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 32
Art of the Treasuries of Monasteries and Cathedrals

IN RELEGATING the discussion of the art of the treasuries of monasteries and cathedrals to the last part of this study, I have not intended to imply that the objects are of less artistic merit. In Part I, the enamel of Christ in Majesty ( Paris, Musée de Cluny, fig. 114) was compared with the monumental tympanum of Vézelay (fig. 111) and the frescoed mural of Berzé-la-Ville (fig. 112) and a manuscript folio (fig. 113) to point up the homogeneity of the Romanesque style in various media and in different sizes. To be sure, this small enamel is later in date (about 1175) and represents the extension into the second half of the twelfth century of the Romanesque point of view. However, the comparison was not a qualitative one. In Part III the silver-gilt statuette of Saint Stephen, 17 inches high (The Cloisters collection, fig. 317), was compared with the contemporary monumental stone statues of the Beau Dieu on the trumeaux of Chartres and Amiens cathedrals (figs. 318, 319). The statuette, probably made about 1220 in the valley of the Meuse River under the influence of French High Gothic sculpture, is a superb piece of metal- work, the equal of the stone sculptures in quality. Further, the ivory Coronation of the Virgin in the Louvre (fig. 327) possesses a subtlety of Gothic form similar to the tympana of the Coronation of the Virgin of Chartres and Moutiers-Saint-Jean (figs. 324, 326) and the miniature of the same subject in a Book of Hours (fig. 325).

The whole distinction between the major and minor arts is a nineteenth-century invention and did not exist in the Middle Ages. The goldsmith, the enameler, the illuminator, and the sculptor in stone were all equally important as artists creating objects for the Christian liturgy. As Hanns Swarzenski points out ( Monuments of Romanesque Art, 1953, pp. 12-13):

It is therefore a mistake to see in these productions mere substitutes or reflections of lost or damaged works on a grand scale, as is often done. Just as there is no distinction to be made between "minor" and "major" arts, thus the terms "Monumental" and "small" cannot be applied to these works; the monumental quality of this period is in no sense determined by size. There are frescoes and stone reliefs that have the minute subtlety and precision of miniatures, ivory carvings, and metal engravings; and there are book paintings, silver-gilt statuettes, ivories, and metal engravings which show the broad summary handling of wall paintings and stone sculptures. Of course, it is only in the true size of the original in which the artist expressed himself that the suggestive power of the whole design of these works can be fully experienced. But the point is that even so these works, no matter how tiny they may be, stand enlargement to many times their size without distortion. In fact, it is often only through such enlargements that their whole hidden artistic richness and the fullness of their imaginative world can be revealed.

In a certain sense it is the heritage of the Barbarians, the Northern tribes, that this art, at least at its beginnings, consists almost exclusively of small movable objects of precious materials. But it would be a mistake to approach merely as objets d'art these works executed in the more refined techniques of gold, filigree, jewels, gems, pearls, enamel and niello. Their material extravagance was not the result of the mere love of powerful ecclesiastical and secular lords for display and ostentation: Ars auto gemmisque prior reads the

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