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French Romanesque - Architectural Character

( Originally Published 1921 )

Romanesque architecture in France dates from the eighth to the twelfth century. The character differs in the North and South, which are approximately divided by the Loire valley. Certain further modifications crept in according to the various provinces into which France was divided at this period.

The South is remarkable for richly decorated church facades and graceful cloisters, and for the use of old Roman architectural features which seem to have acquired a fresh significance. Roman buildings at Arles, Nimes, Orange, and other places in the Rhone valley naturally exerted considerable influence throughout Provence. In Aquitaine and Anjou the aisleless naves, covered with domes on pendentives (p. 273), or vaulting supported only by the massive walls of the recessed chapels, recall the great halls of Roman therm. The development of vaulting (p. 247) progressed, and naves were often covered with barrel vaults (p. 275 A), whose thrust was resisted by half-barrel vaults over two-storeyed aisles, thus suppressing the clear-story, as at Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand. The pointed arch, first used in the south of France, has been held to be due to contact with the Saracens who overran this part of the country from A.D. 719 to 732.

In the North, where Roman remains were less abundant, there was greater freedom in developing a new style, and western facades of churches, especially in Normandy, are distinguished by the introduction of two flanking towers, while plain, massive side walls with flat buttresses emphasised the richness of the facades. The interiors, close set with pier and pillar and roofed with ponderous arching, form a link with the light and graceful structures of the Gothic period. Naves were covered by ribbed vaults which were often sexpartite and in square compartments or " severies," the ribs being constructed independently and supporting the panels (pp. 275 B,.276 D, F). The gradual change to the Gothic system was promoted by repeated attempts to cover oblong compartments with " rib and panel " vaults, a problem which was eventually solved by the introduction of the pointed arch, first used in the south of France, and introduced into the north in the twelfth century.

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