France Figurative Arts - Romanesque Period

France Figurative Arts – Romanesque Period

After a long period of crisis, in the changed moral atmosphere a new society develops and consolidates; among its essential features is the foundation of monastic orders: Grandmont, Cîteaux, Chartreux, Fontevrault, Prémontrés: indication of a great spiritual movement. The noblest of these noble abbeys is Cluny (v.), Founded in 910. There is no need to remember its immense political importance, its prestige, its authority, its splendid activity, its triumph over imperial power in the struggle for the investitures. For one hundred and fifty years it was the support of the Church; and from Cluny the idea of ​​the Crusade started. Cluny was the center of French Romanesque art. Its church of Saints Peter and Paul, destroyed by the Revolution, was the largest in Christianity: built by Sant’Ugo in 1089, it was covered in vault. The teaching of the Lombard school, already intent on the problem of building large vaults, had extended to France through Burgundy and the valleys of the Loire and the Rhone; and Cluny played a very important part in its diffusion. The Cluniac Guglielmo da Volpiano, Lombard, appointed abbot of San Benigno in Dijon, undertook in 1002 the construction of a building, covered at least in part by vaults, which at that time had an immense reputation: and still exists ” roundabout”. William, made daring by success, tried to renew it in Lombardy, but his ideas met with greater resistance, while instead they spread in the Rhone valley (churches of Farges, Chapaize, Saone-et-Loire; Saint-Martindu-Canigou; Saint -Guilhem-le Désert, Hérault, Saint Vorles in Châtillon-sur-Seine).

According to, the technique was then perfected; notable progress was achieved in the design of the pillars, in the cutting of the stones. Finally all the experiences were consecrated in the basilica of Cluny (1088). Only a fragment of the transept remains of the famous church; but there is a copy of it in the church of Paray-le-Monial, since it was a model to other churches, by virtue of the vast authority, of the order of the powerful system of abbeys, of priories scattered along the routes followed by pilgrimages, of its influence on the dioceses crossed by those roads; and, in less than half a century, all the churches of France were rebuilt and covered with vaults.

Meanwhile, the new contact with the East, produced by the Crusades, brought many oriental forms to mix with the Romanesque: the polylobed arches of Notre-Dame-du-Puy, with its Muslim doors; the festooned doors of Dorat (Upper Vienne), Moissac (Upper Garonne) or Ganagobie (Lower Alps), the polychrome arches of Vézelay, the Persian vaults of Tournus, etc.

The movement was almost simultaneous throughout France, although it was dressed in very different forms in the various provinces. This regional character constitutes one of the beauties of Romanesque France. In general, the churches have a basilica plan; but they all differ in the shape of the vaults, of the pillars and in the lighting system, which, in vaulted constructions, is a problem of the utmost importance. Circular plants, now rare, are preserved in small monuments such as the chapels of the Temple (a beautiful example is in Laon).

In the Burgundian school (see Burgundy: Art), which boasts famous monuments (Autun, Charlieu, Paray-le-Monial, Beaune, Tournus, Vézelay, Langres, etc.) the roofs are in pointed or full arch barrel vaults with transverse arches; in cross vault (Vézelay, about 1 125), in transverse vault, as in Tournus (about 1070). The decoration is often of a classical taste: in Autun there are grooved pillars; at Langres, Cluny, Charité-sur-Loire, galleries imitated by the Roman gate of Arroux in Autun; in Avallon twisted columns. The plastic decoration is exuberant, refined, full of movement, of an expressionistic style (lunette d’Autun, Vézelay, Charlieu, Anzy-le-Duc, etc.).

In the Provençal school, the single-nave basilica (Digne, Cavallon, Notre-Dame-des-Doms of Avignon) was preferred, covered by a long blind barrel vault, set on powerful internal buttresses. Sometimes, as in Vaison, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, there are also narrow aisles, often a timid dome rises at the intersection of the transept. The few windows enhance the severe and austere appearance. The decoration of the arcades is so permeated with Romanism that it seems to be the work of low antiquity (Notre-Dame-des-Doms in Avignon; Carpentras cathedral, etc.); and sometimes he magnificently develops the old theme of the triumphal arches.

Auvergne had an architecture similar to its mountains. The massive barrel vault of the main nave weighs on the secondary aisles (there are often two on each side), equipped with women’s galleries; the light, penetrating from the side windows, with difficulty pierces the darkness of the interior. In the center stands a tower similar to a well. Nowhere else does a deeper mystery breathe, a more sacred terror (N.-D.-du-Port in Clermont-Ferrand; Brioude, Saint Nectaire, Orcival; churches of Conques, Aveyron; S. Sernino of Toulouse, of the type purely Auvergne). Outside, however, nothing more beautiful than an Auvergne apse: a pyramid formed by the various levels of the chapels, a slope of curved and full forms, a majestic music of deaf themes on which the acute note of the bell tower stands out.

In Poitou, the naves are of equal height, covered by long barrel vaults, supported by arches on square pillars or on rows of columns: the light coming from the aisles brings out the shapes of the colonnade, spreads into the glittering vaults of frescoes (Notre -Dame-la-Grande in Poitiers: Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, Vienne). Outside, a slightly strange sculptural exuberance stirs in the soft stone giving the facades a rich but enigmatic appearance vaguely reminiscent of Indian art (notre-Dame la Grande; Aulnay-en-Saintonge; facades d’Angoulême and of Santa Croce in Bordeaux; St. Eutropius, St. Peter in Saintes, etc.).

Bold and suspicious, Normandy took a long time to adopt vaulted roofs; but its facades framed by towers and crowned by spiers ought, due to their boldness, to impose themselves on Gothic architects (Santo Stefano and the Trinità in Caen; San Giorgio in Boscherville). The decoration of the portals, almost exclusively geometric, is often of an unprecedented luxury (churches of Ouistreham, of Cagny; of Mouen, Calvados, Bazouges, Sarthe). Ancient Aquitaine was the land of domes. There were discovered remains of corbels dating back to the century. IX. In the choir of Romanesque art, his school of geometric architects seems to be a family of dreamers, disciples of Pythagoras, enraptured by the harmony of the spheres. Nothing more magnificent than that abstract music, without any ornament, reduced to pure numbers as it reveals itself in the domes of Cahors, Souillac, Angoulême, and above all in the masterpiece: the Saint-Front of Périgueux. On the Isle of France, all the great monuments having been reconstructed, the activity of his school can be studied only in the minors, however very numerous: village churches, of modest size and very simple shapes, often of great refinement. The steeples, which are not very high, have a perfect shape (Nogent-les-Vierges, Tracy-le-Val). The facade is often decorated with a delicate portico (Urcel, Mareil-enDôle). The sculpture, with a Norman appearance, almost entirely geometric, is of a very pure taste.

Such is the prodigious spectacle that architecture in Romanesque France offers us. But, as early as 1130, in the same Parisian region it was creating a new style, destined for an enormous fortune.

France Figurative Arts - Romanesque Period