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Italian Romanesque - Examples

( Originally Published 1921 )


Pisa Cathedral (A.D. 1063–92) (pp. 257, 258 B) with Baptistery, Campanile, and Campo Santo, together form one of the most famous building groups of the world (p. 257 A). The cathedral is one of the finest of the Romanesque period and has a strongly marked individuality. It resembles other early basilican churches in plan, with long rows of columns connected by arches, double aisles, and a nave which has the usual timber roof (p. 257 c). The exterior has bands of red and white marble, and the ground storey is faced with wall arcading, while the entrance facade is thrown into relief by tiers of open arcades which rise one above another right into the gable end. The transepts, with a segmental apse at each end, were an advance on the simple basilican plan. The elliptical dome over the crossing, or intersection of nave and transepts, is of later date (p. 257 D). The building depends for its interest on its general proportions and on the beauty and delicacy of its ornamental features, rather than on any new structural development, such as may be seen in Northern Italy.

The Campanile, Pisa (A.D. 1174) (p. 257, 258), is a circular tower, 52 ft. in diameter, rising in eight storeys of encircling arcades. This world-famous leaning tower, which is the most arresting feature of this marvellous group, has been the subject of much discussion, but there is little doubt that its inclination, which recent measurements proved to be on the increase, is due to subsidence in the foundations. The upper part of the tower now overhangs its base as much as 13 ft. 10 ins., and it thus has a very unstable appearance.

The Baptistery, Pisa (A.D. 1153–1278) (pp. 257 A, D, 258, 310 F), was designed by Dioti Salvi, on a circular plan, with a central space or nave, 6o ft. in diameter, separated by four piers and eight columns from the surrounding two-storeyed aisle, which makes the building 129 ft. in. diameter. Externally it is surrounded on the lower storey by half-columns, connected by semicircular arches, under one of which is the door (p. 267 K), and above these is an open arcade of small detached shafts. This arcade is surmounted by Gothic additions of the fourteenth century, which disguise the original design. The structure is crowned by an outer hemispherical roof, through which penetrates a conical dome covering the central space (p. 309 F). If there were a lower internal cupola, it would resemble the constructive scheme of S. Paul's, London (p. 718 c). This Baptistery bears remarkable similarity to the Church of S. Donato (ninth century) at Zara, Dalmatia, in which, however, the central space is only 30 ft. in diameter.

S. Michele, Lucca (A.D. 1188, facade A.D. 1288) and S. Martino, Lucca (A.D. 1060, facade, A.D. 1204) are very similar in style to the buildings of the Pisan group, because at the time of their erection Lucca had fallen under the power of Pisa.

Pistoia Cathedral (c. A.D. 1150) was also built under the influence of the Pisan school, and with its porch and arcaded facade in black and white marble formed the model for other churches in the city.

The Cloisters of S. Giovanni in Laterano, Rome (A.D. 1234) and of S. Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome (A.D. 1241) (p. 267 H) are of peculiar interest, as there is little other Romanesque architecture in that city, owing to the survival of the Classic tradition ; besides which, the use of Roman architectural fragments still gave the churches a basilican character. The delicate twisted twin columns, inlaid with patterned glass mosaics, are the special features of these cloisters, and are a triumph of craftsmanship which has given to these coils of stone the subtlety of living forms. The coupled columns carry semicircular arches in groups of five or more openings between the recurrent piers, and form an arcade round the four sides of the cloister.

S. Miniato, Florence (A.D. 1013) (p. 259 A, B), is important as showing some innovations ; for the length of the church is divided by piers into three main compartments, of which the raised eastern portion has a crypt open to the nave and containing the tomb of the saint. This division seems a prelude to the idea of vaulting in compartments, and is a departure from the basilican type of long, unbroken ranges of columns and arches. The novel panelling and banding in black and white marble, both of exterior and interior, were carried further in the Gothic period in Italy. The sanctuary has translucent marble, instead of glass, in the window openings. The open timber roof, with its bright colour decoration recently restored, gives an excellent idea of the effect produced by the use of simple colour on these basilican roofs.


S. Antonino, Piacenza (A.D. 1104), rebuilt on the site of an earlier cathedral, is chiefly noted for its later Gothic porch, Il Paradiso.

S. Ambrogio, Milan (A.D. 1140), originally founded by the great S. Ambrose in the fourth century, raised on its present plan in the ninth century and rebuilt with vault and dome in the twelfth century, has a proud history, and set a type for early Lombard churches, as did its founder for Lombard ritual, which included the metrical chanting of the Mass. Here S. Augustine was baptised, the Emperor Theodosius was excommunicated, and Lombard kings and Germanic emperors were crowned. The plan includes the only existing atrium among Lombard churches, a narthex flanked by towers, vaulted nave and aisles with an octagon over the crossing, triforium gallery, raised choir over the ,crypt, and an apse. The pulpit (p. 268 B), supported on an arcade, has characteristic Lombard ornameutation in the projecting band and spandrels of carved birds and animals, enclosing an Early Christian sarcophagus of the sixth century.

S. Michele, Pavia (A.D. 1188) (p. 26o), is a notable instance of a treatment which is an advance on the divisions, marked only by piers, in S. Miniato ; for here the nave is not only divided into square bays, but these are vaulted and the dividing piers are of a clustered character, shaped to receive the vaulting ribs. This church is cruciform in plan with well-defined transepts and a raised choir, under which is a vaulted crypt. The side aisles, which are two storeys in height, are also vaulted in square compartments, two of which correspond to one vaultiug bay of the nave. The flat facade shows little play of light and shade, with its three simple, recessed portals and four vertical pilaster strips from ground to gable, almost akin to buttresses. The wide-spreading gable stretches across nave and aisles and is emphasised by a raking arcade which is the only prominent feature of this simple design.

S. Zeno Maggiore, Verona (A.D. 1139) (p. 265), has a facade which is stern in its simplicity. The fine projecting porch has two free-standing columns, which rest on the backs of crouching lions and support a semi-circular arch, over which is a gabled roof (p. 267 J). Above is the great wheel window which lights the nave, and the whole facade is relieved by pilaster strips connected by corbel tables under the slopes of the centre gable and side roofs. The interior (p. 265 B) has a nave arcade of compound piers with uncarved capitals, and the nave shaft is carried up as if to support a vault. Intermediate columns with carved capitals support semicircular arches, surmounted by a wall banded in red brick and stone. There is no triforium, but a clear-story, and above this is a wooden ceiling of trefoil form. The choir, 7 ft. above the nave floor, has a high pointed fourteenth-century vault and an apse, and beneath is the crypt, in seven aisles, with the shrine of S. Zeno. The Campanile (p. 265 A) is detached, as usual in Italy, has no buttresses, and is of alternate courses of marble and brick, surmounted by open arcades to bell-chamber, angle pinnacles, and high-pitched roof. The sturdy tower formerly belonged to a residence of the German Emperors and is finished with Ghibelline battlements.

The Baptistery, Cremona (A.D. 1167) (p. 259 c), is octagonal, and has a projecting porch and the usual pilaster strips, corbel tables, and arcading.

The Baptistery, Asti (A.D. 1050), and the Baptistery, Parma (A.D. 1196),. are also octagonal, and modelled on that of Constantine at Rome. They represent a period of Christianity when the baptismal rite was carried out only three times a year—Easter, Pentecost, and the Epiphany—and therefore required a large and separate building.

The Fondaco dei Turchi, Venice (loth century), a Romanesque warehouse on the Grand Canal, is one of the few secular buildings of this period which have survived the ravages of war and fire. It is at once the outcome and symbol of the prosperous trade of Venice with the East, while the Palazzo Farsetti and the Palazzo Loredan (11th century) are in the same style, with cubiform capitals carrying semicircular arches which are sometimes stilted.

The Campanili or bell-towers are a product of the period, and, unlike the church towers of England, France, and Germany, generally stand alone, though they were sometimes connected by cloisters with the church. Campanili of North Italian towns are often civic monuments rather than integral parts of churches, and, like the civic towers of Belgium (p. 473), were symbols of power or commemorative monuments, and served also as watch-towers. They are square in plan, without the projecting buttresses which are usual north of the Alps, and their design is generally simple, broken only by windows which light the internal staircase or sloping way. The window openings increase in number with the height of the tower and often form an open loggia at the top, through which may be seen the swinging of the bells, and the whole is often surmounted by a pyramidal roof, as in the recently rebuilt Campanile of S. Mark, Venice, which was originally built A.D. 888, and also in that of S. Zeno Maggiore, Verona (p. 265 A), which dates originally from A.D. 1172.

The Torre Asinelli, Bologna (A.D. 1109), 225 ft. high, and the Torre Garisenda, Bologna (A.D. 1100), 130 ft. high, are survivals of the time when the town was prominent in the struggles of the period, and are the leaning towers referred to by Dante, while San Gimignano, with its thirteen towers, has the appearance of a Romanesque city so often pictured by Raphael in later times.

The House of Rienzi, Rome (c. A.D. 1000), sometimes known as the " Casa di Crescenzio," is an instance of the degraded civic architecture of the period, and is said to be the only private house in Romp older than the fifteenth century.


Monreale Cathedral (A.D. 1174) (p. 266) stands on the heights south-west of Palermo, and is the most splendid of all the monuments erected under Norman rule in Sicily. The plan is a combination of an Early Christian basilican church in its western part and a Saracenic mosque in its eastern part, with a choir raised above the nave and with eastern apses. The nave columns have capitals of Byzantine form with " dosseret-blocks " encrusted with mosaic, to support pointed arches, which are not in recessed planes as in northern Romanesque buildings, and in the aisles there are pointed windows without tracery. The walls are covered with mosaics in gold and colour, representing scenes from Biblical history with a figure of Christ in the apse, framed in arabesques ; while a high dado of white marble slabs is bordered by inlaid patterns in coloured porphyries. The open timber roofs, intricate in design, are brightly painted in the Mahometan style. The interior is solemn and grand, an effect produced by the severity of the design, enhanced by the coloured decoration. The low, oblong central lantern and the antique bronze doors add to the beauty and distinction of this famous church. The cloisters (p. z66 B), the only remaining portion of the Benedictine monastery, are the finest of the style. They consist of coupled columns, in some cases inlaid with glass mosaics, supporting pointed arches, and have beautiful Corinthianesque capitals (p. 268 E, F), one of which represents William I of Sicily offering the Church to the Virgin.

The Capella Palatina, Palermo (A.D. 1132) is the little chapel in the Royal Palace and served as the model for Monreale Cathedral. The gilt and coloured mosaics of the interior, which are unrivalled, indicate Byzantine influence, while the richly carved ceiling of stalactite forms, the pulpit, candelabrum, and organ gallery show Saracenic craftsmanship.

S. Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palermo (A.D. 1132), La Martorana, Palermo (A.D. 1129-1143), and S. Cataldo, Palermo (A.D. 1161) are other churches which, in the arrangement of their domes and ornamentation, show the blending of Saracenic and Byzantine art.

S. Nicolo, Bari (A.D. 1197), like other churches of Southern Italy, is small in comparison with those of the same period in the north. The feature in the main facade of these southern churches is the projecting porch with columns standing on lions' backs, supporting a roof, and above this is the characteristic wheel window. The decorative detail is refined and graceful, largely due to the Greek descent of the craftsmen of this part of Italy. Crypts are a special feature in the south and there is a crypt at Otranto which is remarkable for the unusual number of columns which support the choir.

La Zisa, Palermo (Arabic, El Aziza = Palace of Delights) (A.D. 1154-66), is a rectangular, three-storeyed Norman castle with battlemented parapet, and shows the influence of Saracenic art. The vestibule is rich in marble columns and coloured tiles, while the stalactite vaults over the alcoves recall the glories of the Alhambra, Granada.

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