monastic style proper, then, in its peculiar power and influence,
was Romanesque, and with the Cluniac order we may understand what
it really came to, what was its effect on the spirits, the imagination."
style of Architecture immediately preceding Gothic within Europe, is known
as Romanesque. Such structures are generally contained within the eleventh
and twelfth centuries. This distinctive style drew many of its early forms
from the previous Carolingian period which began during the reign of great
Charlemagne. The name literally refers to the intent of designing in the
style or manner of Rome.
While many regional expressions of form developed throughout Europe, Romanesque often refers to all works of this era, including the later Norman variations. The most recognizable feature of these buildings is there massiveness. In a general sense, it is easy to distinguish such structures from their more slender descendants in the Gothic era.
One of the most important structural developments of the Romanesque era was the vault. Originally intended as an alternative to fire prone wooden roofs, vaults became a major innovation in architectural features through the ensuing centuries.
Within Norman structures still reside many of the seeds of later Gothic expression. One important feature passed on to this later age was the Norman facade. Here you see the twin towers now accepted as a standard of medieval cathedrals. Elsewhere within the Romanesque period are found the first versions of the cruciform structured church. Here again is a form closely associated with the Gothics.
Forms of Europe
Carolingian: 800 - 900
Romanesque: 1000s - 1100s
Gothic: Late 1100s - 1400s
Renaissance: 1400s - 1600s
Durham Cathedral, England
Benedictine Monastery, Cluny, France
Sainte Foy Abbey, Southern France
Speyer Cathedral, Germany
Sant' Ambrogio, Milan, Italy
much of the great developments of the Romanesque period are overshadowed
by later works. When we think of the Norman style today, we think more
of fortified walls and castles. But, the careful student will be greatly
rewarded by turning attention toward the abbeys and monasteries of the
pre-Gothic age. The needs of the large monastic orders for housing,
industry and religious service ignited a strong demand for new building
skills and techniques. Although they do not receive as much public attention
as the grand churches and cathedrals, many of the Cistercian and Benedictine
abbeys still exist. Most sites are accessible to visitors willing to
go a little out of their way to seek them out.
The tower of the South Transept at Cluny.
This impressive feature is all which remains
of the once grand Romanesque abbey.
The pre-Gothic achievements have been obscured through history as well. Much of the credit for seemingly revolutionary innovations has been attributed solely to the craftsmen of the Gothic age. The apparent absence of evolving styles leading to the impressive works of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries has even lead to speculation of outside influence in their construction. Some have proposed that ancient building secrets were discovered in the Holy Land, and brought back to Europe by crusading knights. However, less romantic origins may be uncovered with dedicated exploration and an aware eye.
With the final collapse of the Roman empire, all architectural development ceased in Europe. All construction was determined by practical need and primarily limited to houses of worship. Churches of this time were small, simple structures and it is not until the eighth century that the influence of the Byzantine empire inspires a slow change from the south.
pre-Romanesque period, the Carolingian, was itself a period of great innovation,
initiated by the rise of Charles the Great or Charlemagne in the late eighth and
early ninth centuries. Victories across western Europe and a consolidation of
diverse regions made Charles the most powerful ruler since the collapse of Rome.
Interior of Tournay cathedral, Belgium,
Twelfth century Romanesque.
The era in which the Romanesque structures arose was a time of great significance for European culture. Hundreds of years of chaos were passing as new orders began to take shape across the continent. As the first millennium drew to a close, the church had become the dominant influence and promoter of art and culture. Beginning as isolated outposts, the monasteries would eventually bring civilization and education to the far reaches of Europe. It is a fascinating chapter of history to study, and architecture is a central component of that story. Learning to discern the distinctions and styles of each period will return many unexpected rewards to the dedicated student. The structures of the Romanesque and Gothic eras are cultural legacies awaiting just such exploration.
|Development & Production Credits|
Editor : Nicole Blackford
Primary Text : Rhey Cedron
Art Direction : Thierry Alberto Art Research : Malcolm Hurrell
Principal Photography : Rhey Cedron
Structural Design : Mark Nelson Research Assistant : Walter McCrae
Support Production : Henry Craig, Joan Flandrin, Clara Kelly
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