Essay: Cultural and Construction History of the Romanesque Period

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Cultural and Construction History Of Romanesque Period

Cultural Environment

The term Romanesque is an architectural category that refers to the art and architecture of the Mid -- Late Medieval Period in Europe (1000 to 1240 AD). It was coined in the nineteenth century to delineate features of the post-Roman Empire style. The Romanesque period saw the decline and downfall of the Roman Empire, a vacuum that was filled by the Roman Catholic Church. During this time, cathedrals and castles connected with the church and the Crusades sprang up in stone. Their Romanesque elements comprise round-headed arches, barrel vaults, apses, and decorations, and in southern Europe are often blended with Byzantine elements (Atrisgerinko). Additionally, the Romanesque style developed to reflect a rebirth of art, science, and culture in the High Middle Ages. This European intellectual revival came with a great deal of social, political, and economic transformation (Benson). There was also a renewal in scholasticism that coincided with the Romanesque architecture and its new technologies.

Relationship to Previous Periods

The Romanesque period is considered a furthering of the traditions of the Roman and Byzantine empires. Through feudalism, Europe became more prosperous and experienced urbanisation. This placed more emphasis on urban art and architecture related to the church, which was the cultural centre of every European town. The church continued as the vehicle for spiritual art and building, but gave artists new opportunities to experiment with past trends and designs.

Politically, Europe was divided and not as robust or unified a civilisation as that of the Islamic World. However, by the twelfth century the Hanseatic League had been founded, and the Holy Roman Empire had taken on the overall political administration of the old Carolingian (from Charlemagne) structure (Grant). Added to this were the Eastern artistic, cultural, and scientific influences brought back to Europe by the Crusaders. One scholar has written:

The twelfth century in Europe was in many respects an age of fresh and vigorous life. The epoch of the Crusades, of the rise of towns, and of the earliest bureaucratic states of the West, it saw the culmination of Romanesque art and the beginnings of Gothic; the emergence of the vernacular literatures; the revival of the Latin classics and of Latin poetry and Roman law; the recovery of Greek science, with its Arabic additions, and of much of Greek philosophy; and the origin of the first European universities. The twelfth century left its signature on higher education, on the scholastic philosophy, on European systems of law, on architecture and sculpture, on the liturgical drama, on Latin and vernacular poetry. (Haskin viii)

This important summary of the period by historian Charles H. Haskins describes the major features of the High Middle Age renaissance at the end of the eleventh century and its important connections with other periods and movements.

Essentially, the Carolingian renaissance was historically grounded in previous periods, especially the Islamic Golden Age and the Byzantine Empire with their contributions to the rediscovery of Greek science. It heralded later literary, artistic, and scientific achievements in the fifteenth-century Italian Renaissance and the seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution.

This medieval Renaissance was in both Latin and vernacular writing, with new dynastic histories like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles becoming common all over Europe. Henry II's Anglo-Norman court and its famous scholars like John of Salisbury became a model for the rest of the continent, along with an "explosion of learned writing" based on both the Latin and popular traditions (Damian-Grint xi). Given that this was a period of relative peace, order and stability compared to what came before or afterwards, scholars, clerics and students were able to travel more and exchange ideas. Growth in towns and the expansion of trade, commerce and the money economy also meant that "high-quality education was now available to those who could travel to acquire it" (Swanson 27). Paris became the centre of theology and philosophy, while Padua led the way in law, and graduates in law and theology were in great demand by the expanding church and civil administrations.

Contribution(s) to Western Civilisation

The twefth-century renaissance that accompanied the development of the Romanesque style was international in scope. For example, wandering scholars travelled from country to country developing their own genre of poetry (Sommerville). There were social, political, and economic transformations too. For example, the new institution of the university altered higher education, providing innovative techniques of thought and speech. Scholars working within the universities and monasteries created fresh approaches to ancient intellectual problems (Middle Ages).

Any association between the 12th Century Reniassance and the Renaiassance in Italy in the 15th and 16th Centuries would lead to questions of whether the medieval period produced any important artistic, literary and scientific figures like Galileo, Leonardo, Petrarch and Michelangelo, as opposed to St. Thomas of Aquinas and St. Francis of Asssi. It also raises the question of whether any imporant historical trasnition merits the title of a "remaissance" rather than all periods simply being "taken on their own terms" (Swanson 2). Even 12th Century writers and thinkers reverred to their era as a "renovatio" or renewal, and this was at least partially secular in nature rather than only eccesiastical (Benson et al. xvii). In addition, the 12Th Century Renaissance produced more individualism and "individuation, both of people and groups, which was founded on an examination of the inner life and an awreness of self" (Benson et al. xxiii). It has this much in common with humanists of the Italian Renaissance, although unlike them the medieval theologians and philosophers did not "perceive the discontinuity of history, a cuktural gap between Antiquity and the present" (Benson et al. xxiv). In short, they did not know that they were living in the Middle Ages or reagrd themselves as moderns reviving classical knowledge after a long period of backwardness and superstition.

2. Scientific Environment

Background

The twelfth-century renaissance also entailed a revitalization of intellectualism in Western Europe. This revival was influenced by the recovery of Ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. The centres of this intellectual movement were the monasteries and the new European universities. By the outset of the thirteenth century, these centres had produced accurate Latin translations of these texts, which allowed the transfer of scientific ideas. Ancient ideas on the natural sciences began to spread. Scholastics like Robert Grosseteste, Albertus Magnus, and Roger Bacon commented and expanded on the Greek works, creating a new context for the elaboration of science. Numerous commentaries on Aristotle's writings framed these intellectual debates (Grant 127 -- 31). In addition, other texts were sought out for translation. The Greek Church Fathers became popular writers and a broad interest in the Qur'an and Islamic scientific texts (d'Alverny 429 -- 30) and literary texts (Irwin 93) enflamed the quest for knowledge. This interest in Islamic thought was illustrated by Gerard of Cremona's journey to Toledo, where he found in the library numerous Arabic books on every subject matter and set about learning Arabic to translate them (Burnett 255). Science and knowledge exploded as a result of such efforts to make texts accessible.

Thus, the renaissance of the twelfth century played an integral part in fostering scientific methodology as it forced a renewed interest in Arabic texts, which themselves had been transferred from Europe prior to the demise of the Roman Empire. The Arabic translations once again allowed the works of antiquity to be rediscovered by the Europeans.

Because of the collapse in the Early Middle Ages, ancient Greek and Latin texts became unavailable and illiteracy was very widespread, at least until the revival or Renaissance in the 12th Century. (Huff 180-181). New universities became centers of theology, law, philosophy and translation of classic texts, and also "laid far greater emphasis on science than does its modern counterpart and descendent" (Grant 68).

Technology, Science and Intellectual Life

During the High Middle Ages in Europe, there was a change in the rate of new inventions and innovations in the ways of managing traditional means of production and economic growth. Alfred Crosby described some of this technological revolution in The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600, such as the windmill, compass, rudder and use of Arabic numerals, and other major historians of technology have also noted it (Crosby). Greek and Arab texts in philosophy, medicine, mathematics and science were widely translated into Latin by scholars like Gerard of Cremona, an Italian who came to Spain "to copy a single text then stayed on to translate some seventy works" (Turner). His biography describes how he came to Toledo, and was "trained from childhood at centers of philosophical study and had come to a knowledge of all that was known to the Latins; but for love of the Almagest, which he could not find at all among the Latins, he went to Toledo; there, seeing the abundance of books in Arabic on every subject and regretting the poverty of the Latins in these things, he learned the Arabic language, in order to be able to translate." (Grant 35)

Medieval Jewish and Muslim philosophers… [END OF PREVIEW]

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