Located in Rouen, France in 1894 artist Claude Monet completed a series of almost 40 oil paintings of the Gothic cathedral in Normandy, France. For two years, the aging visionary kept peculiar hours, rising before dawn from restless nights of slumber and retiring just after twilight, in order to capture with his brush and oil pigments the transient effects of light and atmosphere on this great old church.

In Europe to be considered a city the community must have a Cathedral and this was the third Cathedral to stand on this site. The first was built by the Saint Bishop Mellon*, first bishop of Rouen, in the third century, the second by Victrice, the eight bishop of Rouen. Ransacked by Vikings, this Romanesque cathedral was started circa 1000 AD by the Archbishop Robert a Viking descendant and, the son of Duke Richard I of Normandie. The cathedral was completed in 1063 and consecrated by the Archbishop Maurille.

The building is characteristic of early Gothic (l2th century), a period when Tribunes, acting as tighteners of the edifice, were the only means of countering the thrust of the rib-vaulting, before the use of flying buttresses. When the first pillars were erected at the end of the l2th century, tribunes were necessary, however when Jean 'd Andely, a Master Builder later resumed the work he no longer needed them, but for continuity's sake, as well as for economic reasons he kept to the original plans. The arches were originally intended to be used as decoration above the main arcade. Each window was widened and filling the whole bay. To support the glass it was necessary to have a tracery of stone and the patterns varied according to the century they were constructed in. Characteristic of 14th century Gothic named in French Gothique Rayonnant that is where the pattern radiates (in French rayomir) from the center and the corresponding period in England of decorated Gothic.

Monet’s renowned series of the cathedral at Rouen seen under different light effects was painted from a second-floor window above a shop opposite the façade. He made eighteen frontal views. Changing canvases with the light, Monet followed the hours of the day from early morning with the façade in misty blue shadow, to the afternoon, when the sunset, disappearing behind the buildings of the city, weaving the weathered stone work into a strange fabric of burnt orange and blue. It was here that Monet and his vision of a world without horizons; the motif of the cathedral was a constant, a metaphor linking the past with the future ...about man's eternal desire to defy gravity, from the 13th century building that seems to reach heavenward. His theme deals with isolation going along with the contemporary politics of France. Louis Phillipe had been forced to abdicate and the second Republic in France was formed. Napolean III (the nephew of Napolean who ruled until the mid 19th century) began the first known gentrification, a revitalization and beautification of Paris and medieval neighborhoods, a tearing apart by industrialization encouraging isolation.

Monet shows the viewer the effect of light on the exact form. His impression as he worked quickly to depict the moment of light. His style was to sketch methodically and with scientific precision the moments and time of the day, the vague brush strokes dissolving form with light and color causing the observer er to stand far back to see forms. As a result he created an unparalleled and unexcelled record of passing of time as seen in the movement of light over identical form.

Later critics charged Monet and his friends of destroying form and order for the sake of the fleeting effects of atmosphere. Today one could consider that feeling the light is more properly the form as opposed to the narrower definition that presupposed the formal properties of firm geometric shapes. The Impressionist artist largely ignored much of what was esteemed by Realists-- their world was one of values, of graduated tones; rather, the Impressionists recorded their personal sensations of outline, color and solidities of their surroundings as definitions of common sense melted away.

Of Monet's series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, William H. Fuller wrote that Monet:

"...spent two successive winters at Rouen painting that series. . . . (The public) supposed that Monet was trying, with little success, to paint curious architectural forms; but in fact, his object was to render the marvelous play of light and color which different conditions of atmosphere and time of day produce upon the Cathedral's imposing façade."

*Mallonius (Mellonius, Mellon) of Rouen
Died 314. A missionary from England or Britain (near Cardiff), presumably from the district called St. Mellon's, reputedly became the first bishop of Rouen (Benedictines).


De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Justus, Kevin. "Art and Culture II." Tucson , Arizona.
1992. (Lecture presented at Pima Community College.)

Rouen Cathedral:

William H. Fuller, Monet and His Painting. New York 1899.

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