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The End of Modesty

 

It is usually assumed that the great artists of the Middle Ages are anonymous to us. Art historians are often compelled to give these creators of images, sculptures and cathedrals so-called notnamen or 'names of convenience', such as the 'Master of Cabestany' or the 'Naumburg Master', to name but two of hundreds.

Recent research has filled some gaps in the anonymity of these medieval masters. Especially in painting and manuscript illumination, hidden references can occassionally be found.

Sculptors also remained anonymous, especially up until the High Middle Ages. There is a famous twelfth-century inscription in the western tympanum of the Cathedral of St. Lazare in Autun, however, with which a Gislebertus pointed out that "Gislebertus hoc fecit". Yet, it is unclear whether Gislebertus was the tympanum's sculptor or its patron.

 

 

Nbg 10 33 Lorenz nbg Adam Kraft mod AP

 

 

During the later Middle Ages, artists slowly became less restrained. Numerous masters have immortalized themselves in churches, often through self-portraits. One of the most beautiful of these can be found in the St. Lorenz church in Nuremberg: with his tools, and in the company of his assistants, the stern looking master Adam Kraft points towards a tabernacle created by him in the 15th century  .

 

 

Translation: Erik Eising (MA)

 




Halls carried by a single pillar

 

 

They are not common, but often impressive.

Examples of these structures illustrate the developments in medieval architecture over a period of about 400 years.

 

 Cuxa modAP 2 065Crpyt Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa

 

Here you see a 11th-century crypt in the monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa in the Pyrenees. This mighty round space with a diameter of 9 meters originally supported a chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity, which has not survived. The pillar is said to have a diameter of 1,8 meter - an imposing, mystical and impressive concept.

 

 Wells chapterhouse 5 7modAP Chapter House Wells Cathedral

 

And here the chapter house of Wells Cathedral, the first structure built in the pure English Gothic style. Although the construction of the cathedral already began in the 12th century, the chapter house was built 100 years later.

There are no hints of weight and heaviness. Every element is directed towards the heavens.

32 ribs rise from one single slender column in all directions, and enfold in an elegant fan vaulted ceiling.

 

 

Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)

 




Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian Order.

   

You would be correct in objecting to this statement. However, this misconception has been repeated again and again.

Bernard, who would later be canonized, was one of the most extraordinary men of his century. His reputation as the founder of the Order, however, is unearned. He was the Order's fourth abbot.

The actual founder of the Order was Robert, who wanted to return to the true Rules of St. Benedict, which had been neglected in Cluny. After a number of disappointments in conventional Benedictine abbeys, he founded a monastery in Molesme. In 1098, after some internal troubles, he and 21 monks moved to Cîteaux, also in Burgundy. Pope Paschal II confirmed this Order, named after the 'original' monastery.

Bernard entered the monastery in 1112, as a novice, together with 30 companions. Stephen Harding was the abbot at the time. Already in 1115, Bernard became abbot of the newly founded Clairvaux Abbey. It is only later that he would be elected as head of the entire Order.

The erroneous notion that Bernard founded the Cistercian Order is likely related to the fact that the extraordinary expansion of the order began when Bernard entered it. While four or five monasteries existed in 1112, there were 365 at the time of his death in 1153. Fontenay is one of the oldest.

 

Fontenay evtl 0001

 

 

Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)

 




Statics and Aesthetics

Around 1338, in the crossing of Wells Cathedral, these two concepts joined in a harmonious union.

I am referring to the famous scissor arches. The identity of their creator is not entirely certain. He was probably a master builder named Joy, a truly fitting name, as his architectural work has brought so much of it to the cathedral's visitors.

 

ScherenboegenWells Cathedral - Scissor Arches

 

The scissor arches' purpose, however, was not solely to bring joy, but also to save the tottering crossing tower. It is incredibly exciting that the genius master knew how to combine the practical with the beautiful.

There are purists among the specialists who are less pleased. Alec Clifton Taylor has said: "Just think it away".

You can find lesser known and less spectacular predecessors of the scissor arches in Salisbury, built around 1320, having the exact same function as in Wells.

 

(Clifton-Taylor, Alec, The Cathedrals of England, Thames & Hudson, London, 1967 and 1986)

 

 

 Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)

 




Cows on the Tower

 
 
Medieval buildings are often rich with whimsical elements, conceived by architects and sculptors.   Particularly peculiar was the idea in 1200 to decorate the towers of the Gothic Laon Cathedral with 16 sculptures of cows.
 
    IMG 5465  

This idea found its imitators in Bamberg, during the first half of the 13th century. The so-called "Cathedral Cows" on Bamberg Cathedral's Gothic western towers - also copies of the Laon towers - are smaller and intended to represent mules.

 

In both cases, the intention was probably to create a monument for these beasts of burden, which had worked so hard to assist with the erection of the church.

 

 

  Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)