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

CHAPTER 6
Variety in Romanesque Architecture

IN SPITE OF the improved communication which the pilgrimages to the grave of Saint James Major in Spain and the Crusades to the Holy Land afforded, Romanesque architecture in France remains strongly regional. The "pilgrimage family" of churches -- Santiago de Compostela, Saint-Sernin at Toulouse, Sainte-Foy at Conques (plus Limoges and Tours, now destroyed) -- are exceptions to the localism of Romanesque times. These churches with the same plan, massing, and dimensions of interior space obviously reflect the international or interregional nature of the pilgrimage. Certain Cluniac ideas also extended beyond the borders of Burgundy, and the strict planning and unadorned surfaces of Cistercian monasteries, in emphasis of the dictates of Saint Bernard, became international. Yet French Romanesque architecture in its entirety was rooted in the local region and reflected the fragmentation of political authority in this period. The Capetians controlled small but rich areas around Paris, while the dukes of Burgundy, Aquitaine, Auvergne, Poitou, and Provence had only loose ties of allegiance to the king of France.

This chapter will make no attempt to discuss each local region, but rather by comparisons of interiors and exteriors suggest the extraordinary variety of imaginative solutions which can be seen in a small selection from the thousands of Romanesque monuments in present-day France.

The treatment of interior spaces is quite different in various geographic areas. Melle (fig. 80, first half of twelfth century) is one of hundreds of small churches in western France ( Poitou-Saintonge). It is vaulted by three barrel vaults, one capping the nave and the other two over the aisles. These hall churches rely on high windows in the exterior walls and indirect light reflecting from the vaults. Piers often consist of clusters of half- columns integrated with the transverse ribs across aisles and nave (fig. 80). A slightly different kind of Poitivin interior with barrel vault over the nave and groin-vaulted aisles can be seen in Saint- Savin-sur-Gartempe (fig. 120, discussed later in Chapter 7). The interior of Notre-Dame-la- Grande at Poitiers has the vaulting system of Saint-Savin, but compound piers similar to those at Conques and Toulouse.

In marked contrast with the interior spaces of Melle are the spaces of Souillac (about 1130, fig. 81). Here space is defined in three cubes crowned by domes. Souillac is one of the seventy-odd churches in western France (about half of them in the Périgord region) which are without aisles and have domes on pendentives, or spherical triangles. Along the sides of the aisieless nave, the walls of Souillac are articulated with blind arcades supporting a narrow exposed gallery and are perforated by clerestory windows above. The square bays, marked by the transverse arches and wall arches over clerestory windows, possess a spatial independence which completely alters the usual rhythms of Romanesque architecture. Just why this dome solution was popular in western and southwestern France has never been definitely determined. Contact with Byzantine buildings, such as San Marco in Venice, or a connection with the island of Cyprus, from which the Bishop of Cahors came, might explain the phenomenon. In spite of the possible influence of Byzantine forms, Souillac states its Romanesque character by the display of massive walls in multiple planes.

-63-

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