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French Romanesque - Comparative Analysis

( Originally Published 1921 )

A. Plans.—In the south, churches were cruciform in plan and frequently had aisleless naves covered with domes on pendentives, due to Byzantine influence, or had naves covered with barrel vaults whose thrust was taken by half-barrel vaults over aisles in two storeys (pp. 273 E, 276 D). Buttresses are internal and form the divisions between the chapels which flank the nave, as at Vienne Cathedral. Towers are sometimes detached, like Italian campanili. Cloisters are treated with the utmost elaboration, as at S. Trophime, Arles (p. 285 F), and form a special feature in the plan of many churches of the period. Circular churches are rarely found. In the north, plans were of the basilican type with nave and aisles. The use of high nave vaults changed the setting-out of the bays, which were brought to a square by making one nave vaulting compartment equal to the length of two bays of the aisles (p. 276 D), until the introduction of the pointed arch overcame the difficulty of vaulting oblong compartments with ribbed vaults.

B. Walls.—The massive walls characteristic of this period were, in both south and north, of rubble faced with squared stone. Sculptured and moulded ornament was concentrated on wall arcades especially on western facades, which thus stand out in contrast to the general simplicity of the external wall treatment (p. 274 c). Facades are often divided by string courses or horizontal mouldings into storeys relieved by single, coupled, or grouped windows, and frequently have arcading as at Echillais (p. 285 c). Buttresses are wide strips of slight projection (p. 275 c) or half round shafts (p. 285 G) ; while flying buttresses, admitting of high clear-story windows to light the nave, were introduced in the latter half of the twelfth century (p. 28x). Towers are generally square with pyramidal or conical roofs (p. 285 A), and by their grouping and number give a vertical character to the style, as at the Abbaye-aux-Hommes, Caen (p. 281).

C. Openings.—In the south, nave wall arcades of aisleless churches are semicircular, with mouldings in recesses or " orders " (p. 274 B), while arcades of cloisters are elaborated with coupled columns in the depth of the walls, and with carved capitals which support the semicircular arches of the narrow bays, which were left unglazed as in Italy (p. 285 F). The western portals of such churches as S. Trophime, Arles (p. 285 K), and S. Gilles (p. 282 A) recall the columns and horizontal entablatures of the Romans, but in other cases doorways have recessed jambs as usual in this period (p. 285 J, L). Narrow windows with semicircular heads and wide splays inwards sufficed to admit light, especially in the south (p. 285 G). In the north, nave arcades are spanned by semicircular arches which are repeated in the deep triforiums, as at the Abbaye-aux-Hommes. Imposing western doorways (pp. 274 A, C, 275 c) with sculptured tympana were the forerunners of the magnificent sculptured en-trances of the Gothic period. Windows with semicircular heads are sometimes grouped together and enclosed in a larger arch, as in the nave wall or clear-story immediately beneath the vault (p. 275).

D. Roofs.—In the south, naves were first covered by barrel vaults (p. 275 A) buttressed by half-barrel vaults over aisles, which were sometimes two storeys high and thus left no space for a clear-story. The vault was sometimes pointed, and this had the advantage of lessening the super-incumbent thrust of the stone roofing slabs which, especially in Auvergne, were frequently laid direct upon the vaults and were given the low pitch suitable to the south. The narthex or ante-chapel of S. Madeleine, Vezelay (A.D. 1130), is generally believed to have the earliest pointed cross-vaults in France. As to the external treatment of roofs in southern France, while climatic conditions decided that they need only be low in pitch, other factors entered into the nature of their construction ; for in the volcanic district of Auvergne the light nature of the stone resulted in stone-covered vaults ; while in Aquitaine, the trade route from the east caused the reproduction there, as in Perigueux, of the domes of Venice and Byzantium. In the north, the height of clear-stories was increased by means of intersecting ribbed vaults whose thrust was taken by buttress arches under the aisle roofs (p. 276 c)—a step towards the later external flying buttresses. The stone vaults over naves were covered by wooden framed roofs to support the slates or other protective covering and were steep in pitch, as the need to throw off snow and water was a determining factor in their construction.

E. Columns.—In the south, the piers were derived from the Roman square pier, with attached columns to which were added nook shafts, and on the nave side the half-round shafts were carried up as vaulting shafts (p. 274). These piers, as at Lessay (p. 285 H), were the prototypes of the richly clustered Gothic piers. Capitals, as at Aix, clearly show the influence of Classic buildings (p. 286). In the north, similar piers were in use, while cylindrical piers, as at Notre Dame, Paris (p. 438 ), were also frequent, surmounted with carved capitals of Corinthianesque type and square moulded abacus, from which the vaulting shafts start awkwardly (p. 285 M, N, P, Q, R).

F. Mouldings.—In the south, Classic tradition is reflected in the graceful moulding contours. Capitals and bases are either rough imitations of the old Roman Corinthian type (p. 286) or have considerable variations, due to the introduction of animal figures. In the north, the jambs are formed in receding pranes, with recesses filled with nook shafts fluted or carved with zigzag ornament. Capitals are frequently cubiform blocks, sometimes carved with animal subjects (p. 286). Corbel tables of great richness, supported by grotesquely carved heads, often form the wall cornices (p. 286 E).

G. Ornament.—In the south, painted glass was not favoured, and small clear-glazed openings were employed to set off the opaque colour decoration of the walls. Figure sculpture is at its best in Provence, as in the portals of Arles (p. 285 x) and S. Gilles (p. 286 L), where we can see the early promise of the remarkable sculpture of the French Gothic period ; while in Aquitaine sculpture is confined to the capitals, which are sometimes carved with figures, animals, and Bible subjects, and are frequently derived from Roman Corinthian prototypes (p. 286 A, C, D, G). Facades of churches of the Charente district in Aquitaine have this elaborate carved ornament, representing foliage, or figures of men and animals (p. 286), and capitals of columns on the ground storey were often continued as a rich, broad frieze across the building (p. 286 L). In the north, stained glass, which was more suitable to large openings, was only gradually developed. The diaper work in the spandrels of arches is supposed to be an imitation in carving of the colour-pattern work or stuff draperies that originally occupied the same position, while the period is rich in carving of zigzags, rosettes, and billets (p. 286 F, M). The carved tympana, dealing with Biblical subjects, are frequently of great interest (pp. 282 B, 286). Owing, however, to the comparative absence of antique Roman models in the north, figure sculpture is rare in this period and never approached the beauty of the sculpture at Arles in the south.

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