Saturday, 30 July 2011

Amiens Cathedral 3

(Click to enlarge) Three views of the interior of Amiens Cathedral.

The great height of the interior might give one the impression that the builders started to build upwards, kept on going and only reluctantly stopped their upward progress in order to build the vaulting. What must it have been like! For a few hundred years now- certainly since the Renaissance - we have had professional architects who have drawn up plans and elevations on paper before work was begun. The builders of these great edifices were no less professional but did things differently. For a start, they did not have paper and I suspect that this had a marked effect upon the design and the very appearance of the building. It is surely significant, for instance that, while the semi-circular arches of the earlier Romanesque style rose upon simple circular "drum" columns or piers, following the emergence of rib vaulting the columns or piers develop a (characteristically gothic) clustered form. While aesthetically this clustered form contributes to and enhances the appearance of height it seems also to have been a practical means of preparing for the lines of the ribs of the vault above. In short, the medieval builders were "drawing in space".


  1. I am no artist but I do like to visualise things and sometimes draw with my eyes closed. I have never told anybody that beforehand, but how interesting that these men were literally drawing their dreams, in a sense.

    It gives 'inspiration' a whole new meaning, perhaps God is in the design of these beautiful places, much more than we realise, I mean in the initial blueprints in men's heads, God be in my head.......and in my church building?

    Amazing. I love being in Cathedrals in general, they hold something 'other' for me and as a middle aged woman, they are always at the right cool temperature for me (sorry to bring it down to the grumbles of the flesh again!).

  2. Shadowlands,
    It is a big subject but I think that all drawings begin in the mind. As to the medieval Cathedral builders- it is clear that they were working within a tradition which had its conventions and longstanding ways of doing things but which was at the same time evolving and developing. In other words it wasn't about individuals attempting to "express themselves" or come up with some novel, unusual or clever idea. In that way it was very different from what even the architects of the Gothic revival like Pugin were attempting. There is, I think, a sense in which they were serving the building where with later architects the building serves the architect's idea. I wouldn't want to push this too far but I think there is a truth in your suggestion, paradoxically, because unlike today's architects no medieval builder would have regarded the church building as "mine".
    I sympathise with your liking of the coolness. My first experience of Chartres Cathedral was on a hot August day when I was suffering from sunburn acquired a couple of days earlier. For a brief hour I was transported out of a body that seemed to be on fire!