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Romanesque Architecture In Europe - Architectural Character

( Originally Published 1921 )



The term Romanesque may be said to include the phases of European architecture which were based on Roman art from the departure of the Romans up to the end of the twelfth century, when the pointed arch was introduced, and this general survey of the style is given before treating of the development in each country, viz. in Italy (p. 251), France (p. 270), Germany (p. 288), and England (p. 311). After the Imperial rule of Rome had passed away, her genius still asserted herself in the architecture of the new states and gave it all a certain similarity, until each country developed its own style. Certain districts of Europe fell specially under the influence of Byzantine art, which was itself partly derived from Rome, but which, as East and West drifted apart, had assumed a special character. Western European architecture exhibiting Eastern influence in a paramount degree is classified as Byzantine. To appreciate the character of Romanesque architecture, we must form a mental picture of the conditions of Europe during the period known as the Dark Ages. We must imagine the remains of an ancient civilisation, vast in extent and uniform in character, no longer regulated by Roman law and no longer protected by Roman power. Its former glory was now recognisable only by the multitude of its monuments ; some were still intact, others were injured or partially destroyed, most were unused, and all were alike unguarded and neglected. This is the Rip Van Winkle period of European architecture. We next see Europe rising like a strong man from the lethargy of a long sleep. He yawns, rubs his eyes, stretches his giant limbs, shakes off his slumber, and stumbles to his feet to look out again upon the work-a-day world and the treasures scattered around. He finds himself surrounded by the achievements of a proud past, and as he becomes conscious of his own needs he realises the possibilities of the present. Then with dazed eyes and groping hands he collects these treasures of art and applies them to his daily needs. From the ruins of mighty edifices, he gathers fragments of hewn stone, carved capital and sculptured frieze, and places them together, with monoliths of porphyry and marble, upon old foundations to construct some building of service to himself. Thus, by a gradual discovery and understanding of the uses of these old fragments, did he succeed in adapting them to new needs, and thus was a new art founded on the old. Here we have indeed " new lamps for old." In this way the birth of Romanesque architecture may be explained, for the ruins of ancient buildings served as the quarry for the new, and necessarily deter-mined the character, both of construction and decoration, in proportion to the extent to which old features were employed.

The later Romanesque style of the tenth to the twelfth century was remarkable for the tentative use of a new constructive principle. This was the application of the principle of equilibrium to construction, in strong contrast to that of inert stability as used by the Romans. This new system, which was accompanied by the use of dressed stones of comparatively small size connected by thick beds of mortar, led in the thirteenth century, after many tentative experiments, to the full development of the Gothic system of architecture, in which elasticity and equilibrium were jointly employed in the erection of the magnificent Gothic cathedrals. The general architectural character is sober and dignified, while picturesqueness depends on the grouping of towers and the projection of transepts and choir. It will he seen that in Italy, France, England, and Germany exceptional tendencies were brought about by local conditions, but in all these countries the special character largely depends on the employment of vaulting, based on Roman methods.

Roman cross-vaults (pp. 302, 303) were used throughout Europe till the beginning of the twelfth century, when they were gradually superseded by " rib and panel " vaulting, in which a framework of ribs supported thin stone panels. The new method consisted in designing the profile of the ribs to which the form of the panels was adapted ; whereas in Roman architecture the shape of the vault itself determined the groin, which was formed by the intersection of the vaults. Romanesque architects therefore first decided the profile of the transverse, longitudinal, and diagonal ribs, which latter, as groins, had previously been settled naturally by the intersection of the vault surfaces ; this arrangement produced the quadripartite (four-part) vault. If the cross-vaults were semi-cylindrical the diagonal groin would be a semi-ellipse (p. 302 D), but Romanesque architects did not resort to the use of ordinates as was afterwards done in the Renaissance period, but surmounted the difficulty arising from the different spans of diagonal and transverse ribs in various ways. In France and Germany the vaulting ribs of a square vaulting compartment were usually semicircular curves starting from the same level ; therefore the diagonal rib, having the longest span, rose to a greater height than the transverse and longitudinal ribs, and when the panelling was filled in on the top of these ribs each vault was domical (p. 302 G). In England vaults were generally constructed with continuous level ridges, instead of in this domical form, and the difference in height between diagonal and transverse ribs in a square vaulting compartment was equalised by " stilting " the latter or by making the diagonal rib a segment of a larger circle than that of the longitudinal and transverse ribs, which were semicircular as explained on the illustration (p. 302 G). In vaulting an oblong compartment the difference between the heights of diagonal and transverse ribs was still greater than in a square compartment and produced an awkward waving line of the ribs on plan (p. 303 B), but Romanesque architects made little attempt to vault any but square compartments. At Worms (p. 292), Mayence, and Spires the difficulty of vaulting oblong compartments of the nave was partially surmounted by including two of them to make one square bay of vaulting, each corresponding with two square compartments of the side aisles. In some instances, as in the Abbaye-aux-Hommes (p. 276 D) and Abbaye-aux-Dames at Caen, Notre Dame, Paris, and at Canterbury (p. 333 B), the intermediate pier was carried up as a vaulting shaft to support a rib which altered the quadripartite vaulting compartment into six parts, known as " sexpartite " vaulting (p. 302 E). The main piers were usually more massive than the intermediate because they supported the chief weight of the vaulting. The difficulty of equalising the height of ribs of different spans, especially in oblong compartments, was finally surmounted by the introduction of the pointed arch in the Gothic period (p. 302 G), when the system of " rib and panel " vaulting was further elaborated by the addition of various supplementary ribs.



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