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 26
Rayonnant Architecture

SAINT-DENIS

WITH the pronounced differences between High Gothic and fifteenth-century Flamboyant Gothic in mind, it is necessary to discuss the Rayonnant monuments which exhibit new directions in design in the 1230's and the 1240's. One of the earliest examples of the Rayonnant style is comprised by the new superstructure of the choir, the transepts, and the nave of Saint-Denis (figs. 341, 342). Abbot Suger had been unable to fulfill his dream of rebuilding the Royal Abbey. He had completed a new narthex in 1140 and a new choir in 1144, but the Carolingian nave, which was to have been replaced, remained as the connecting link between these two Early Gothic fragments (figs. 128, 138). Before Suger's death in 1151, foundations for a new nave were started; yet financial problems and other difficulties within the monastery caused work in the nave to be suspended.

The finances of Saint-Denis improved in the 1220's and were augmented by gifts from the kings of France. A new building campaign started in the choir in 1231 (see bibliography: Crosby and Branner) or earlier (see bibliography: Frankl) with the construction of four new piers in the crypt and the reconstruction of the piers and the main arcade of the choir. According to Branner, work progressed rapidly in the 1230's, and by 1237 the north transept arm and most of the choir were completed. In 1241, when work was again suspended, the choir and transept were virtually finished and the lower parts of the nave were under construction. During the 1240's and 1250's the altars in Suger's choir were redecorated and the transept glazed (see Branner). Work resumed on the nave in the 1260's, and the final dedication took place in 1281.

Pierre de Montreuil is mentioned in a charter of 1247 as a "mason of (or from) St. Denis," and for many years scholars assumed him to have been the architect of the thirteenth-century building campaign. But Pierre de Montreuil is not given the title of Master of the Works in the charter, and little if any building was going on at Saint-Denis in the 1240's; therefore Branner argues that Pierre de Montreuil was not the architect responsible for the design of the thirteenth-century campaign. There are striking similarities between the superstructure of the choir of the Cathedral of Troyes, begun in 1228 after a hurricane had damaged the structure, and Saint-Denis, begun in 1231. On the basis of these similarities Branner argues that the so-called "Saint-Denis master" was responsible for the new design of Troyes Cathedral and the design of Saint-Denis after 1232 or 1233. Branner believes that this Saint-Denis master began his career in Paris, went to Troyes in 1228, and then took over the workshop of Saint-Denis in 1232 or 1233 after another master had finished the piers of the choir. This Saint-Denis master was responsible for the design and construction of choir and transept and the beginnings of the nave. Branner states that the Saint-Denis master designed the royal chapel at Saint-Germain-en Laye in 1238. Further, in the stylistic connections between Troyes ( 1228), Saint- Denis ( 1232 or 1233), and Saint-Germain-en-Laye ( 1238), Branner sees the evolution of a single architect. The fact that these three buildings are, according to Branner, completely different from the

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