c. 945-1003), who became Pope Sylvester U.

Catalan Romanesque sculpture and the best Catalan Romanesque painting also reveal foreign influences. The chief examples reflect Italian and French styles but sometimes there is also a short-lived Islamic influence. …

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