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French Romanesque - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )



I. Geographical.—France holds a central position between north and south on the western confines of Europe, and has great natural highways along the valleys of the Rhone, Saone, Seine, and Garonne which connect the Mediterranean with the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel. The different provinces into which the country was divided at this period had strongly marked characteristics in architecture, as in all else, partly due to the difference in geographical position. Roman civilisation had spread through France along the historic highway of the fertile Rhone valley, where the influence of Roman architecture is everywhere evident. Somewhat later the trade route from the Mediterranean along the Garonne valley carried Venetian and Eastern influence across the south-west of France to the district around Perigueux, where we find a version in stone of Byzantine architecture. North of the River Loire is seen the influence of the Northmen who came by sea, and of the Franks who stretched across the country from the Rhine to Brittany.

II. Geological.—France has an abundance of good stone, easily quarried and freely used for all types of buildings. In the north the fine-grained Caen stone was not only available throughout Normandy, but was so plentiful that it was shipped to England, both for ecclesiastical and secular buildings. In the volcanic district of Auvergne a special character was given to architecture by the coloured pumice and tufa, which were not only used for walls and inlaid decoration, but were so light in weight that they were also employed in large blocks for the solid stone vaulted roofs peculiar to the district.

III. Climatic.—The climate of the north resembles that of the south of England ; in the west on the Atlantic coast it is warmer, owing to the Gulf Stream ; while in the south, on the Mediterranean, it is sub-tropical. These climatic variations regulate door and window openings, which decrease in size towards the south. The climate also determines the pitch of roofs which, from being steep in the north to throw off snow, became almost flat in the south, and these features largely control the general architectural style.

IV. Religious.—Christianity, like Roman civilisation, was carried along the natural highways of France, and was first established (A.D. 35) in the Rhone valley, while Lyons contributed martyrs to the cause. In A.D. 55 there arrived in Gaul the Apostle-Bishops who founded churches at Arles, Narbonne, Limoges, Clermont, Tours, and Toulouse, while somewhat later S. Denis became the Bishop and Martyr of Paris. In A.D. 909 the Cluniac Order was founded at Cluny, Burgundy, and was followed in A.D. 1098 by the Cistercian Order at Citeaux, Burgundy, the severity of whose rules as to simplicity in church buildings caused a reaction from the decorative Romanesque of such buildings as S. Gilles and S. Trophime, Arles (p. 278), and attention was then concentrated upon producing grand and severe rather than ornate buildings. The eleventh century was marked by a desire to follow the monastic life apart from the world ; this resulted in the foundation of monasteries, which gave an impulse to architecture and also fostered art and learning. Religious zeal was, however, not confined within monastic walls, but was also evident in that more active spirit which found vent in the Crusades, which began in A.D. 1096 under Geoffrey de Bouillon and were continued under Louis VII (A.D. 1147). This intercourse with the East reacted in its turn on the art of the West. This crusading king, through his minister, the Abbe Suger, also extended his religious zeal to the building of churches.

V. Social.—Caesar's conquest of Gaul was followed by the systematic Latinisation of the country, which had begun by the making of roads, with Lyons as the centre, and by the development of thriving commercial colonies which adopted the Roman social system in their independent municipalities. Then Caracalla conferred the right of Roman citizenship on the people in the third century, and the " Pax Romana " was established, and social conditions became more settled ; but disturbances soon broke out on the frontier, dissatisfaction arose within and Roman administration was undermined, while landlords became all-powerful, to the detriment of industrial and commercial communities. In A.D. 496 Clovis united all the Franks under his sway, expelled the Romans from Northern Gaul, and by embracing Christianity secured the allegiance of the powerful leaders of the Church, and so established himself in the place of the Roman Emperor. After two and a half centuries of civil war and conflicts between kings and nobles, King Pepin (A.D. 752–768) united the four kingdoms of the " Ile de France." His successor, Charlemagne (A.D. 768–814), brought Western Europe under his sway, promoted education and learning, but only succeeded in establishing the unity of France and the power of the feudal system for his lifetime, so that within a century of his death France again became a series of small states. In A.D. 911, owing to the inroads of the Northmen (Normans), the Duchy of Normandy was established.

Hugh Capet (A.D. 987—996) ascended the Frankish throne, and Paris became the capital of his kingdom, but his authority extended little beyond Paris and Orleans, as the greater part of France was held by the independent lords of Aquitaine, Auvergne, Provence, Anjou, Burgundy, Normandy, and Brittany. In A.D. 1066 Duke William conquered England, and numerous churches and castles in Normandy are a material expression of the prosperity of his duchy. Louis VI (A.D. 1108—37) encouraged the growth of communes and towns to check the power of feudal nobles, and then the social life of the people began to develop.

VI. Historical.—Gaul is introduced by Caesar with the statement : " Gallia in tres partes divisa est," and it was occupied by different races, whose quarrels enabled Caesar (B.C. 48) to complete the Roman conquest of Gaul, and for five centuries she remained a Roman province and absorbed Latin ideas. In A.D. 250 Frankish barbarians began their attacks, and strife continued till Goths, Franks, and Romans united to defeat Attila, King of the Huns (A.D. 451), and Theodoric, King of the Visigoths, was slain at Chalons. Then Clovis, King of the Salian Franks, defeated the Romans (A.D. 486) at Soissons, became Emperor, absorbed the Kingdom of Burgundy, drove Alaric II, King of the Visigoths, out of Aquitaine (A.D. 507), united the Frankish tribes and established the Merovingian dynasty, and this constituted the Frankish conquest of Gaul. Charles Martel, by his conquest of the Saracens at Poitiers (A.D. 732), changed the future of Western Europe. The Carlovingian dynasty followed, and Pepin was crowned as the first Carlovingian King by Pope Stephen II (A.D. 754), to whom he presented the exarchate of Ravenna, and this first established the temporal power of the papacy. The old Roman monarchical idea was now supplanted by the feudal system in France. Charlemagne, his son, King of a united France (A.D. 768-814), also arrogated to himself all Western Europe as the Holy Roman Empire, and then learning, culture, and architecture all took a step forward. On his death France was ravaged by the Northmen from overseas, and also again divided into many small states ; for Louis the Pious (A.D. 814—84o) left it to his three sons, and the Treaty of Verdun (A.D. 843) divided the Eastern and Western Franks into Germany and France, with Charles the Bald as King of France (A.D. 843—877). The Northmen insistently penetrated up the rivers, the monarchy grew weaker, and feudal lords grew strong enough to elect the king. Charles III put an end to the invasions of the Northmen, but ceded Normandy to Duke Rollo (A.D. 911), and this foreign influence reacted on the architecture of Northern France. Hugh Capet brought in the Capetian dynasty (A.D. 987), which, with its centre in the Ile de France, was hemmed in by powerful enemies, but under Philip I (A.D. 1060—1105) the King's power was increased, because the conquest of England by the Normans withdrew their attacks from his Kingdom. Louis VI (A.D. 1108—37) began an unsuccessful struggle against Henry I, King of England and Duke of Normandy, championed the towns and the peasantry, and kindled national sentiment. But Louis VII (A.D. 1137—80) weakened his kingdom by divorcing Eleanor of Aquitaine (A.D. 1152), who married Henry of Anjou, King of England, and so the English King now owned more than half of France. The country again rallied under Philip Augustus (A.D. 1180-1223), who was strong enough to subdue the feudal lords and attack Henry II of England. Such were the forces at this period, external and internal, sometimes social, sometimes historical, but always violent, which went to the making of the French people ; while the influence of Latin civilisation is specially noticeable during the period when monasticism produced that grand series of Romanesque buildings in France.



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