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Spanish Gothic - Comparative Analysis

( Originally Published 1921 )

A. Plans.—Cathedral plans are of great width and comparative shortness, and the " coro " or choir, like that in Westminster Abbey (p. 353 D), is generally in the nave, west of the crossing, but with a low screened passage between choir and sanctuary, as in Burgos (p. 523 D), Toledo (p. 536 D), and Barcelona (p. 536 B). This central enclosure follows the Early Christian basilican plan (p. 198 x), and supplied extra space for the clergy as necessity arose; it avoided the extension eastwards of the sanctuary usual in England, and sometimes it was enclosed by high walls forming a church within a church. Chapels are numerous and large, often surrounding the whole cathedral, and the " parroquia " or parish church is sometimes included in the cathedral area, as at Seville. The "cimborio " (pp. 523 B, 524 D) at the crossing of nave and transepts is similar in treatment to those of France ; thus S. Sernin, Toulouse, and Burgos Cathedral resemble each other in arrangement, as do Valencia Cathedral and S. Ouen, Rouen, in design. The characteristic octagonal vaults over the crossing and chapels, intricate in design and ingenious in construction, were probably inspired by Moorish art.

B. Walls.—French wall treatment was largely followed, but characterised in the later period, owing to Moorish influence, by extreme and even fantastic surface ornament. There is an absence of skyline, and Burgos has effective horizontal arcades instead of gables, on the lines of the facade of Notre Dame, Paris. Many facades, as that of the College of S. Gregorio, Valladolid (p. 524 B), have a bewildering number of niches containing statues, while figures supporting heraldic emblems combine to leave no vacant space, thus rivalling the elaboration of a " retablo." Traceried open-work spires, like those at Burgos, were frequent (p. 523 E).

C. Openings.—Arcades were of special service in sunny Spain to form effective screens against the sun, and are numerous ; those surrounding the " patio " or court of the Ducal Palace, Guadalajara (p. 535 A), La Audiencia, Barcelona (p. 535 B), and the cloisters of Segovia Cathedral (p. 537 A) are typical examples. The early use of the pointed arch in nave arcades is another feature probably due to Moorish influence. Doorways as those of S. Vicente, Avila, and La Cartuja, Burgos (p. 537 E), are French in design with sculptured figures and luxuriant capitals, while later door-ways, as at Cordova (p. 535 c), Granada (p. 530 D), and Segovia (p. 537 B), have elaborate features enclosed in intricate framework, due to Moorish craftsmanship. Windows were often carried to excess, as in Leon Cathedral, where most of the wall surface of the clear-story is devoted to great traceried windows, sometimes 40 ft. high. In the centre, and even in the south, as at Segovia (p. 537 A) and Seville, openings are large, and stained glass was much used, owing to French influence, but many windows, as at Avila and Barcelona, have been partially blocked up as unsuitable to the sunny climate. The window in the Bishop's Palace, Alcala (p. 535 G), shows a novel tracery design, obviously due to Moorish influence.

D. Roofs.—Vaulting was freely used, but owes its character to tracery, bosses, and ribs, which produce a good effect, although the lines are not always good, and nothing comparable to English vaulting was produced (pp. 523 A, 535 c). The vaults were often without the external wooden roof found in other countries, and, as at Seville Cathedral, bricks and tiles rest directly on the vaults, and form a permanent fireproof roof. In Catalonia wide interiors were successfully vaulted in one span, that at Gerona being no less than 73 ft. wide (p. 536 c). The boldest and most original vaults are those that support galleries across the western ends of churches, extending through nave and aisles in three spans or in one span across the nave, and their decorated soffits frame in the view of the interior from the entrance. The " cimborio " over the crossing is frequently octagonal, and is supported on ornate squinch arches, thrown across the angles of the square below, thus bringing it to an octagon (pp. 523 B, 524 D, 530 A).

E. Columns.—The massive piers supporting the lantern over the crossing, as at Burgos (p. 523 B), are circular in plan and contrast with the great octagonal piers of S. Sernin, Toulouse. In Seville Cathedral great column-like piers are employed for the arcades (p. 524 c), similar to those of Milan, but without the tabernacle capitals. The circular piers so often used, with their fine shaft articulation, resemble those at Beauvais Cathedral, and there are capitals in Saragossa Museum (p. 537 J) which indicate the prevailing Romanesque influence.

F. Mouldings.—Refinement is not the usual characteristic of Spanish mouldings, but original and capricious forms were mingled with others borrowed from France (p. 537). In Catalonia the best and most artistic result was produced in a restrained manner, as in S. Maria del Mar, Barcelona, where every moulding has its purpose and expression, but this is far from being usual in Spain.

G. Ornament (p. 538).—The most decorative feature in Spanish churches is the vast " retablo " (reredos), which, as at Saragossa and Oviedo, is often as wide as the nave and as high as the vault (p. 524 C, 530 A). It is of wood, stone, or alabaster, and crowded with niches, figures, canopies, and panelling. The " retablos " at Toledo and Seville, resembling the great English altar screens, as at Winchester, are probably the richest specimens of Mediaeval woodwork in existence, and painting and gilding were used to heighten the effect. Sculpture in stone and marble is often life-size, naturalistic, and expressive (p. 538 B, E, J), and, however deficient in other qualities, it helps to produce the impressive, if sensational, interiors of Spanish churches. Classic tradition led to refinement of detail, which contrasts with the often grotesque features of Northern Gothic, but the general design frequently suffers from the multiplication of accessories. Stained glass, as used at Seville, Oviedo, and elsewhere, was Flemish in style, heavy in outline, and strong to gaudiness in colouring. " Rojas " or lofty grilles (p. 523 B) in hammered and chiselled iron are also characteristic, especially in the later period, the long vertical bars being relieved by figures in repousse work, either single, or in duplicate back to back, and by freely employed crestings and traceries, and there are few productions of the period in Spain which are more original and artistic. Magnificent stalls provided with separate canopies and tall spires, as at Avila (p. 538 c), are common, and Barcelona Cathedral has some resembling those at Chester, while altars (p. 538 B), bishops' thrones, lecterns, and choir desks were also very elaborate, and the unusual pulpit of hammered iron at Avila Cathedral is a remarkable specimen of the smith's craft (p. 538 A). The Royal Tomb, Miraflores, near Burgos (p. 538 J), is perhaps the most elaborate Mediaeval monument in Spain ; it is star-shaped and meticulously carved, with angels, flowers (p. 538 H), and canopied statuettes, all supporting the recumbent effigies of King John II and his Queen. The Infante's Tomb, Miraflores (A.D. 1470) (p. 538 E), is elaborate in heraldic devices, kneeling figures, and tabernacle work (p. 538 D, F, G). The cathedrals are veritable treasure-houses of beautiful Christian craftsmanship, displayed in holy crosses, reliquaries, monstrances, gold and silver images and candelabra, and as they have never been despoiled of their treasure, the cathedrals form the chief museums of art in Spain.

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