Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de ParisOf all the cathedrals of France, Notre Dame de Paris is most firmly impressed on the minds of English speaking people. At least, it is more familiarly known by all who visit that delectable land, and perhaps rightly so. Poets have sung its praises, and writers of all ranks have used it in well-nigh every possible fashion as an accessory; indeed, books almost without number have been written about it, and around it. This is as it should be, for perhaps no great church is more worthy, or more prolific in material. For those who would probe deeply into its story, there is but one way to acquire an intimate knowledge thereof,—to undertake a course of reading and study in some such way as a lawyer sets about reading up on a great case. By no other method could be acquired a tithe of the commonly known facts regarding its past history; hence the impossibility of attempting to deal fully in a few pages with this great church, even in a perfunctory manner. The most that can be safely ventured upon, is to recount some of the facts.

How many have really noticed that none of the diagrams, which show the ground-plan of this cathedral, indicate the existence of any transepts? Take, for instance, that which accompanies this volume, which, it may be said, is drawn correctly,—beyond the omission of a couple of pillars on either side of the nave, there is nothing to break into the long parallelogram-like structure, with an apsidal termination. As a matter of fact, there are a pair of very beautiful transepts, as most photographs of the exterior, and drawings of the interior, show. They are, too, in no way attenuated, and are only lost in the ground-plan by reason of the fact that they follow the very unusual arrangement of not extending laterally beyond the ample width of the nave and its chapelled aisles. The south transept façade, with the portal dedicated to St. Stephen, and two magnificent rose windows, is unquestionably more pleasing than the west façade itself as to design and arrangement.

Begun in 1163 and consecrated in 1182, the church has undergone many vicissitudes, changes, and restorations. It has fared ill on many occasions; perhaps the greatest defilement being that which befell it during the Revolution, when it was not only foully desecrated, its statues and other imagery despoiled, but the edifice was actually doomed to destruction. This fortunately was spared to it, but in the same year (1793) it became a "Temple of Reason," one of those fanatical exploits of a set of madmen who are periodically let loose upon the world. Mysticism, palaverings, and orgies unspeakable took place between its walls, and it only became sanctified again when Napoleon caused it to be reopened as a place of divine worship. Again, three-quarters of a century later, it fell into evil times—when it was turned into a military rendezvous by the Communards of '71. In turn, they too retreated, leaving the church, as they supposed, to the mercy of the flames which they had kindled. Fortunately these were extinguished and the building again rescued from an untoward fate.

The thirteenth-century façade is usually accredited the finest part of the church. It comes upon one as rather plain and bare after the luxuriance of Amiens, Reims, or Rouen. As a model and design, however, it has served its purpose well, if other examples, variously distributed throughout England and France, are considered. Its lines, in fact, are superb and vary little in proportion or extent from what must perforce be accepted as ideal. Its portals are of good design, and so also is such sculpture as survived the ravages of the past, though the outlines of the doorways are severely plain. A series of modern sculptured effigies of the kings, replacing those destroyed at the Revolution, forms a plain horizontal band across the entire front; a none too graceful or pleasing arrangement of itself. A rose window forty-two feet in width occupies the centre of the next stage, flanked by two blunt-pointed windows rather bare of glass. Above is an arcaded gallery of small pointed arches in pairs, also extending across the entire front. The balustrade, above, holds a number of grotesque creatures carved in stone. They may be gargoyles, but are not, however, in this case, of the spout variety, being some of those erections of a superstitious age which were so frequently added to a mediæval building; though whether as a mere decoration, or with greater significance, authorities do not seem to agree. The two uncompleted square towers overtop all, pierced by the two great lancets, which, with respect to mere proportions, are unusual if not unique.

The spire above the crossing is a wooden structure covered with lead, and dates only from the middle of the nineteenth century. Both the north and south transepts contain magnificent rose windows of even larger dimensions than that of the west façade. The doorway of the south transept is ornamented with effective ironwork, but otherwise the exterior presents no remarkable features.

To the artist's eye the gem of the building is undoubtedly the fine grouping and ensemble of the flying buttresses at the rear of the choir. Most persons, so gifted, have tried their prentice, or their master, hands at depicting this grand marshalled array of "folded wings," and, but for the gruesome morgue at its foot, which ever intrudes into the view, one might almost say it is the most idyllic and most specious view of a great cathedral that it were possible to have. Were it not for this charming view of these buttressed walls, with the river flowing at their feet, the Isle de la Cité would be indeed a gloomy spot, with its lurid historical past, and its present gruesome association with the "house of the dead." Indeed, it has been questioned as to whether the choir and chevet of Notre Dame de Paris is not the most beautiful extant. The Isle de la Cité was the ancient island village of the Parisii.

A sixteenth-century Dutch writer (De Sauteuil) has delivered himself of these few lines concerning the Seine at this point:

"When first it enters the metropolis it ambitiously stays its rapid course, and, being truly enamoured with the place, forgets its way, is uncertain whither to flow, and winds in sweet meanders through the town; thence filling the pipes with its waters. That which was once a river, joys to become a fountain."

To carry the suggestion of contrast still farther one should read Hugo's "Notre Dame" on the spot. It will give a wonderful and whimsical conception of those weird gargoyles and devils, which have only to be seen to awaken a new interest in what this great writer has put forth. For another sensation, pleasant or otherwise, one might look up a copy of Méyron's wonderful etching of the same subject, or refer to a most excellent monograph, written not many years since, entitled "The Devils of Notre Dame." The interior shows the earliest example wherein the double aisles of the nave are continued around the choir, and the first introduction of the quadruple range of openings from the pavement to the vaulting. The aisles and nave are of almost equal height.

The choir, besides being merely apsided, is, in fact, a true semicircle, a sufficiently unusual arrangement in an early Gothic church to be remarked; and, in addition, is exceedingly narrow and lofty. The glass of the rose windows is of old and gorgeous quality, it having escaped destruction in Revolutionary times, whereas that of the lower range of windows was mostly destroyed.

The choir stalls are of excellent wooden carving, but the high altar is modern, dating only from 1874. The choir screen, of the fourteenth century, shows twenty-three reliefs in stone, once richly gilded, but now tarnished and dull.
Notre Dame de Paris from the River

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Basilica of St. Denis

Basilica of St. Denis
The Basilica of St. Denis, so-called to-day, built over the remains of the martyred St. Denis, is in a way the counterpart of the Cathedral of Reims, in that it also is intimately associated with the Kings of France. In the former they were, almost without exception, crowned; and here, at St. Denis, are the memorials of their greatness, and in many cases their actual tombs. Thus far and no farther may the similarity be said to exist. The old Abbey of St. Denis has little in common, architecturally, with the grand Cathedral of Notre Dame de Reims. Of the two, St. Denis is much the older foundation, and from the point of view of romance and sentiment holds perhaps the premier place, as well.

The history of the city is one of the most interesting and diversified of all in the domain of the Kings of France. A Benedictine abbey was founded here in the reign of Dagobert I.,94 and, under the Carlovingian dynasty, immediately took on political as well as devout significance. The Abbot of St. Denis journeyed to Rome in 751 A. D. and secured for Pepin the papal confirmation of his kingship. Pope Stephen took refuge here from the Lombards in 754 A. D., during which time he anointed the king's sons, Charles and Charlemagne; upon the consecration of which act Pepin handed over to his sons the right and title to his dominions.

Upon the advice of the Abbot Suger, Louis VI. adopted the Oriflamme, or standard of St. Denis, as the banner of the Kings of France, and, for long after, its red and gold colourings hung above the altar,—only to be removed when the king should take the field in person.

Abélard, of famed romance, was a monk of the abbey in the twelfth century; and, in the absence of the sovereign (Louis VII.) in the Holy Land during the mid-century, the Abbé Suger administered full well the affairs of the kingdom. This renowned abbot and true lover of art died in 1151 at St. Denis.

In 1429 "the Maid of Orleans" here delivered up her arms; and a century and a half later that sturdy Protestant, Henry, abjured95 the faith to which he had hitherto so tenaciously clung. In this church, too, the great Napoleon married Marie Louise in 1810; and his later namesake, some fifty years after, erected a mausoleum in the crypt, known as the Caveau Imperial, the burial vault of his dynasty, which, however, has never been so used.

Such in brief is the record of some of the more important affairs of church and state, which are identified with this fine old cathedral. The usual books of reference give lengthy lists of the various tombs and monuments which exist. It is a pity, however, that, in spite of the laudable ambition of preserving here, in a sort of kingly Valhalla, the memory of the rulers of a past age, it has degenerated, in turn, to a mere show-place, with little enough of the real sentiment remaining to satisfy the seriously inclined, who perforce would wish to be reminded in some more subtle way than by a mere "rush around the exhibits," which is about all the half-hourly, personally conducted excursions, with appropriate fees to be delivered up here and there, amounts to. But for this, there would still be some of the charm and reverence which such a noble memorial should inspire, in spite96 of the fact that revolution and desecration have played more than a usual share in the general derangement of the original plans.

Up to the time of Henry IV., the monarchs were mostly interred in separate tombs, but, following him, his immediate successors were buried in a common vault. During the Revolution, the Convention decreed that the royal tombs should be destroyed, and so they mostly were,—the bodies dug up and interred, if so the process can be called, in a common grave. In 1817 Louis XVIII. caused the remains of his ancestors, as well as Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette, to be transferred here from the Madeleine, and in turn he himself was buried here, as well as the Duc de Berry and several of his children. The preservation of such of the tombs as survived the many vicissitudes to which they were put, is due to the fact that many of them were at one time removed to the Musée des Petits-Augustines, now the Palace des Beaux Arts, at Paris; but in 1817 Louis XVIII. ordered them to be replaced in the crypt of St. Denis; not, however, on the sites which they formerly occupied, but in an arbitrary manner which only the great abilities of M. Viollet-le-Duc, who undertook their rearrangement and restoration, were able to 97present in some coherent manner for the marvel of future generations. There are now therein over fifty monuments and tombs, besides various statues, medallions, and other memorials.

From an architectural point of view, we have to consider the Basilique de St. Denis no longer a cathedral, as one of the earliest Gothic examples in France, though at first glance little enough of the true Gothic feeling is apparent. About the year 275 a chapel was built here above the grave of St. Dionysius, the first Bishop of Paris. This was followed by a large basilica, ultimately given over to the uses of monks of the Benedictine order. Evidences of this former construction are supposed by archæologists to still remain, but little, earlier than the structure of the Abbé Suger, meets the eye to-day. Strong is the trace of the development from the Romanesque façade, completed in 1140, to pure Gothic construction of a century later. In this church is commonly supposed to be exhibited for the first time, bearing in mind that the date of its consecration was 1144, a complete system of buttresses accompanying the pointed arch of the vaulting, though in conjunction with semicircular vaulting in the choir aisles.98

The west façade is the most notable part of Suger's building. It contains three deeply recessed round arched portals, decorated with sculpture, but so disfigured, or at least modified from their original forms in an attempt to replace the ravages of time and spoliation, that one can not well judge of their original merit. The south portal shows symbolical figures of the months and of "St. Dionysius in Prison;" the central doorway a "Last Judgment," and the "Wise and Foolish Virgins;" while the north portal depicts "St. Dionysius on His Way to Martyrdom," and "The Signs of the Zodiac."

A curious and unusual effect of the upper portion of this grim façade, like a similar work at Dol-de-Bretagne, is a range of battlements which were erected for defensive purposes in the fourteenth century. The nave rises high above this, surmounted by a statue of St. Denis. Above the lateral portals of the façade are two towers, that on the right rising two stages above the embattled crest, while that on the left stops at that level. The spire with which it was formerly surmounted was ruined by lightning early in the nineteenth century.

The choir, with its radiating chapels, is of a Romanesque order, with the Gothic 99attribute of the flying buttress in a high degree of development.

A general restoration was carried out in the thirteenth century by the successors of Suger, the Abbés Eudes Clement and Matthieu de Vendôme, in the best Gothic of the time; and it is to their excellently planned work that the general fine effect of the present interior arrangements may properly enough be accredited, though for a fact it seldom is so. A later restoration, the removing of the ruin wrought by the Revolution, did not succeed so well. It was not until the really great work of Viollet-le-Duc, under Napoleon III., that this grand building finally took on again an acceptable form.

The general interior arrangements, though to-day apparently subservient to the common attributes of a show-house with its innumerable guides, functionaries, and fees, are simple and impressive so far as structural elements are concerned. As for decorations, they are mostly to be found in that gorgeous array of monuments and tombs before mentioned. The entrance proper, or vestibule, is of Suger's era and is gloomy and dull, in strong contrast with the noble and impressive nave, which contains thirty-seven enormously high100 windows and a handsome triforium gallery. This portion dates from the thirteenth century, or immediately following Suger's régime. The excellent stained glass is modern. The transepts are mere rudimentary elements, suggested only by the interior arrangement of the piers, and are simple and impressive.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Notre Dame de Rouen

Rouen CathedralRouen, of all the mediæval cities of France, is ever to the fore in the memories of the mere traveller for pleasure. In no sense are its charms of a negative quality, or few in number. Quite the reverse is the case; but the city's apparent attraction is its extreme accessibility, and the glamours that a metropolis of rank throws over itself; for it must not be denied that a countrified environment has not, for all, the appealing interest of a great city. It is to this, then, that Rouen must accredit the throngs of strangers which continually flock to its doors from the Easter time to late autumn. In addition there are its three great churches, so conveniently and accessibly placed that the veriest tyro in travel can but come upon them whichever way he strolls. Other monuments of equal rank there are, too, and altogether, whether it be the mere hurried pecking of a bird of passage, or the more 80leisurely attack of the studiously inclined, Rouen offers perhaps much greater attractions than are possessed by any other French city of equal rank.

So closely, too, have certain events of English history been interwoven with scenes and incidents which have taken place here, that the wonder is that it is not known even more intimately by that huge number of persons who annually rush across France to Switzerland or Italy.

Chroniclers of the city's history, its churches, and its institutions have not been wanting, in either French or English; and even the guide-books enlarge (not unduly) upon its varied charms. Once possessing thirty-two churches, sixteen yet remain; quite one-half of which may be numbered to-day as of appealing interest. En passant, it may be stated that here at Rouen, in both Notre Dame and the Abbey Church of St. Ouen, is found that gorgeous functionary, commonly called "the Suisse," who seeks your gold or a portion thereof, in return for which he will favour you by opening an iron wicket into the choir, an incumbrance unnoticed elsewhere, except at Paris and St. Denis.

The late Gothic church of St. Ouen, where81 the Maid of Orleans received her fatal sentence, shows a wonderful unity of design even as to its modern western towers; a consistency not equally the possession of the neighbouring cathedral, or even of most great churches. Altogether, this grand building is regarded as an unparallelled example of the realization of much that is best of Gothic architecture at its greatest height. In its central tower alone—which may or may not be suggestive of a market-basket, accordingly as you will take Ruskin's opinion, or form one of your own—is the least evidence of the developed flamboyant found. Its interior is clean-cut and free of obstruction; the extreme length of its straight lines, both horizontal and perpendicular, entirely freed from chapel or choir screen, embrace and uphold its "walls of glass" in an unequalled manner.

In strong contrast to this expressively graceful style is the ultraflorid type of St. Maclou, the other of that trinity of architectural splendours, which, with the Cathedral of Notre Dame, form the chief ecclesiastical monuments of the city. St. Maclou, which dates from the early fifteenth century, though not of the grand proportions of either of the other great churches, being rather of the type of the82 large parish church as it is known in England, holds one spellbound by the very daring of its ornaments and tracery, but contains no trace of non-Gothic. The French passion for the curved line is nowhere more manifest than here (and in the west front of Notre Dame), where flowing tracery of window, doorway, portal, and, in general, all exterior ornament, is startling in its audacity. To view these two contrasting types before making acquaintance with the Cathedral of Notre Dame itself, is to prepare oneself for a consideration in some measure of a combination of the charms of both, woven into one fabric. Nowhere, at least in no provincial town of France, are to be found such a categorical display of ecclesiastical architectural details as here.

Rouen has from the second century been an important seat of Christianity. St. Nicaise, not to be confounded with him of the same name of Reims, first held a conversion here and was shortly followed by St. Mellor, who founded the city's first church, on the site of the present cathedral. In succeeding centuries this foundation gradually took shape and form until, with the occupation by the Norsemen under Rollo, was founded a dynasty which fostered the development of theology83 and the arts in a manner previously unknown. The cathedral was enlarged at this time, and upon his death in 930 Rollo was interred therein, as was also his son in 943. Richard the Fearless followed with further additions and enlargements, his son Richard being made its forty-third archbishop. From this time on, the great church-building era, Christian activities were notably at work, here as elsewhere, and during the prolific eleventh century great undertakings were in progress; so much so that what was practically a new church received its consecration, and dedication to Our Lady, in 1063, in the presence of him who later was to be known as the Conqueror. To-day it stands summed up thus—a grand building, rich, confused, and unequal in design and workmanship.

The lower portion of the northwest tower, called the Tour St. Romain, is all that is left of the eleventh-century building, the remainder of which was destroyed by fire in 1200. Rebuilding followed in succeeding years and shows work of many styles. Additions, repairs, and interpolations were incorporated with the fragment of the tower, so that the structure as we now know it stood complete with the early thirteenth century. Viollet-le-Duc84 is the authority for the statement that the apse and transept, chapels, choir, and two doorways of the west façade were quite complete before the influence of the perfected Gothic of the Isle of France was even felt. One Enguerrand was the chief designer of the new church, assisted by Jean d'Andeli as master mason. The early century saw the nave chapels built, having been preceded by the Portail aux Libraires, a sort of cloistered north entrance, still so referred to, one of the most charming and quiet old-world retreats to be found to-day even within the hallowed precincts of a cathedral. The Portail de la Calende did not follow until a century later, when the Tour St. Romain was completed to its roof; at which time was also added the screen or arcade which separates the Portail aux Libraires from the street.

This century, too, saw the beginning of the famous Tour de Beurre, built mostly by the contributions of those who paid for the indulgence of being allowed to eat butter during Lent. Its foundation was laid in 1487 under Archbishop Robert de Croixmore, and it was completed under Cardinal d'Amboise in 1507. A chapel at the base of the tower is dedicated to St. Stephen. The ornate decorations of the west front, added by Georges d'Amboise, are mainly of the sixteenth century and form no part of the original plan or design. It borders upon the style we have since learned to decry, but it is, at least, marvellous as to the skill with which its foliaged and crocketed pinnacles and elaborate traceries are worked. Ruskin was probably right in this estimate at least,—"The central gable is the most exquisite piece of pure flamboyant style extant." At the present day this west front is undergoing such restoration and general repair that the entire gable, rose window, and part of the flanking towers are completely covered with a most hideous array of scaffolding.

The central spire as it exists to-day, in reality an abomination of abominations, is naturally enough admired by all when first viewed from afar. It certainly looks not dwarfed, or even fragile, but simply delicate, and withal graceful, an opinion which ultimate association therewith speedily dispels. It must be one of the very first examples of modern iron or steel erection in the world, dating from 1827, following three former spires, each of which was burned. The architect responsible for this monstrosity sought to combine two fabrics in incoherent proportions. More than one authority decries the use of iron as a constructive element, and Chaucer's description of the Temple of Mars in the Knight's Tale reads significantly:

"Wrought all of burned steel...
Was long and straight and ghastly for to see."

The great part of the exterior of this remarkable church is closely hidden by a rather squalid collection of buildings. Here and there they have been cleared away, but, like much of the process of restoration, where new fabric is let into the old, the incongruity is quite as objectionably apparent as the crumbling stones of another age. Notre Dame de Rouen is singularly confined, but there seems no help for it, and it is but another characteristic of the age in which it was built,—that the people either sought the shelter of churchly environment, or that the church was only too willing to stretch forth its sheltering arms to all and sundry who would lie in its shadow.

In an assignment of ranking beauty to its external features, the decorative west front must manifestly come first; next the Portail aux Libraires, with its arcaded gateway and the remains of the booksellers' stalls which still surround its miniature courtyard; then, perhaps, should follow the Tour St. Romain and the Portail de la Calende, with its charmingly recessed doorway and flanking lancet arches. The sculptured decorations of all are for the most part intact and undisfigured. The gable of the southern doorway rises pointedly until its apex centres with the radiated circular window above, which, by the way, is not of the exceeding great beauty of the other two rose windows, which rank with those at Reims and Chartres as the beaux ideals of these distinctly French achievements.

The interior, viewed down the nave, and showing its great length and that of the choir, impresses one with a graver sense of unity in the manner of building than is possible to conceive with regard to the exterior. The height and length both approximate that of St. Ouen, and, though the nave rises only to ninety-eight feet, an effect of greater loftiness is produced by the unusual quadripartite range of openings from pavement to vaulting: two rows of arches opening into the aisles before the triforium itself is reached. The lantern at the crossing supports the ironwork spire, and admits light to the centre of the church, only to a small degree, however. The south transept, like that of the north, with its ample double aisles, is of great width, and, were the framing of the great rose window of less angularity, it would indeed produce a remarkable effect of grandeur. The other windows, and the arcading of the triforium, are singularly graceful; not lacking either strength or firmness, though having no glass of great rarity or excellence. In this transept is the altar of St. Romain, a seventeenth-century work of little pretensions.

The north transept contains two features which give it immediate precedence over any other, when viewed from within: its gracefully traceried rose window and fine glass, and the delightful stone staircase leading to the chapter library. Mere description cannot do this stairway justice. Renaissance it certainly is, and where we might wish to find nothing but Gothic ornament, it may prove somewhat of a disappointment; but it is magnificent. Its white marble balustrading gleams in the strong light thrown from the western transept window and gives an unmistakable note of richness and sonority. It was built late in the fifteenth century under orders of Cardinal d'Estonteville. The upper doorway leads to the treasury, and that of the first landing to the chamber in which were formerly kept the bibliographical treasures, now housed in the special building which forms the western wall of the outside court.

The north and south aisles of the nave are broken into by a series of chapels, the chief of which are the Chapel to St. Stephen in the base of the Tour de Beurre and du Petit St. Romain, where an abbé or curé speaking the English tongue is often to be found. On the south side is a chapel containing the tomb of William Longsword, second Duke of Normandy, and son of Rollo.

The great attraction of the choir, far more than its beauties of architectural forms, shown in its graceful columns and deep graven capitals, will be, for most visitors, its array of elaborate monuments, including those of Pierre and Louis de Breze, of whom the former, the Grand Seneschal of Normandy under Charles VII., fell at Monthery, and was buried here in 1465. More pretentious is the tomb of Louis, his grandson, erected by his wife Diane de Poitiers, with a significant inscription which the curious may be pleased to figure out for themselves. This noble monument is one of those examples hesitatingly attributed to Jean Goujon. The pièce de résistance is the Renaissance tomb of the Cardinals d'Amboise. Georges I. was memorialized in 1556 by his nephew Georges II., who in turn came to share the same tomb. Both their kneeling figures are beautifully chiselled, and the whole erection is gorgeously representative of the late sixteenth-century monumental work, little in keeping with the Gothic fabric which houses it, but characteristic of the changing thought and influence of its time. Six symbolical figures of the virtues form a lower course, while the canopy is surmounted by nineteen figures of apostles, saints, etc. In 1793 the ashes of these great prelates were scattered to the winds, but the effigies and their setting fortunately remained uninjured. Other archbishops of the cathedral are buried in the choir, and the heart of Richard Cœur de Lion once rested here, as did also the bodies of his brother Henry, and John, Duke of Bedford.

The choir stalls, mostly the work of Flemish wood-carvers, are notable examples.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

St. Pierre de Beauvais

Beauvais Cathderal
Beauvais is by no means an inaccessible place, though how often have we known one who could not tell in what part of France it was situated. Of course, being "off the line" is sufficient excuse for the majority of hurried travellers to pass it by, but, leaving this debatable point out of the question, let us admit, for the nonce, that it is admirably located if one only chooses to spend a half-day or more in visiting the charmingly interesting city and its cathedral, or what there is of it, for it exists only as a luminous height sans nave, sans tower, and sans nearly everything, except a choir of such immensity that to see it is to marvel if not to admire. It is indeed as Hope has said, "a miracle of loftiness and lightness; appearing as if about to soar into the air."

How many readers, who recognize the charms for which the cathedral is most revered, know that it was intended to rank as the St. Peter's of the north, and like its Roman prototype, was to surpass all other contemporary structures in size and magnificence. This was marked out for it when, in the middle sixteenth century, the builders of its central spire, which fell shortly after, sought to rival the Italian church in a vast Gothic fabric which should be the dominant northern type in contra-distinction to that of the south. This of itself, were there no other contributory interests, which there are to a very great degree, should be all-sufficient to awaken the desire on the part of every one who journeys Parisward to obtain a more intimate acquaintance with this great work. Here was an instance of ambition overleaping itself,—exceeding by far the needs and conditions of its environment and like many another ill-planned venture, it fell to ruin through a lack of logic and mental balance. To-day we see a restored fabric, lacking all the attributes of a great church except that which is encompassed by that portion lying eastward of the nave proper, its frail buttresses knitted together by iron rods, its piers latterly doubled in number, and many more visible signs of an attempt to hold its walls and roofs up to the work they have to perform.

The present structure, in so far as certain of its components go, was commenced within five years of Amiens (1225), which calls to mind the guide-book comparison, which seems so appropriate that it must really have previously originated from some other source,—Amiens, "a giant in repose;" Beauvais, "a Colossus on tiptoe."

Its designer built not wisely, nor in this case too well, for before the end of the century the roof had fallen, and this after repeated miscalculations and failures. At this time the intermediate piers of the choir were built and a general modified plan adopted.

Ruskin's favourite simile, with respect to St. Pierre de Beauvais, was that no Alpine precipice had the sheer fall of the walls of this choir,—or words to that effect, which is about as far-fetched as many other of his dictums, which have since been exploded by writers of every degree of optimism and pessimism. Certainly it is a great height to which this choir rises, one hundred and fifty-three feet it has been called, which probably exceeds that of Amiens by a dozen or more feet, though authorities (sic) vary with regard to these dimensions, as might be supposed; but it is no more like unto a wall of rock than it is to a lighthouse.

With the crumbling of the sixteenth-century spire on Ascension Day, 1573, restoration of the transepts was undertaken and work on the nave resumed, which only proceeded, however, to the extent of erecting one bay to the westward, which stands to this day, the open end filled in with scantling, weather proofing, and what not,—a bare, gaunt, ugly patch. Had it been possible to complete the work on its original magnificent lines, it would have been the most stupendous Gothic fabric the world has ever known.

Not entirely without beauty, in spite of its great proportions, it is more with wonder than admiration that one views both its details and proportions. Though it is perhaps unfair to condemn its style as unworthy of the Augustan age of French architecture, surely the ambition with which the work was undertaken was a laudable one enough, and it is only from the fact that it spells failure in the eyes of many who lack initiative in their own make-up, that it only qualifiedly may be called a great work.

The choir, which now dates from 1322, perforce looks unduly short, by reason of the absence of a nave to add to the effect of horizontal stability; and the great height of the adjoining transept; but the chevet and buttresses are certainly a marvel of grace and towering forms.

The portals of the transept are of the period of Francis I., with flowing lines and ornate decorations—"having passed the severity and ethical standards of maturity, and progressed well along the path to senility," as a vigorous Frenchman has put it. True enough in its application is this livid sentiment,—perhaps,—but its jewel-like south portal, like the "gemmed" west front of Tours, forms an attractive enough presentment to please most observers who do not delve too deeply into cause and effect. The north portal is less ornate, but its beautifully carved doors are by the same hand as that which worked the opposite portal. The ornamental stonework here is unusual, suggesting an arrangement which may or may not have been intended as a representation of the "Tree of Jesse." In any case it is a remarkable work of flowing Gothic "branches," which, though mainly lacking its intended interspersed figures, is not only unique among exterior decorations, but appears as a singularly appropriate treatment of a grand doorway.

Adjoining the choir on the right is a sacristy occupying a small structure, and to the westward is a fragmentary edifice known as the Basse Œuvre,—one of the oldest existing buildings in France; a Romano-Byzantine work, variously stated as of the sixth to eighth century and forming a portion of the original church which occupied the site of the present Cathedral.

The general impressiveness of this great church—the memory which most of us will carry away—is caused by its immensity, its loftiness, and the general effect of lightness. These form an irresistible galaxy of features which can hardly fail to produce a new and startling sensation upon any observer.

As to decorative embellishments, the church is by no means lacking. The coloured glass, typical of the best period of the art, is luxurious and extensive; that contained in the north and south transept rose windows being the exceedingly beautiful work of Le Prince, a celebrated sixteenth-century artist.

Numerous side chapels surround the ambulatory of the choir, and on the west wall of the transept are hung the eight tapestries after the sixteenth-century Raphael cartoons now at South Kensington. These tapestries are, it is to be presumed, late copies, since, of the two early sets woven at Arras, one is preserved in the Vatican and the other at the Museum at Berlin. A modern fresco of Jeanne Hachette, a local Amazon, adorns one of the choir chapels. A modern astronomical clock, with numerous dials, striking figures, and crowing cocks, is placed near the north transept. It might naturally be supposed that in our day the canons of good taste would plead against such a mere "curio" being housed in a noble church.

The former Bishop's Palace, dating from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, is now the Palace of Justice. The present episcopal residence is immediately to the north of the Cathedral and is modern.

As a tapestry-making centre Beauvais ranks with the famous Gobelin Manufactory at Paris.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Notre Dame d'Amiens

Amiens Cathedral
The ever impressive Cathedral of Notre Dame d'Amiens is in most English minds the beau ideal of a French cathedral. It is contemporary with Salisbury in period, at least, but it has little to remind one of the actual features of this edifice. Often associated therewith, as a similar type, it has little in reality in common, except that each is representative of a supreme style. Beyond this it is hard to see how any expert, archæologist, antiquary, or what not, would seek to discover relationship between two such distinct types. Salisbury is the ideal English cathedral as to situation, surroundings, and general charm and grace. This no one would attempt to deny; but, in another environment, how different might it not appear,—as for instance placed beside Amiens, where in one particular alone, the mere height of nave and choir, it immediately dwindles into insignificance. Under such conditions its graceful spire becomes dwarfed and attenuated. Need more be said?—The writer thinks not, since the present work does not deal with the comparative merits of any two cathedrals or of national types; but the suggestion should serve to demonstrate how impossible it is for any writer, however erudite he may be, to attempt to assign precedence, or even rank, among the really great architectural works of an era. This observation is true of many other examples of art expression.

The cathedral at Amiens is dedicated to the Virgin, and is built in the general form of a Latin cross. Over the principal doorway of the south portal, on one of the upper plinths, may be seen the inscription which places the date of the present edifice.

En l'an`que l'Incarnatio valait mcc et xx., ifu: rimisit: le première piere: iasis,... le cors.... Robert...

The work was undertaken by one Robert de Luzarche, in the episcopate of Evrard de Fouilloy, the forty-fifth Bishop of Amiens, whose tomb may be seen just within the western doorway, and occupies the site of other66 structures which had been variously devastated by fire or invasion in 850, 1019, 1137, and 1218. For fifty years the work went on expeditiously under various bishops and their architects. "Saint" Louis, Blanche of Castille, Philippe the Hardy, and the city fathers all aided the work substantially, and the fabric speedily took on its finished form. Through the later centuries it still preserved its entity, and even during the Revolution its walls escaped destruction and defilement through the devotion of its adherents.

In later days important work and restoration has been carried out under the paternal care and at the expense of the state; and the city itself only recently contributed 45,000 francs for the clearing away of obstructing buildings.

A French writer has said, "It is only with the aid of a Bible and a history of theology that it is possible to elucidate the vast iconographic display of the marvellous west front of the cathedral at Amiens." Like Reims, its three portals of great size are peopled with a throng of statues. The central portal, known as the Porche du Souvenir, contains the statue of the Good God of Amiens; that on the right is called after the Mère de Dieu, and that on67 the left for St. Fermin the Martyr. Above the gables is the "Gallery of Kings," just below the enormous rose windows. Above rise the two towers of unequal loftiness, and lacking, be it said, thickness in its due proportion. The carven figures in general are not considered the equal in workmanship of those at Reims, though the effect and arrangement is similar. For a complete list of them, numbering some hundreds on this façade alone, the reader must refer to some local guide-book, of which several are issued in the city.

The south portal, the Portal de la Vierge dorée or Portal de Saint Honoré, shares company with the west façade in its richness of sculpture and its rose window and its gable. Here also are to be seen the supporting buttresses which spring laterally from the wall of the transept and cross with those which come from the choir.

The north portal, on the side of the Bishop's Palace, does not show the same richness as the others, though perhaps more than ordinarily ornate.

The spire above the transept crossing is a work of the sixteenth century, and is perhaps more remarkable than its rather diminutive68 appearance, in contrast with the huge bulk of the edifice, would indicate.

The extreme height of nave and choir (147 feet), adds immeasurably to the grand effect produced by the interior, a height in proportion to breadth nearly double that usual in the English cathedrals. The vaulting is borne aloft by over one hundred columns. The natural attribute of such great dimension is a superb series of windows, a promise more than fulfilled by the three great rose windows and the lofty clerestory of nave and choir. The sixteenth century glass is exceedingly profuse and brilliant.

The lateral chapels of the nave were added subsequent to the work of the early builders, all being of the sixteenth century, while the eleven choir chapels are of the thirteenth century, all with very ornate iron grilles, which are a feature only second to a remarkable series of "choir stalls," numbering over one hundred, showing a wonderful variety of delicate carved figures of the sixteenth century, the work of one Jean Turpin, the subjects being mainly Biblical.

A stone screen with elaborate sculptures in high relief surrounds the choir, that on the south representing the legend of St. Firmin,69 the patron of Picardy, and that on the north, scenes connected with the life of John the Baptist. In a side chapel dedicated to St. John reposes the alleged head of John the Baptist. Others have appeared elsewhere from time to time, but as they are not now recognized as being genuine, and the said apostle not being hydra-headed, it is possible that there will be those who will choose to throw the weight of their opinions in favour of the claim of Amiens.

The flying buttresses at Amiens are not of the singular lightness associated with this notably French characteristic; they are in the main, however, none the less effective for that, and assuredly, so far as the work which they have to perform is concerned, it was doubtless necessary that they should be of more than ordinary strength.

The view of the ensemble from the river shows the massiveness and general proportions in a unique and superb manner. Amiens is not otherwise an attractive city, a bustle of grand and cheap hotels, decidedly a place to be taken en route, not like Beauvais, where one may well remain as long as fancy wills and not feel the too strong hand of progress intruding upon his ruminations.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Notre Dame de Laon

For over twelve hundred years, until the see was abolished at the Revolution, Laon was the seat of a bishop who in point of rank was second only to the primate at Reims. Crowning the apex of a long isolated hill, upon which the entire town, now a fortress of the third class, is situated, the cathedral of Notre Dame de Laon, still so called locally, has endured since the beginning of the twelfth century, and may be considered a thoroughly representative transition example.

The present structure is on the site of one burned in 1112, and during comparatively recent years has been entirely restored.

Its crowning glory is in the disposition and number of its fine group of towers: two flank the western façade, and are rectangular at the base, dwindling to a smaller polygon, which is flanked with corner belfries and pierced by a tall lancet in the central structure, showing a wonderful lightness and open effect. A curious and unique feature of these towers is the addition of four oxen in carven stone perched high aloft in the belfries. These sculptured animals may be merely another expression of symbols of superstition, and if so are far more pleasing than some of the hideous and monstrous gargoyles ofttimes seen. Two other towers, each 190 feet in height, adjoin the transepts, to each of which is attached a double-storied, apsidal, ancient chapel. Two similarly projected towers are lacking. The lantern is square, with a shallow, conical, modern roof.

In the transition type Romanesque influences were evidently dying hard. The Gothic was seldom full blown, and at Laon shows but the merest trace of pointedness to the arches of the western façade, either in the portals or in the higher openings.45

The lack of a circular termination to the choir is but another indication of a link with a transitory past; an undeniably false note and one very unusual in France, the choir being of the squared-off variety so common in England. This may be coincident with the English custom of the time, or it may be directly due to a local English influence;—most probably the latter, inasmuch as an English prelate held the see for a time, and the city, in the early fifteenth century, was for a number of years in English hands. It is significant that in some of the smaller churches of the diocese is to be noted the same treatment.

The rose windows of both the eastern and western façades are Gothic in inception and treatment, and are unusually acceptable specimens of these supreme efforts of the French mediæval builders, the glass therein being distinctly good, though perhaps not remarkable.

The transepts are rectangular and, with the ensemble of the entire structure, were their towers completed, there would be produced, not only a unique example, but a towering effect only a degree less interesting than the perfectly proportioned pyramidal form so much admired in the perfectly developed Gothic.

The interior is equally attractive with the exterior, and, though the church is not by any means of remarkable dimensions, it presents in its appropriate disposition of detail a far more roomy and pleasing arrangement than many a larger example.

The transepts are divided into a nave and side aisles, the columns which partition them, like those of the nave proper, being cylindrical and of massive proportions, which, however, lighten as they rise to the vaulting. They are unusually symmetrical when viewed together, the capitals of the lower series being ornately carved, each of a varying design.

Above the aisles are lofty galleries. The nave chapels were added in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The stained glass, like that of the rose windows, is in the nave distinctly good, particularly that of the lower range on the southerly side. The pulpit, of carved wood of the Renaissance period, is not of the importance and quality of this class of work to be seen across the Rhine border.

The former Bishop's palace, adjoining the left of the choir, is now the Palais de Justice. A few remains of a former Gothic cloister are to be remarked, surrounded by the later construction.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cavaillon Cathedral

Cavaillon CathedralThe whole interior of the church at Cavillion, at whose consecration no less a prelate than Pope Innocent IV had presided, is small and its plan is essentially of the Provençal type. The high tunnel vault rests, like that of Orange, on double arches; and as the nave is very narrow and its light very dim, the church seems lofty, sombre, and impressive, with a very serious dignity which its detail fails to carry out. The chapels, which lie between the heavy buttresses, are dim recesses which increase the darkened effect of the interior. Of the ten, only three differ essentially from the general plan; and although of the XVII century, their style is so severe and they are so ill-lighted that they do not greatly debase the church. The choir is entered from under a rounded archway, and its dome is loftier than the nave and much more beautiful than the semi-dome of the apse, whose roof, in these practical modern times, has been windowed.

That which almost destroys the effect of the church's fine lines and would be intolerable in a stronger light, is the mass of gilt and polychrome with which the interior is covered. The altars are monstrously showy, the walls and buttresses are coloured, and even the interesting, sculptured figures beneath the corbels have been carefully tinted. The dead arise with appropriate mortuary pallor, the halo of Christ is pure gold, and all the draperies of God and His saints are in true, primary shadings.

From the contemplation of this misuse of paint, and of a sadly misplaced inner porch of the XVII century, the traveller's attention was recalled to the old priest. His hand was raised, the eye of every little girl was fixed on him and instantly, in their soft, shrill voices, they began the verse of a hymn. The traveller glanced down the nave. Every boy was on his feet, white ribbons hanging bravely from the right arm, the Crown of Thorns correctly held in one white-gloved hand, a Crucifix fastened with a bow of ribbon to the coat lapel. Every eye was on the young priest, who also raised his hand. Then they sang, as the girls had sung, and with a right lusty will. And then, under the guiding hands, both boys and girls sang together. There was a silence when their voices died away, and from the altar a deep voice slowly chanted “Ite; missa est,” and the High Mass of the First Communion Day was over.

Outside, little country carts stood near the church, and fathers and brothers in blue blouses were waiting for the little communicants who had had so long and so exciting a morning. Walking about with the crowds, the traveller saw an exterior whose façade was plainly commonplace and whose bare lateral walls were patched, and crowded by other walls. Finally he came upon the apse, the most interesting part of the church's exterior; and he leaned against a café wall and looked across the little square.

Externally, the apse of Saint-Véran has five sides, and each side seems supported by a channelled column. The capitals of these columns are carved with leaves or with leaves and grotesques; on them round arches rest; and above is a narrow foliated cornice. In relieving contrast to the artificial classicism of the Renaissance of the interior, the feeling of this apse is quite truly ancient and pagan, and it is not less unique nor less charming because it is placed against a plain, uninteresting wall. The eye travelling upward, above the choir-dome, meets the lantern with its rounded windows and pointed roof, and by its side the high little bell-turret which completes a curious exterior; an exterior which is interesting and even beautiful in detail, but irregular and heterogeneous as a whole.

The Cathedral of Cavaillon is one of many possibilities. Although small like those of its Provençal kindred, it has more dignity than Orange, more simplicity of interior line than the present Avignon, and it is to be regretted that it should have suffered no less from restoration than from old age.