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Re: Dark Ages


Christopher Crockett <[log in to unmask]>


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


Wed, 26 Jul 2006 09:36:20 -0500





text/plain (213 lines)

medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

From: Jon Cannon <[log in to unmask]>

> I know one very authoritative current opinion (David Park, who heads up
wall painting conservation at the Courtauld Institute) is that Durham,
and c11 Winchester, and other of the VERY earliest post-Norman
Romanesque English buildings, were unpainted on the interior. I've heard
him say so several times, and he's made the point in print, though in a
very undemonstrative way. 

i like that word: "undemonstrative".

much that passes for "authoritative current opinion" in the world of Art
Hystery might be described as "undemonstrative".

>I think he'd agree some had whitewashed exteriors (York, Worcester - in both
cases perhaps interiors too) 

i've never heard of this --whitewashed *exteriors*.

i recall that the great u.s. architectural historian Robert Branner came to
Indiana back in '67 and gave a lecture to some very gullible first year
graduate students wherein he floated the idea (i don't know whether he ever
published it) that the gilt facades of identifable Parisian monuments (the
cathedral and Ste. Chapelle) which we see in 15th c. Books of Hours were
accurate reflections of *real* gilding applied to the actual buildings

the basic idea was that the Ste. Chapelle (in particular), with its rich, flat
and metal-work-like exterior decoration, was to be seen as a giant Reliquary
and that, as such, gilding it would be quite normal.

memories fade, and i can't recall whether his arguemnts were "undemonstrative"
or not.

but, it's certainly an interesting idea --and learned me how to look at
details in middlevil paintings. 

which was probably the Point.

the whitewashing exteriors reminds me of the appearance of sculpture in much
Netherlandish painting --they are not polychromed (which they certainly would
have been, both in real surving earlier examples and in contemporary ones),
but are rather depicted in a monochrome off-white.

i can't recall the reasons put forward (in a somewhat "undemonstrative"
fashion) in the literature for such a phenomenon.

>All these were given rich coats of paint c1150-1220 when they must have begun
to appear far too severe for current taste. Paint before that, on the
surviving English cathedrals, is a rare thing indeed. 

you're still talking about the *exterior* here?

> It's radical, but if anyone should know, it's him. 

"it is he"

him may know that, but i'd be very interested in his "undemonstrative"

>Our assumption of paint could itself be a backwards looking one, casting the
taste of one phase of medieval culture onto another.   

certainly *possible*.

but, i'm not sure that the interior decoration of late 11th c. Anglo-Norman
architecture represents a seperate "phase" from what was going on on the
continent (or in pre-conquest England, for that matter) which, we may assume,
heavily favored painted decoration (assuming that the pitiful few surviving
exemplars such as St. Savin-sur-Gartemp are representative of what we have

of course, if it can be shown (in a "demonstrative" way) that the early Norman
buildings were, indeed, devoid of decorative interior paint then we do have,
de facto, a "sperate 'phase'" --although it would surely have been a quite
temporary one, witout issue.

but Straight-Line proof is a good antidote to Circularity in Reasoning.

>Those big muscular buildings might really have been meant to look as they do
now, almost Brutalist.  

"romanesque", in general, is more or less "Brutalist".

the term seems to me to be one which may have spontaneously generated itself
in an afternoon Tea Time at the Courtauld --which is not to say that it isn't
useful, or even valid.

as best i can recall, the thick, heavy and Brutal drum columns of the main
arcade of Durham (at least) are decorated with carved elements --"chevrons" or

i've always assumed (in an "undemonstrative" way) that these were painted as
well, the carving serving to guide and emphesize the painting, as we
frequently find in the detailed articulation of sculptural drapery.

presumably David Park's hypothesis is based on his not finding any traces of
original polychrome in these buildings.

a good, thorough 19th c. cleaning might have removed all traces of that, i

in a slightly different context, it is worth noting that current thinking has
it that the interior of "Gothic" buildings were frequently covered with

the "old" theory was that it was stained glass --which became such an integral
part of the new architectural style-- more or less "pushed out" the earlier
taste for mural painting, either because it darkened the buildings (this was
in the days before the great windows of Chartres were cleaned and the whole
building brightened considerably) or because the (figurative) paintings
"competed" with the (figurative) windows, somewhat defeating their spectacular
and inherently more dominent effect.

recent work at Chartres (which has been published, somewhere) has led to the
discovery of quite a lot of paint --surviving particularly in the vaults.

it seems that they were painted white, with imitation "stonework" (which did
not follow the courses of the stones themselves) picked out with red lines,
perhaps with some shading.  the keystones and bosses of the vaults (which are
mostly foliate) were also painted and/or gilded.

> I wonder about the rest, too, at this date. Yes to a magnficient shrine
and a carved pulpitum screen. 

you are talking about a carved "pulpitum" (jubé) in England in the 11th c.?

is the evidence for this "undemonstrative"?

>Yes to splashes of textile colour 

puts me in mind of the extraordinary number of examples descriptions of (lost)
pre-conquest textile work which Dodwell was able to unearth (C. R. Dodwell,
_Anglo-Saxon art : a new perspective_. Cornell U.P., 1982. 353pp.  --*Highly

the Bayeux "tapistry" did not Suck itself out of its Own Fingers, apparently,
but stood at the end of a very long and rich tradition.

yet more evidence of the massive losses, in all media, which we must,
methodologically, take into account.

> Stained glass was expensive and reserved for windows above altars. 


"expense" was a relative term, however, and when you are talking about the
best endowed ecclesiastical institutions in the country, all of which had
Political Implications, pinching shillings and pence might not have been too
high of a priority.

"Building is the Sport of Kings", an architect friend of mine once told me (he
often uses that line on his rich Texas clients and says that it works, more
often than not).

>No monumental tombs (didn't exist until c12), 

saints' "shrines" are "tombs", aren't they?

"monumental" is a relative term, and what passes for "monumental" in one
period might not necessarily be "monumental" in another.

the earliest shrines/tombs are now, typically, archeological remains (eg., the
tombs of St. Peter in Rome or St. Martin in Tours or St. Lubin in Chartres)
and nothing much has survived in the way of "decoration" --but we can see from
the remains that they were "monumental" in the literal sense that they were
purpose-built architectural structures of some complexity. 

we must re-create in our Mind's Eye the accompanying elaborate painting,
sculptural decoration (probably mostly in stucco) and metalwork which has all
been lost, without either a trace or perceivable echo.

>The building is new: it aint' had time to fill up. Taste is grand but

this would be true of any new building, of any date, i should think.

an interesting consideration.

> It's from c1100 and into High Romanesque that Richness starts: after these
great post-Conquest monster-cathedrals were designed.  

it is one thing to note that "new" buildings were, de facto, "empty" of
"Richness", at least until they "filled up".

it's quite another to posit that this "emptiness" was the expression of some
sort of deliberate aesthetic choice (much less one which was driven by
political considerations).

the burden of proof ("demonstrative", if possible) is on those who would put
forward the latter position, it seems to me.

interesting issues, all.

best from here,

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