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FRENCH ART & ARCHITECTURE
"Art is the symbol of the two noblest
human efforts: to construct . . . and to refrain from
Simone Weil (1909-43), French
Two forces affected
the development of church architecture in France from the 10th to the
12th century. One was the growth of large, wealthy monastic orders,
and the other was a rapid increase in the number of religious
pilgrimages to holy shrines.
The Romanesque style
in architecture can be thought of as a product of the architectural
experiments of the Carolingian period and as a response to the needs
of monasteries and pilgrimage churches. Romanesque style varied from
region to region, reflecting local traditions and requirements. The
largest and most important Romanesque structure was the Benedictine
monastery church at Cluny in Burgundy (begun in 1088 and destroyed in
the 19th century). Cluny was the center of the Benedictine order in
France. The massive monastery church, crowned with a stone vault,
contained five aisles, two transepts, a chevet (an ambulatory with
chapels radiating from the apse), an imposing westwork, and a
narthex. The pattern established at Cluny was imitated by Benedictine
churches throughout France.
The ability to
surpass the limitations of a wooden beam ceiling by constructing a
stone barrel vault allowed the builders of Cluny to make the body of
the nave unusually broad. Although the use of wooden roofs continued
in northern France, the stone vault was one of the most successful
Romanesque innovations. The stone roof took several forms: a barrel
vault, pointed as at Autun Cathedral (1120-32), or a groin vault, as
at Vezelay (1089-1206). Although the walls were made extremely thick
to support the stone vaults and give an impression of enormous
weight, the interiors were well lit through clerestory windows set
high in the walls of the nave above the lower roofs covering the side
fulfillment of the devout medieval Christian was a pilgrimage to
Rome, or to one of the many European shrines that contained holy
relics. Pilgrimage routes crossed national boundaries to shrines as
distant as Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and churches were built
along these well-traveled routes, many of which traversed France.
Romanesque sculpture developed as decorations in these pilgrimage
churches and is characterized by its highly stylized depictions of
natural forms. The most prominent location for religious sculpture
was in the tympanum over the main west door leading to the center
aisle of the church. Here artists depicted scenes from the life of
Christ or other subjects familiar to pilgrims and suitable for their
contemplation. A fine example of such a carved tympanum survives at
the church of Saint Pierre in Moissac. Sculpture also adorned
columns, capitals, wells in cloisters, and crypts.
The ancient art of
enamelwork, which had continued to develop in France throughout the
Merovingian and Carolingian periods, reached unprecedented heights in
the 11th and 12th centuries, when the technique of champleve came
into general use. Limoges was a center of production, and its
enamelwork was prized throughout Europe.
The "Joconde" database is a catalogue of drawings, stamps, paintings, sculptures,
photography and objects of art conserved in more than 60 museums throughout France. It
contains details on more than 130,000 works, dating from the 7th century to the present,
representing over 10,000 artists.
Explore the fascinating history of the prophet from Provence,
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