ROMANESQUE AND GOTHIC – the human figure

 The human figure in a Romanesque church is small, stylized and, if you look, you see they are busy with something specific in their lives – they drive out demons or flee to Egypt on the back of a donkey.  Bernwards Portal, Hildesheim, Germany, illustrates this memorably.

Bernwards Portal: God gives Eve to Adam

The intention of the sculptor, probably prescribed by the church, is educational and illustrative.  Incidents from the Bible are portrayed.  What strikes me, is how childlike the figures are, almost as if the communities they were intended for, were childlike, eight, nine centuries after Christ.  It is a Europe rising from the shadows of the Dark Ages.  It is as if the search for form is breaking from the post-Roman world, from the world of Byzantine (400 – 600 a.d.).

Romanesque capital: the strange and the charming

There is Eastern influence in the form of the Romanesque figure of the human – monsters, devils and decorative motifs.  Some of the scenes portrayed in Romanesque are deliberately dramatic.  An example is Judas hanging himself.  The incredible variety of figures and forms suggest that sculptors were often left to their own devices.  The world of Romanesque figures is one of surprises.

 

Romanesque – a world of surprises

The churches with their rounded arches are to a human scale.  What they built, was houses of God, not cathedrals.  The pillars, the panels of art, everything is within easy reach, with you.

The wind changes direction from the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Western culture.  It is a renewal that would, in the centuries to come, be reborn in different forms.  The need to make a greater statement with churches yielded to the concept of cathedrals of monumental dimensions.

Notre Dame de Paris – monument to Gothic

This is Gothic.  Even today contemporary architects stand amazed by what was achieved.  So too, the form of human figure changed.

Chartres Cathedral Portal

I am referring specifically to the portals of Notre Dame in Paris and Chartres Cathedral.  Here the human figures lose their caprice.  Now the figures, as part of the new architecture, form a uniform community of believers, rather than individual figures busy with something specific.  The figures stand formally next to one another.  The vertical line dominates in the design.  The figures are static in their ecstasy.  They are focused on the coming life, a choir of figures untroubled by this world.  My interest comes from limited experience, but I will not forget the figures of the portals of Chartres – stone that radiates.

A radiance from stone

 

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017

www.loertoer.wordpress.com

 

Images

Bernwards Portal – studyblue.com

Romanesque capitals 1, 2  –  Pinterest

Notre Dame de Paris – sacred-destination.com

Chartres Portal and detail – chartrescathedral.net

 

 

 

France, Germany  

 

 

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