Research Proposal: 11th and 12th Century Romanesque Architecture

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1th and 12th Century Romanesque Architecture

The term Romanesque architecture applies to the various stages of European architecture that were influenced by both Carolingian architecture and the diffusion of Latin civilization following the break-up of the Roman Empire up to the end of the 12th century. While there has been a modest resurgence in interest in Romanesque architectural style in the West, the term continues to conjure up mistaken perceptions about precisely what Romanesque architecture is and what precise architectural elements serve to define its style. To clarify these issues, this paper provides an overview of Romanesque architecture during the 11th and 12th centuries, followed by a discussion of some examples of the architectural style. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

To the citizens of 11th and 12th century Europe, Romanesque architecture must have like a very bright light after a long period of darkness. For instance, according to Cotterill (1915), "Romanesque architecture -- that architecture which after a very long and dark period of undeveloped existence (from c. 600 to c. 1000 or later) seems to have burst forth with almost incredible suddenness in all its beauty and perfection." The origins of Romanesque architecture are multiple, with some relating to the influence of Carolingian architecture and others based on the influences of the Roman Empire and the subsequent diffusion of Latin civilization throughout Europe. As Calkins (1988) points out, "Carolingian architecture represents the beginning of a specifically medieval architecture. Although Carolingian builders borrowed heavily from earlier traditions, their assimilation of early Christian forms, combined with indigenous northern structural traditions and their own innovations in plan and exterior articulation, became the basis from which Romanesque architecture emerged."

According to Kimball and Edgell (1918), notwithstanding the influence of Carolingian architecture, any analysis of Romanesque architecture should begin with a definition of the term, "Romanesque." In this regard, the authors report that the term is best understood in the relationship of Romanesque architecture to the spread of Romance languages following the collapse of the Roman Empire. "After the break-up of the Roman Empire," Kimball and Edgell report, "there ensued a period of cultural confusion. From this confusion homogeneous nationalities slowly emerged. Based on Latin civilization, quickened by northern energy, modified and differentiated one from another by conditions of race and geography, nations arose." Likewise, the same type of diffusion and homogenization took place during the 11th and 12th centuries with architecture. For instance, these authors add, "Precisely the same phenomena appear in architecture, based upon Roman as a point of departure, but differing from it, each school being individual and expressive of the peculiar genius of the race which produced it, yet all bound by a common root and thus included in a common classification: Romanesque."

This common classification of an architectural style as being Romanesque fails to define precisely what architectural elements comprise the style. Citing a concise but incomplete definition provided by the French archeologist, Quicherat, Kimball and Edgell note that, "Romanesque is an architecture that, retaining elements of Roman, has ceased to be Roman, and anticipating elements of Gothic, is not yet Gothic. Every phrase of this definition is true, yet its total is pernicious, as it overlooks the self-sufficiency of the Romanesque style and relegates it to the position of a mere architecture of transition." Noting the fundamental differences between organic and inorganic architectural styles, the former with its vaults supported by ribs, buttresses, and piers in a way that resembles a bony structure (hence the term, "organic") and the latter arranged solely with support considerations in mind, Kimball and Edgell suggest that Romanesque architecture remains an organic form that requires examination on its own merits rather than being a transition from one architectural style to another. In this regard, the authors emphasize, "Romanesque architecture must, therefore, be studied for itself alone and not as a result of what has gone before or as an excuse for what is coming after."

The reference to organic architecture is also made by Clapham in his text, Romanesque Architecture in Western Europe, wherein the author reports that, "The term 'first Romanesque art' has been applied to a widely diffused type of building of which is the immediate precursor of the full Romanesque style. The vault, considered in its form, in its outline and in its economy, is always the essential feature of Romanesque architecture; apart from the general lines of the plan and the free fancy of the decoration, everything is subordinated to it." This point is also made by Kimball and Edgell who point out, "What then were the main characteristics of this architecture? Since it was organic it was, of course, vaulted, the favorite form being the domical groin vault. This form we have seen developed in Byzantine architecture, as in the vaults over the aisles of Hagia Sophia, from the heavy concrete vaults of the Romans." By contrast, Timmers and Hedlund suggest that, "The main element in Romanesque architecture is the interplay of plane surfaces, the principal factor of development the stone vault. The plane is everything in Romanesque architecture."

This divergence of opinions concerning what elements represent the defining characteristics of Romanesque architecture might frustrate modern researchers. Fortunately for modern researchers, though, the analysis of Romanesque architecture is made easier by the fact that the style was confined almost entirely to religious buildings. In this regard, Kimball and Edgell emphasize that, "The study of Romanesque is much simplified by one fact. In no other style, not even Gothic, is the interest so confined to ecclesiastical architecture." Likewise, Stoddard (1972) reports that, "It is the church which is the key to the nature of Romanesque architecture. To the monastic church came the pilgrims to join the choir of monks in the liturgy of praise." This author cites as examples of outstanding 11th century Romanesque architecture the monastic churches of Sainte-Foy at Conques, on the pilgrimage route to Spain; Saint-Sernin at Toulouse, in southwestern France; the third church at Cluny; the Cluniac priory of Paray-le-Monial; and Vezelay, in northern Burgundy. The nave of Conques, Sainte-Foy, c. 1050-c. 1120, is shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Conques, Sainte-Foy, c. 1050-c. 1120. Nave.

Source: Stoddard at p. 30.

This emphasis on religious architecture may be difficult to understand from a 21st century perspective, but the church was an immensely important institution during the 11th and 12th centuries. For instance, Timmers and Hedlund (1959) emphasize that during the 11th and 12th centuries, "The church is the focal point of society. In it all architectural aspirations are vested; here all the arts combine. Everything produced elsewhere, in abbeys, castles, and palaces, is but a reflection of the greater richness and perfection achieved within the church. The Romanesque church typifies the entire culture of the period, being its heart and its essence." According to Calkins, the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre at Angoul me in western France, north of Perigueux, is a good example of Romanesque architecture from the 12th century. This cathedral was constructed during the period between 1105 and 1128 and situates four hemispherical domes on pendentives in a row located above a nave without aisles with each individual bay being defined by massive wall piers that support the pendentives. This author also notes that, "Other domed buildings in this region that repeat this model exist at Ste. Marie at Souillac, and the cathedral of Cahors, both of the early twelfth century." In addition, Calkins reports that a number of buildings in this region of France remained works in progress for many years and cites Gross St. Martin in Cologne, originally constructed during 1150 to 1172 with its Gothic additions during the period 1230 to 1250 as a good example.

Figure 2. Cologne, Gross St. Martin, 1150-72: apse and crossing tower.

Source: Calkins at p. 139.

While it is reasonable to suggest that all Romanesque architects were not of the same mind concerning design elements, a sufficient number of commonalities arose during this period to make a consistent architectural style apparent. For instance, according to Calkins, "The continued use of the balanced clusters of multiple towers in German Romanesque architecture became a distinctive feature of later buildings built in this region, and led to the development of the multitowered transeptal blocks in such Romanesque churches in the lowlands as St. Trond and Tournai Cathedral." These two structures are shown in Figures 3 and 4 below.

Figures 3 and 4. Tournai Cathedral, circa 1160-1200: north transept and crossing towers and Laon Cathedral, circa 1155-1205: exterior view with towers.

Source: Calkins at p. 184.

Furthermore, the ornate qualities of Romanesque architecture may or may not be applied to the entire structure. For example, in his essay, "Roman and Romanesque," Logerfo (1998) reports that, "Although Arles is better known for its Roman ruins, it also has a gem of Romanesque architecture: the church (formerly a cathedral) of Saint-Trophime, from the twelfth century, has an unusually high nave in relation to its narrow width; the whole is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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