Purpose of main architecture:

Although the achievements in architecture in both the Romanesque and Gothic time periods were religiously focused, the Romanesque church was focused around accommodating the great numbers of pilgrims whereas Gothic churches were a sense of pride for the town where they were located. The Romanesque church was primarily a shrine to relics or a home to a monastic population. Each church acted as a stop on pilgrimage trails. Gothic churches became a point of competition. A town’s pride often laid in their cathedral, and as technology increased, the specific height of the building became a factor in the competition: the higher the better.

Actual Architecture:

The Romanesque church was monumental and massive. It was fairly squat and had solid walls which provided the support for the building. The buildings used a classic Roman vocabulary and gave religious meaning to it. Towards the end of the period, the buildings did grow in height and a gallery was added, which broke up the massive interior walls. The stone ceiling became vaulted and the barrel vault was added to the vocabulary of the time period. The typical basilica plan was given a transept and was now cruciform.

The three main elements that changed architecture completely and defined gothic architecture included the addition of the pointed arch, the ribbed vault and flying buttresses. These alterations meant height. The walls no longer needed to absorb all of the weight of the building. Through the use of pointed arches, a church could grow in height while using stained glass windows creating a more delicate effect rather than the bulkiness of Romanesque times. Eventually, flying buttresses were needed to further absorb the weight of the building and to thrust the force out and away from the building. With the support of the building being added to the exterior, the interior of the church could now have a more unified space. Walls were no longer the surface of the interior. Stained glass was everywhere. The church was now flooded with light and details from the windows.

The Story:

The literacy rate in the time of Romanesque architecture was extremely low. To articulate to the church-goers the messages of the bible and why they needed to go to church, relieves sculpted onto the tympanum, of the Romanesque portal were often grotesque frightening. The Romanesque portal was distinctive and comprised of the tympanum set above the lintel which was supported by the jambs and trumeau of the portal. The tympanum was framed by archivolts made up of voussoirs. Upon entry into the church, one was confronted with an allegorical representation of a biblical story often expressing the necessity of the belief in Jesus Christ and the attendance of church. Gislebertus, sculpted the relief of the Last Judgment on the tympanum of Saint-Lazare in Autun. Rather than having a pretty or decorative scene, Jesus is shown in the center, in mandorla, surrounded by angels and demons determining the fate of souls. The visitor is confronted with the message that they do not want to be one of the souls to go to hell.

By the time of Early Gothic architecture, the relief sculpture surrounding the portals took a more three dimensional shape. The jambs of the west façade of Chartes Cathedral became figures and demonstrated a new naturalism of the figure. Although the figures were still treated as part of the jamb and therefore elongated, their clothes represented current fashions and their heads had human faces. There was a revival in philosophy during the Gothic period that was reflected in the art. The sculpture was not about frightening the visitor anymore. Soon sculpture gave way to stained glass windows as the main way to convey biblical stories.

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