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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  December 2000

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION December 2000

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Subject:

Climax Architecture [<Millenialism and the Antichrist]

From:

Christopher Crockett <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 22 Dec 2000 09:39:51 MST

Content-Type:

text/plain

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[sloane]>They're two distinctly different art historical periods (the churches
look very different), with the beginning of the Gothic usually traced to
Sugar's work at S. Denis (c. 1137).

[landes] >i'm fully aware of the differences. my point is that, starting in
ca.1000, a wave of church building that seeks to enclose the largest and
brightest space begins, that, riding a continuous wave of technological
improvement and economic growth, passes thru two distinct but closely linked
stylistic phases.

[landes] >i was actually looking for a term that cd encompass both gothic and
romanesque as a recogniton that they are part of the same "elan" (so for the
architectural and artistic styles of the 11th to 15th cns).

Pat's certainly right that a "Romanesque" church looks very different 
from a "Gothic" one, and i certainly *know* a gothic church when i see one.

and Richard's right to imply that their "elans" are essentially the same;
though if anyone else used a squishie term like "elan" in a serious
discussion, i'd bet he'd be the first to jump all over their case.

hard to know which end of this stick to pick up.

not least because i'm *way* out of the loop, in terms of recent research
literature, up with which i have not kept.

just a few stray thoughts:

i *think* that the idea that Suger's St. Denis (west front and lower choir)
was *The* "Beginning" of Gothic
has been, in recent decades, if not "discredited,"  at least subjected to a
rather severe re-thunking.

beautiful building, important in the development of what we may, ex post
facto, reconstruct as the "Gothic" stylistic sequence, and (perhaps even more
significant) extraordinarily --*uniquely*-- well documented it certainly
was/is.

but, the situation on the ground in the late 11th and early 12th cc. is now
shaping up to be *much* more complicated than was previously thought,
especially once one wanders off the well-beaten path of the "Major Monuments"
(upon which, by definition, survey writers like Jansen and his continuators
must firmly trod).

i don't think that i ever met Larry Hoey nor do i know his work, though his
name does sound very familiar and his death is certainly to be regretted, not
least because he was, apparently, a significant scholar in this area.    

by my lights, however, the fellow who was supposed to put a large part of the
pieces of this puzzle together for this generation was Stephen Gardner. 
Unfortunately he also died, a few years ago, having just begun to publish his
ideas and the results of his research (he was perhaps just  a bit older than
Hoey), which was significantly characterized by his throwing a very much
larger net of monuments to look at than had been the scholarly custom in most
of the last century (surviving smaller churches being sometimes --often-- the
only faint echoes remaining of the 
realities of the more important, grander ones which have been lost 
through rebuilding and vandalism).

and i'm a very poor substitute for either of those fellows, indeed, when it
comes to this question.

my primary quarrel with the idea that what we have here is " two distinct but
closely linked stylistic phases" lies with the very use of the (modern) terms
"Gothic" (first used in the renaissance, i believe, but popularized in the
English and French speaking worlds by Christopher 
Wren) and "Romanesque" (a 19th c. French concept --Prosper Merimée??).

talk about a "tyranical construct."

first of all, the two "styles" are *not* really chronologically 
sucessive.

as an american politician, thoroughly trained in Art History, said a few years
ago, "All architecture is Local."

one mind-strangling (or -freeing) way of looking at the stylistic 
sequence we term "gothic" is to say that it is/was, in fact, the indigenous
"romanesque" architecture peculiar to the Paris basin (where almost all of the
early monuments have been lost).

and, particularly, of the Soissonaise and the valley of the Oise (where *many*
surviving "secondary" sites --priory and "parochial" churches-- testify to the
fertile proliferation of this unique architectural form language).

to take just one example among many, the beautiful, medium-sized church 
of Morienval
(http://www.beloit.edu/~arthist/historyofart/romanesque/morienval.htm --priory
of Cluny??) is possessed of a chevet with a sort of peculiar "ambulatory"
--about two and a half feet wide, as i recall, hardly suffient for any serious
ambling-- which is vaulted with quite lovely, "archaic" *rib* vaults
(http://www.beloit.edu/~arthist/historyofart/romanesque/morienval.htm ),
structurally a *totally* unnecessary and expensive state of affairs, best
explained (to my mind, anyway) by an overpowering, *essential* need to
manifest the "proper" sort of chevet, in the form language (almost an
architectural iconography here) of the region.

"Here, *this* is what the working end of a church should look like," no matter
what the structural necessities dictate or would allow one to get away with.

and, note, round arches throughout.  

therefore, obviously, a "romanesque" building. 

(other examples are to be seen on that very nice annonymous beloit site:
http://www.beloit.edu/~arthist/historyofart/romanesque/acy.htm
http://www.beloit.edu/~arthist/historyofart/romanesque/beauvetienne.htm
http://www.beloit.edu/~arthist/historyofart/romanesque/parischamps.htm

etc., *all* of them predating St. Suger's work at St. Denis.

[sloane] >Gombrich … probably as out of fashion as Focillon, though that
doesn't particularly bother me.

sorry, I (and perhaps not Leah, either) did not mean to imply that Focillon
was "out of fashion" in any general sense -just his that his 
Year 1000 book is a bit funkie.  Focillon and his legacy live on, especially
through his many students -e.g., the late George Kubler in 
this country (Focillion came to Yale in 1939 or so and got stuck over here,
where he died a year or two later) and the late Gothic specialist Jean Bony
(who ended up at Berkeley).

[landes] >i was actually looking for a term that cd encompass both gothic and
romanesque as a recogniton that they are part of the same "elan" (so for the
architectural and artistic styles of the 11th to 15th cns).

well, if you really *must* give a name to the ineffable, how's about "Climax
Architecture"?

as in a "Climax" ecosystem.

could be a vast sea of prairie grass (U.S. great plains); or another
remarkably homogenous ecosystem like the magnificent, awe-inspiring redwood
forests of the west cost (they came from China, apparently, 
moving north and west over the land bridge at a speed of a few miles per
century, i'm told).

in these two there are dominant species which tend to choke out the
possibilities of biodiversity; so the analogy doesn't really work for 
post 11th c. European architecture as a whole, where "Gothic" was perhaps
"dominant" but subject to very considerable regional/national variation.

perhaps more like the climax hardwood forest of, say Southern Indian (and East
to the sea), which has/had considerable diversity, at least among 
the hardwoods (virtually no native conifers, apparently): Oak (a dozen
species),  Chestnut (extinct from the blight), Elm (ditto), Walnut and it's
cousin, Butternut (nearly gone, Elm (ditto), Beech, Yellow Poplar...

not that evolution itself has, somehow, stopped here, of course --just that
the ecosystem as a whole has reached a sort of plateau, with a group of
dominant species pretty much in firm control of things.

beneath the main canopy, a considerable variety of "lesser" species find light
niches for various periods of time: Sassafrass, Ironwood, beautiful Dogwood,
right down to gentle Ginsing.

in the course of the 12th c. European architecture reaches a sort of stable
(but very dynamic) plateau, the culmination of nearly a millennium's
Will-To-Become.   

"Gothic" is a --perhaps even *the*-- major player in that game, but certainly
not the only one, for the situation is vastly more complex and intricately
intertwined than that.

best to all from here,

christopher







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