Abstracts: Stone: New Research Concerning Masons & Sculptors I and II, 49th International Medieval Congress, Kalamazoo

AVISTA’s two stone sessions brought together new research concerning the makers of architecture and sculpture during a critical period of the Middle Ages. The Congress in Kalamazoo provided an open forum for the community of scholars to join the discussion.

Stone: New Research Concerning Masons & Sculptors I

Saturday, May 7, 2014
Session 427
Presiding: Janet Snyder, West Virginia University

The Architectural Origins, Optics and Allegories of Medieval Stone Sculpture
Peter Scott Brown
University of North Florida

After a partial—perhaps at times total—lapse of hundreds of years, stone sculpture reappeared in Europe in the eleventh century and rapidly became the most abundant, visible art form of the high Middle Ages. Stone sculpture was reinvented initially as architectural sculpture, a sculpture of arches and imposts. It is not until well into the art form’s first maturity that purely mural forms became common. The first medieval mason who set hammer and chisel to his sturdy, smooth-faced capital and obscured its lithic functionality with carvings of cramped, squat bodies and monstrous creatures did something very bold and original artistically but also architecturally problematic and challenging. A capital is not simply a “canvas.” Its first purpose is not as a substrate of mimetic representation. It is not the artist’s tabula rasa. Its functional shape and signification are persistently tectonic in character. Medieval stone sculpture does not simply participate in architectural space like a painting on a wall; it is integrally architectural. This is reflected in the origins and conceptions of medieval sculptors-cum-masons, who often use their designs to draw attention to the structure of the building and the character of its space. Formally, the sculptor, carving for the Stygian darkness of the crypt or the half-light of the choir and nave had to be especially mindful of the tactile quality of light-modeled stone and its chiaroscuro of cast shadow.

Iconographically, as a stone purposefully engaged in a building, the structural sculpture overrides the illusion of the artist’s representations, or it may harness these illusions allegorically to architectural ends, as in the ubiquitous atlantes and atlas figures of medieval architecture. In this paper, I survey works of sculpture that support deductions about the origins and character of the first sculptors and their works—skilled masons, as I will argue, with a long practical acquaintance with shaped stone and its architectural purposes. I survey works that serve as reminders of the unique optics of stone architectural sculpture in the spatially complex, dimly lit interior of the Romanesque church. Perhaps most importantly, I draw attention to a body of imagery that reveals the preoccupation of medieval sculptors in their mimetic themes with allegories of stone architecture—atlas figures and diverse other motifs of support—that imaginatively integrate pictorial and tectonic form and function. In these works, the illusion of depicted flesh contests the architectural presence of the stone block, yielding sculpture as a pervasive commentary on the stone-built church itself.

Profile of a Building (Process): San Quirce de Burgos and the Rural Romanesque in Castile
Amanda W Dotseth
PhD Candidate, Courtauld Institute of Art
Pre-Doctoral Fellow, Instituto de Historia, CSIC, Madrid

San Quirce de Burgos is a small, single-nave, nearly unknown Romanesque church in rural Castile. The monastic-turned-collegiate church is distinguished by its exquisite, and plentiful, twelfth-century sculpture which is accompanied by equally ample inscriptions in both Old Castilian and Latin.

Located between Burgos and the influential Benedictine houses of Santo Domingo de Silos and San Pedro de Arlanza, which attracted powerful patrons and pilgrims in the past and dominate scholarship in the present, San Quirce seems as marginal to Castile’s medieval mainstream as its modern one. Yet, born of the same terroir as those influential ecclesiastical centers, its foundation was fabricated from the same nationalist mythology and its stone harvested from the same quarries. Lacking the archives of its larger neighbors, however, San Quirce has little documentary evidence to shed light on its medieval past – and much of what does survive is highly suspect. Turning, therefore, to the stone “documents,” I treat San Quirce’s built environment as its most valuable primary source for offering insight into its construction and occupation during the Middle Ages. My profile of this rural church’s construction relies on the analysis of masonry, stone, and sculpture to reveal a remarkably adaptable building process punctuated by moments of continuity or rupture over time.

This paper will investigate how the elusive shifting of users and builders (or their needs and desires) responded to area influences in the adaption of stone and the conversion of space. San Quirce’s geographic proximity to the prolific limestone quarry of Hontoria de la Cantera, for example, suggests ready access to good-quality limestone (and possibly masons?) requiring comparatively little transport. Meanwhile, a reading of the building’s ample masons’ marks brings to light differing types of labor organization suited to specific, even relatively proximate, moments in construction. The impact of the stone and those who worked it may be further revealed in an examination of San Quirce’s sculptural program, which bears both physical and iconographic evidence pointing to a reinstallation of exterior sculpture, perhaps mere decades after its creation. The analysis of this small yet complex construction constitutes a profile of a building (process). However specific to San Quirce and its particular circumstances, it is hoped that this focus on the particular will elucidate the greater whole by contributing to debates on the logistical and material demands faced by makers of medieval architecture working on the margins of better known monuments.

Seeing the Stones: A Demonstration of the Power of Immersive Imagery in the Study of Medieval Sculpture
Chris Henige
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

In 2011, 2012 and 2013, three separate campaigns were undertaken to document major portal sculpture in France. The results of this have been published on the web as The Portal Project.

Initially, the Portal Project was to include images of full portals, parts of portals, and numerous details, as was presented in concept at this conference in 2011. That summer a first foray was undertaken, including about 80 portals. The downfall of this approach is that with each separate detail comes a loss of a sense of the whole, a loss of context. The experience is one of a series of individual snapshots rather than the exploration of a composition. Management and storage of the multitude of images is also problematic.

The discovery of two immersive photographic technologies, zoomable high-resolution composite imagery and panoramic imagery, completely transformed the project in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. These technologies yield products that allow for incredible detail at the same time as retention of context. Just as one might do on site, the viewer is able to look around, to zoom in on areas of interest, and to zoom back out to the whole.

This presentation will introduce the Portal Project and the technologies involved, which are neither expensive nor complicated. Though not a workshop per se, a demonstration of how the imagery is made will be given in the hopes that it will convey to interested parties that they too can easily adopt and utilize these technologies as a powerful tool for the study of medieval monuments.

Stone: New Research Concerning Masons & Sculptors II

Saturday, May 7, 2014
Session 482
Discussant: Michael T. Davis, Mount Holyoke College

Marginal Drawings in Stone: Some Implications of Hidden Sketches at Santa Maria de Piasca for Twelfth-Century Sculptural Practices in Northern Spain
Tessa Garton
College of Charleston

The removal during recent restoration of sculptures from the apse cornice of the twelfth century church of S. Maria de Piasca, in Cantabria, Spain, has revealed surfaces that are normally hidden when the stones are in situ. Some of the metopes display what appear to be trial sketches carved in the margins adjacent to the finished design.

The sculpture at Piasca is closely related to a group of monuments in northern Palencia – including the gallery-porch of Rebolledo de la Torre, where a richly decorated window incorporates the signature of Juan de Piasca and the date 1186. An inscription gives the date of 1172 for completion of the church at Piasca, and the ‘workshop’ of Juan de Piasca appears to have been active during the late twelfth century, producing decorative sculpture for a number of small churches. Most of these churches are located in the region around Aguilar de Campoo in northern Palencia, close to quarries that provide excellent quality stone for carving. A number of major monastic buildings in the region could have provided work opportunities and a training ground for an active group of sculptors working on multiple commissions. The church at Piasca is located further north of Aguilar and the quarries, and the stone used for sculpture must have been transported some fifty miles by road over the Cantabrian mountains to reach the site, where it was used in combination with a rough local stone for the walls. The capitals, corbels, and metopes at Piasca display imagery used repeatedly at related sites, indicating the use of standard formulae and mass production in the repertoire of this workshop.

This paper will address questions of standardization and mass-production, and will examine the implications of the newly revealed evidence of the hidden sketches at Piasca for our understanding oftwelfth-century sculptural practices in northern Spain.

Applying Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to the Study of Romanesque Capital Distribution in the Brionnais: a Pilot Study
Vibeke Olson, James Rotenberg, and Devon Eulie, University of North Carolina, Wilmington

In an attempt to understand the possible advantages of using GIS as a tool for art historical research into regional styles, labor and distribution patterns in the Middle Ages, we developed a small pilot study in the region of the Brionnais in southern Burgundy. This location was selected for a variety of factors, most importantly its wealth of extant architectural sculpture located within a relatively compact geographical area, with the added chronological advantage of having a body of work produced within a relatively short time span, c. 1075-1100. Furthermore, it is an area that has already been thoroughly studied by previous scholars using traditional methodologies, which gives us a point of comparison. We then asked if the integration of GIS analysis might provide further relevant information not readily discernable or feasible through the use of traditional methods alone. In phase 1 of our pilot project we looked at 16 repeated capital motifs at 14 churches in our study area to see if we could make any determinations about regional style and distributional patterns in relation to workshop methods and movement. We began by identifying and selecting motifs that are more or less endemic to the region; which appear to have vague or no iconographic meaning; and which are found in at least two different locations. We then made a list of a priori research questions, which we hoped could be elucidated through the application of GIS analysis. Our approach consisted of a combination of traditional methodologies like formal analyses, to categorize the compositional motifs on the capitals, combined with technological methodologies such as GIS mapping to look at distributional patterns. While results thus far remain inconclusive, we believe that with further GIS analysis we will be able to more conclusively quantify the relationships between materials, location and craftsmen in this region.

Solving the Image Puzzle: A Reassessment with New Tools
Janet Snyder, West Virginia University

Over-life-size high-relief figures of human beings sculpted of single, narrow blocks of high-quality limestone were arranged along the canted jambs of twelfth-century northern European church doorways. This paper examines two typical ways masons sculpted details:carving techniques that may be considered conventional carving techniques and evidence of specialized innovative techniques that may signal individual makers. Column-figures from twenty portals installed during the reign of Louis VII are presented side by side via Photoshop and Powerpoint,

This paper illustrates conventions and innovations in the surface carving of limestone through a side by side examination of sculpture, identifying accepted workshop practices and also individual variations that may or may not have been accepted into the workshops. Technical studies of the remains of polychromy on the stone can be observed in column-figure sculpture are described. Based on the character of the carvings, Snyder proposes a sequence for the movement of workshops and specialists from project to project, with conventionalization of representation having taken place by 1170.

Lost Buildings, Virtual Objects

Michael T. Davis
Mount Holyoke College

These remarks expand on informal comments offered at the conclusion of the session “Stone: New Research Concerning Masons and Sculptors II” at the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies (2014). Thanks to Janet Snyder for the invitation to present this ongoing work.

The history of architecture is a story based on survivors and this is especially true for Paris between 1130 and 1350. Our image of the city’s monumental architecture during those two hundred years is composed by a handful of notable churches from St-Martin-des-Champs and St-Denis to the Ste-Chapelle and Notre-Dame; mendicant complexes, college compounds, and residential buildings have disappeared from view. Nevertheless, a number of notable structures may be reconstructed on the basis of archaeological, graphic, and verbal records and their resurrection alters the character of the architecture “scene” in medieval Paris by materializing its variety.

One major loss was the Franciscan church of Ste-Marie-Madeleine, built from the 1240s to ca.1263, and generously supported by Louis IX. Although demolished at the end of the eighteenth century, the convent is documented by a robust dossier of images.[1] However, the church is seen either from a generalized bird’s eye view or in ruins, missing extensive sections of the ceiling, roof, and walls (Fig. 1: Paris, Franciscan church, interior ca. 1795 by Pierre-Antoine de Machy [Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Estampes, Rés. Ve d II, no. 1, 287]). The most informative renderings convey a sense of cavernous interior width, just the sort of “preaching barn” we might expect in a Franciscan church. Might filling in the holes recover the building’s integrity and a sense of its structure and space? My colleague in Library and Information Technology Services at Mount Holyoke, Nick Baker, suggested SketchUp as a tool to experiment with restoration, but we quickly realized that to reconcile the information from historic maps, prints, archaeological field notes and sketches we had to rebuild the church. Our efforts produced a building of expected simplicity, but also one whose interior space, based on Théodore Vacquer’s measurements, is narrower and more emphatically vertical than suggested by Pierre-Antoine De Machy’s gouache (Fig. 2).

Paris, Franciscan church, reconstructed interior (N. Baker and M.T. Davis)

Paris, Franciscan church, reconstructed interior (N. Baker and M.T. Davis)

First fruits: one of the largest churches in Paris returns to the fabric of the Left Bank, an intellectual center of the University, and a key example of mendicant architecture in Europe. Its distinctive character—columns, a two-story elevation, a timber vault—underscores the design options in play in the mid-thirteenth century. Not every church in Paris that enjoyed elite patronage looked like the Ste-Chapelle or the Notre-Dame transepts.

All representational tools, whether pencil or Vectorworks, demand complete and precise information. They force decisions and they expose the limits of knowledge. For example, the roof structure of Ste-Marie-Madeleine’s ambulatory and chapels is unknown. It is a simple matter to note verbally the existence of roofs over the church’s choir spaces, but a different task altogether to represent that system. Our model’s solution is speculation based on the configuration of the building—it must sit atop the polygonal walls of the chapels below and cannot block the windows above—and comparative examples, the Cathedral of St-André in Bordeaux and S. Francesco in Bologna (Fig. 3).

Paris, Franciscan church and east wing of cloister, reconstructed view from southeast (N. Baker and M.T. Davis)

Paris, Franciscan church and east wing of cloister, reconstructed view from southeast (N. Baker and M.T. Davis)

This necessarily rigorous engagement with the concrete details of architecture presented a promising path by which to explore the design and production of medieval buildings with students. Borrowing from Caroline Bruzelius’s “Wired” course at Duke University (see her Ted talk at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYjhueongzg), I headed into the classroom and a seminar on “Digital Paris.” A monumental church might be a bit ambitious for a semester, but how about the Franciscans’ chapter house? One room, five piers and windows, adequate verbal and visual documentation. How hard could this be? Théodore Vacquer’s notebooks in the Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris supplied primary information for this lost claustral space, but he sketched four (undated) versions of the chapter house’s entry arcade piers. Drawing the alternative schemes revealed only one viable possibility, the pier with a bilaterally symmetrical section, and this led to the recognition that despite its visual intricacy, the design was based on single repeating quadrant (Fig. 4).

Paris, Franciscan convent, reconstructed chapter house pier (M.T. Davis)

Paris, Franciscan convent, reconstructed chapter house pier (M.T. Davis)

Wrestling with the evidential conflicts of this modest space transformed the perception of Gothic buildings. Rather than incomprehensibly complex monolithic objects, they could be broken down and understood as carefully calculated assemblages of small-scale replicable components.

To fashion these components, whether piers or tracery, in SketchUp students essentially performed methods used by medieval masons: a two-dimensional section, the template or “molle,” joins to the vertical path of the elevation to create three-dimensional form. This is crucial to tracery design where, as Villard de Honnecourt recognized and drew on the folio 32r catalog of Reims mullions, the section anticipates the entire pattern above. Verbally, we easily describe a tracery pattern as a sequence of shapes: the windows of the Franciscan chapter house are composed of three lights topped by a quatrefoil inscribed within an oculus. However, the bar tracery window is not additive, a mosaic of abutting constituent parts; rather the planes of tracery unfold organically outward and upward out of the mullion. To design the part, the mason needed to have worked out the whole. Drawing a tracery pattern may well lead, as it did for me, to a late night, mouse in hand, head throbbing with the effort of trying to think simultaneously in two- and three-dimensions. This exercise awakens an acute appreciation of the mental agility and technical skill of the masons who produced these forms.

Final assembly of the chapter house and its piers and windows required resolution of dimensional discrepancies between a seventeenth-century text and Vacquer’s sketches made in the nineteenth century (Fig. 5).

Paris, Franciscan convent, reconstructed chapter house, view from entrance (M.T. Davis)

Paris, Franciscan convent, reconstructed chapter house, view from entrance (M.T. Davis)

Ultimately, these dimensioned drawings proved more credible and were adopted to scale the room. The interior architecture of the chapter house remains highly speculative: there are only the barest indications of a central file of columns, and the absence of any traces of vaulting suggests an uncomplicated timber ceiling. As a whole, this single room offers an architecture of surprising complexity. The entrance arcade piers with their angular forms, elimination of capitals, and continuous moldings step forward as a precocious example of design ideas based on elision and fluidity that would play out over the next two centuries. Ornate tracery cohabits with simple columns. The reconstitution of the chapter house, so different than its surviving contemporaries, thus adds a significant new moment to the history of mid-thirteenth century Parisian architecture.

The initial goal of filling a few holes of one damaged building in Paris has led to further digital projects— of the cloister as well as the church of the Franciscan convent, the Collège de Cluny and the Collège de Navarre. More than a reconstitution of surfaces, these reconstructions confront the conceptual processes that informed design and they highlight the building as a physical object rather than a house of words.

[1] See Michael T. Davis, “’Fitting to the Requirements of the Place’: The Franciscan Church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine in Paris,” Architecture, Liturgy and Identity. Liber Amicorum Paul Crossley, ed. Z. Opacic and A. Timmermann (Turnhout, Brepols: 2011), 247-261 for a discussion of the church and its visual documentation.

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