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Italian Romanesque - Comparative Analysis

( Originally Published 1921 )



A. Plans.—In Central Italy church plans adhered substantially to those of basilicas, and naves were divided from aisles by antique columns (p. 257). The choir was occasionally raised above a crypt reached by steps from the nave. In the North the churches are mostly vaulted, with certain modifications due to German influence, such as transepts, as at S. Michele, Pavia (p. 26o). There were many circular buildings, chiefly baptisteries, such as the one at Novara, which is connected to the Cathedral by an atrium similar to the famous atrium at S. Ambrogio, Milan. Open arcades round the apses, with the arcaded octagonal lantern at the crossing, give great charm to the buildings externally (p. 267 E, G). Projecting porches, which were preferred to recessed doorways, are bold arched structures often of two storeys, as at Verona, flanked by isolated columns on huge semi-grotesque lions, symbolic of David as the Lion of Judah (p. 267 ). Towers are straight, detached shafts, as at Piacenza and Verona, without buttresses or spires (p. 265 A). In the South the low lanterns at the crossing of nave and transepts are marked features, as at Monreale Cathedral.

B. Walls.—In Central Italy the Pisan school elaborated wall arcades into many storeys of galleries, which decorated alike facades, apses, and towers (p. 257 A). In North Italy many facades have less play of light and shade, as they have attached and not free-standing arcading or pilaster strips from ground to gable, as in S. Abbondio, Como (p. 267 F), often broken only by a large circular window over the entrance. The entrance front was frequently the whole width of nave and aisles and terminated in one wide-spreading gable filled in with open arcaded galleries which sprang either from horizontal or from stepped bases, as at Pavia (p. 260 F). In South Italy the lateral walls are occasionally decorated with flat pilaster strips connected horizontally by small arches springing from corbels.

C. Openings.—In consequence of the brilliant climate, while arcades are universal, doors and windows, whether in Central, North, or South Italy, are small and unimportant features, with their " jambs " or sides formed in rectangular recesses or " orders " filled in with small shafts, crowned with semicircular arches (p. 267 B, C, K) . Window tracery, which, however, was a later invention of the Gothic period, was at no time employed to any great extent in Italy, and even wheel windows are only rudimentary in pattern (p. 265 A) ; but in South Italy, as in the churches of Palermo, these windows are highly elaborated.

D. Roofs.—In Central Italy timber roofs over naves are of the simple, open basilican type with rafters and tie-beams often effectively decorated in colour ; while aisles occasionally have groined vaults of small span, divided into compartments by transverse arches (p. 259 B). In North Italy not only aisles but also naves began to be vaulted (p. 26o B), although the nave roofs of Italian churches generally were still constructed of wood, and were not vaulted till the Gothic period in the thirteenth century, In South Italy domes rather than vaults were adopted, but timber roofs are the rule in Sicily under Mahometan influence and have stalactite ceilings, rich in design and colour (p. 266 A).

E. Columns.—In Central Italy during the whole of this period multitudes of columns from ancient Roman temples were utilised in the new churches, and this retarded the development of the novel types which were introduced in districts more remote from Rome. In some places, as at Toscanella, rudely carved Corinthianesque columns carry round-arched arcades instead of entablatures. The finely carved and slender twisted columns in the cloisters of S. Giovanni in Laterano and S. Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome, are delicate variations of the Classic type (p. 267), In North Italy sturdy piers faced with attached half-colnmns took the place of the Classic column, as supports to the heavy stone vaulting (p. 26o B, D). The half-columns on the side towards the nave were carried up as vaulting shafts, and this was the beginning of a system which was destined in the Gothic period to transform the shape of piers. In South Italy and especially in Sicily greater variety in columns and capitals was brought about by changes which resulted from the successive introduction of Byzantine, Mahometan, and Norman art, of which the nave arcade columns (p. 266 A) and the coupled columns in the cloisters at Monreale (pp. 266 B, 268 E, F) are good examples.

F. Mouldings.—In Central Italy there are rough imitations of old Classic mouldings, but elaborate variations of a more pronounced Romanesque type in recessed planes were used in doorways and windows (p. 267 B, C, D, E, K). In North Italy flat moulded bands or strings on the exterior are varied by a series of small arches connecting the pilaster strips (pp. 267 F, G, 268 H) . In South Italy mouldings are specially characterised by grace of contour and intricacy of carving (p. 268 E, F).

G. Ornament (p. 268).—In Central Italy Classic models were followed so as to suit the old fragments incorporated in the new buildings, and rough variations of the old Roman acanthus scroll are frequent (p. 268). The rows of Apostles on doorway lintels, as at Pistoia, are similar in style to Byzantine ivories. In all parts of Italy Christian symbolism now entered into decorative carving and mosaics. The monogram of Christ, the emblems of evangelists and saints, and the whole system of symbolism, represented by trees, birds, fishes, and animals, are all worked into the decorative scheme. The High Altar (p. 268 c) and the mosaic paving (p. 268 K) are characteristic examples of the period. In North Italy roughly carved grotesques of men and beasts occur, along with vigorous hunting scenes and incidents of daily life. Crouching lions support columns of projecting porches and of bishops' thrones (p. 268 A), and are symbolical of David as the Lion of Judah ; while the columns represent Christ, the Pillar of the Church. The continuous scroll, known as Solomon's knot, is an emblem of Eternity, without beginning or end. The font (p. 268 L), supported on a crouching lion, and the corbel tables (p. 268 H) are typical. In South Italy elaborately modelled bronze doors are characteristic externally, while coloured mosaics add to the beauty of the interiors of Palermo churches. Colour, in spreading masses of geometric design, was the predominant note of internal decoration of South Italian and more especially of Sicilian churches, while the bronze pilasters (p. 268 D,G) clearly indicate the influence of the Classic tradition.



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