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Romanesque architecture for beginners

jungleboy

Spirit of the Camino (Nick)
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés 2017
Primitivo 2018
Madrid 2019
Kumano Kodo 2019
Português 2020
Several of us have already asked @C clearly for a separate thread on that topic, and I think she will oblige once she feels comfortably well-grounded in the differences between Romanesque and Gothic.
Excellent! I already have pre-Romanesque camino highlights (and Romanesque, and Gothic for that matter) on my list of articles to write about, so this will no doubt enrich it. Plus the earlier ancient churches thread that I still haven't got around to reading properly will also be useful.
Check your photos to see whether there is the letter "R" on the some of the capitals. Eleven of the 50 capitals are said to be copies, of which seven are marked with an "R".
Oh, GREAT tip! I just checked and it looks like I have up-close shots of four capitals, including one from two different angles, and the only R I see is from the nude one you discussed at length above. The others are more weathered so I'm hopeful they're not among the four non-R copies!
 
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Kathar1na

Member
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To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
I forgot to paste the link with a wealth of information about San Martín's sculptures on capitals and corbels and also about the restoration work: http://www.lafronteradelduero.com/Paginas/maa_fromista_san_martin.html

Coming back to the original post and to future threads about other styles in architecture and art: the sculptured capitals that tell a story or describe a scene from the Bible or the life of a saint or a Greek or Roman myth that are so typical for the Romanesque in Spain disappear during the Gothic period if I recall correctly. Geometrical patterns and flowers and plants become more dominant on the capitals. Gothic sculptures above the portals tend to cover an increasing larger area, with more details and more variety and looking more life like. Gothic scenes are mainly religious scenes, and the isolated statues to the right and left of the portals represent biblical figures and saints but also bishops and kings.
 
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peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
Geometrical patterns and flowers and plants become more dominant on the capitals. Gothic sculptures above the portals tend to cover an increasing larger area, with more details and more variety and looking more life like. Gothic scenes are mainly religious scenes, and the isolated statues to the right and left of the portals represent biblical figures and saints but also bishops and kings.
That’s a great summary of the transition, @Kathar1na. I don’t think there are any erotic gothic capitals. Don’t gothic retablos also sometimes include portraits of the presumed patrons, nobility maybe but not necessarily religious or political figures?
 

C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
Thanks to everyone, I have compiled some study notes for the exam. (Didn't I mention that before?🤓) The notes start with the basic building construction facts, which are probably generally true across Europe, and they go on to describe the decorative sculptures, which might have more regional variations.

I haven't quoted anything about construction materials and type of stone. Wouldn't this depend on local materials, no matter what the date of construction?

I also didn't quote much about the transitional changes to Gothic, which of course are very important. Let's leave that for the upcoming Gothic thread.

Please comment if you think I've got it wrong or missed an important point.

Romanesque architecture refers to the Medieval Age from the 6th century to 12th century before the Renaissance Age. The architecture was sturdy and symmetrical, almost clunky, with thick walls and barrel vaults, there were rarely soaring spaces and audacious towers
based on Roman engineering techniques, windows with semi circular Arches. (often smaller windows)
the arches are rounded not vaulted/pointed. But that is really simplistic
smaller in scale compared to gothic
Simple, even austere.
Rounded arches.
Small windows.
Heavy columns.
Grounded, rather than soaring and light-filled.
No flying buttresses.
more dark, quiet, and internal space
Some Romanesque churches/cathedrals also served defensive purposes
distinctive church portals, which often have decorated capitals and other intricate features.
two sculptural forms... emerged during the Romanesque era: the tympanum (the lunette-shaped space above the entrance to a church), and the historiated capital (a capital incorporating a narrative element, usually an episode from the Bible or the life of a saint).
And then there are of course also the sculptures on the Romanesque corbels.
Decorative carved figures DO appear on a lot of Romanesque churches, some of them pretty spectacular and even racy! They appear especially around the doorways and along the rooflines... but in well-funded and usually monastic churches or important buildings.
the sculptured capitals that tell a story or describe a scene from the Bible or the life of a saint or a Greek or Roman myth that are so typical for the Romanesque in Spain disappear during the Gothic period...
The proper name in Spanish for these "chessboard" decorative bands is taqueado jaqués or ajedrezado jaqués, named after the model on the 12th century cathedral of Jaca. Apparently, this pattern is typical for Spanish Romanesque architecture
 
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alexwalker

Forever Pilgrim
Year of past OR future Camino
(2009): Camino Frances
(2011): Sevilla-Salamanca, VdlP
(2012): Salamanca-SdC, VdlP
(2014): SJpdP-Astorga
(2015): Astorga-SdC
(2016) May Pamplona-Moratinos; Sept.:Burgos-SdC
(2016): August/Sept: Camino San Olav (Burgos-Covarubbias), Burgos-Sarria
(2017): May: Portuguese; Sept: Pamplona-SdC
Isn't San Martín a true treasure trove of unexpected discoveries? ☺️
Indeed. This thread is so educational. New stops to explore. Thanks, all. I am a follower :cool:
 

C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
... [re] construction materials and type of stone. Wouldn't this depend on local materials, no matter what the date of construction?
I'm going to repeat my question. Are there any clues (to identifying Romanesque) in the construction material - e.g. type of stone, colour, size, shape or placement of bricks?

The taqueado jacqués is an ornamental feature, but I'm wondering more about the basic building construction blocks.
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
I think you must be right that local materials were the primary source of stone. That’s apparently why the Zamora romanesque stones so frequently have that lovely purplish tinge that I’ve not seen anywhere else in romanesque.

And I am not sure about this, but my impression is that once we got firmly into gothic, the stone masons stopped putting identifying marks into the stones they produced for the building. That’s not a building material, I know, but it is an identifying characteristic that I don’t think we have mentioned.
 

jungleboy

Spirit of the Camino (Nick)
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés 2017
Primitivo 2018
Madrid 2019
Kumano Kodo 2019
Português 2020
I am currently taking the Age of Cathedrals course offered by Yale on Coursera that @Kathar1na first mentioned upthread. The course is mostly about Gothic cathedrals in France and it will be a valuable resource when we get around to our 'Gothic Architecture for Beginners' thread.

There is also some discussion of Romanesque and since I am taking notes anyway, I thought I would share them here. Just be aware of the French-centric nature of the material.

Week 3 - Chapter Six: Gothic Versus Romanesque Design

6.1 Romanesque

  • Romanesque emanated from the ‘defensive retreat’ into the countryside after the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the ninth century.
  • Romanesque churches often have the appearance of defensive structures.
  • Within France, Romanesque is a largely southern phenomenon but is not limited to the south. The 11th-century abbey church of Jumièges in Normandy is an example of a Romanesque church in northern France.
  • The exterior of Romanesque churches tend to contain low-relief carvings which are part of the building’s structure.
  • These carvings originally contained designs from nature (plants etc), e.g. in Saintes.
  • There is an ‘intense mixture of sacred and profane elements’ in Romanesque carvings.
  • The thick Romanesque walls support the weight of the vaulted roof, as there are no buttresses.
  • Lateral thrust is the force that moves vertically from the top of arches and horizontally from the bottom; Romanesque churches use a series of radiating chapels to combat this.
  • Romanesque vaults can be called tunnel, barrel or groin vaults.
  • Romanesque architecture can vary, reflecting local style.
  • Romanesque is a rural phenomenon and was nurtured in monasteries.
  • It also emerged on the pilgrim route to Santiago, at Vézelay, Conques, Toulouse and Pary-le-Monial.
 
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C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
It occurs to me that this thread has neglected discussion of arguably the most important building on the Camino - the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It was first built as a Romanesque cathedral structure, although there have been many changes over the millenium. We shouldn't forget its origins!

Here is the cathedral website for some more information, photos and explanations. For example, it points out that
  • the Platerías Facade is the only remaining Romanesque facade
  • The Main Chapel preserves its essential Romanesque structure.

I also think that these categories are a bit fluid.
More than "a bit"...
Janice Mann's Romanesque Architecture and its Sculptural Decoration in Christian Spain, 1000-1120: Exploring Frontiers and Defining Identities.
I have started to read that book, but it is slow going and is not renewable at the library, so I won't read it cover-to-cover. It has helped me realize how much the individual historians of art and architecture have influenced the expert consensus, and how classifications are sometimes of dubious value. It seems to me that trying to understand the classification system can even get in the way of understanding the more chronological stories of history. I am very much a "classifier", but maybe I need a better body of knowledge of the details before the classification system begins to make sense. I think I need to study the historical events and personalities first.
 

Kathar1na

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
It occurs to me that this thread has neglected discussion of arguably the most important building on the Camino - the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Of course we didn't mention the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, there was no need for it ;). Everyone who has followed the "Romanesque architecture for Beginners" thread will immediately recognise it as a Romanesque church ... at least from the inside and from most of the outside.

The Baroque facade belies what's inside.
I can't bring myself to say something about the "front" ... as far as I am concerned there is no urgent need for a Baroque/Plateresque for Beginners thread. OK, when it's a church in a pure style but these mixtures ... ☺️
 
Year of past OR future Camino
2019
as far as I am concerned there is no urgent need for a Baroque/Plateresque for Beginners thread.
Enthusiastically second the motion to ignore. Fortunately the Baroque period is saved by its music.

I can't bring myself to say something about the "front"
It's such an icon, but I would love to have seen the original. Valuing old things and old styles is clearly a recent invention. I was shocked to learn during the tour of the Portico de Gloria that parts of the old facade — statues! — had been used as fill. Just tossed out as garbage.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances (2013), Primitivo (2015), Muxia/Fisterra (2015), Haervejen (2017)
Here's my confession -- the first time we walked, I really hadn't see many pictures of the Cathedral de Santiago. Before we walked through the arched entry into the Praza do Obradoira, we kept looking for the cathedral. We had no idea we were walking along right next to it. We entered the square and did not immediately turn and look back. We both said -- the cathedral must be here somewhere.... When we finally turned, the front of the cathedral seemed so imposing, closed off and intimidating, we both reacted the same way -- "that's the cathedral?"
 
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peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
And if we are now talking about Romanesque in Santiago, I have to say that aside from the Pórtico de la Gloria, which is of course in a class of its own, the Palacio de Gelmirez, which is adjacent to the cathedral and visited from the cathedral, has some amazing “civil romanesque” that I absolutely love. People doing everyday things, it is just gorgeous.


5DFD9130-3F16-42A6-A0CC-4BE6C6DAC571.jpeg
 

C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
I've been tagging forum threads with "art/architecture" for future browsing and have found some old ones of interest to Romanesque fans. They might have been mentioned above, but I haven't checked all the posts.
If you find other threads that should be tagged, let me know.
 

David Tallan

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
1989
Bringing this back to life again because I was inspired by the recent sister thread on Roman architecture where @jungleboy mentioned that this thread was pretty much exclusively dominated by ecclesiastical architecture. And looking back, he's right. There have only been two examples that I've seen of non-ecclesiatical architecture and one of them (the castle in Ponferrada) we decided wasn't really romanesque. That leaves the other example that Mike Wells provided, the Palace of the Kings of Navarre in Estella. I recently shared a photo of that from 1989 on another thread. Here are some more recent photos from my 2016 Camino. I am fairly confident that this is an example of a non-ecclesiastical romanesque building. For example, you can see the nice round arches, the column capitals (the one I highlighted in its own photo shows Roland and Farragut in perhaps the earliest depiction of Roland), and the the corbels (which remind me of San Martin in Fromista).

20160712_130044.jpg
20160712_130124.jpg
20160712_130231.jpg
 

jungleboy

Spirit of the Camino (Nick)
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés 2017
Primitivo 2018
Madrid 2019
Kumano Kodo 2019
Português 2020
Great way to revive the thread @David Tallan!

I can recall seeing another non-ecclesiastical Romanesque building: the Domus Municipalis (municipal hall, though part of its original function could have been as a cistern) of Bragança, Portugal. I wasn't on camino when I saw it but I believe Bragança is on the Caminho do Este. It dates from the first half of the 13th century and provides an interesting contrast with the church of Santa Maria next to it (originally dating from the 14th century but modified during the Baroque era).

P1080367.JPG

42772469521_7d1a1f8a1e_c.jpg

P1080366.JPG
 
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Kathar1na

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
A post in another thread reminded me of the twisted Romanesque columns that we saw in the cloister of the San Pedro de la Rúa church in Estella. They are a striking and mysterious feature. Twisted columns are typical Romanesque but not commonly found and can mainly be seen in Spain. Their purpose has not revealed itself to us. They are perhaps a feature to break up monotony, to mark a change in the visual content of the columns' capitals to either side. Some speculate that they symbolize the change of time which I don't find convincing. Some compare them to Solomonic columns but Solomonic columns are singular columns with a twisted shaft like a corkscrew and typical for the much later styles of Renaissance and Baroque.

These four columns twisted around each other remain one of the many enigmas of Romanesque art.

You can see an example in Estella on the Camino Francés and in the cloister of the monastery in Santo Domingo de Silos to the south of Burgos. One of the unknown "Masters of Silos" was probably the first one who created these columnas torsas. Other examples are listed under this link. Note that there are four columns twisted around each other but from wherever you look, you seem to see only three shafts.

Columns torsas.jpg
 
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Kathar1na

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
I came across a photo I had taken of the portal of the small church in Cirauqui. Cirauqui is located on the eastern section of the Camino Francés, just before you walk down on a bit of old Roman road and then over an old Roman bridge. Today I noticed something I hadn't noticed at the time. It's a Christian symbol called a Chrismon and it looks like a P with additional symbols, sometimes the Greek letters alpha and omega are added, meaning beginning and end, or rather the eternity of God's existence that has no beginning and no end.

In the Cathedral of Santiago, you see the two Greek letters in the less usual sequence of omega and alpha, and you may be told or may have read that this means that your camino really only starts after your arrival in Santiago ...

Well, the beauty of Romanesque sculpture is that we often don't know, and will never know, what the sculptures meant to those who created them and viewed them some 800 years ago. In any case, the sequence ω A (instead of A ω) isn't as rare in Romanesque art as some seem to think and can be interpreted in other ways. Here's a photo of the portal in Cirauqui and of the fairly similar portal of San Pedro in Estella.

Omega and alpha.jpg
 
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Year of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019

Albertagirl

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances (2015); Aragones-Frances (2016); VdlP-Sanabres (2017); Madrid-Frances-Invierno (2019)Levante
This thread is my next project, now that planning for my fall camino (the Levante) is largely complete, except for purchase of air tickets. I want to do some exploration of Romanesque churches in the vicinity of Zamora, when I reach there from Valencia. I have not yet read through this thread, but will get at it today and return to my reading of Romanesque Architecture and its Sculptural Decoration in Christian Spain 1000 - 1120, which was delayed by various other projects. I need something to get my mind off our precarious situation in Alberta re: the pandemic. We currently have the highest COVID-19 rate (cases per hundred thousand) in North America. Romanesque architecture seems a perfect diversion, besides helping me to plan visits to interesting sites near Zamora. Any relevant, or not so relevant, suggestions would be welcome.
 

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