Romanesque architecture in Italy
Romanesque architecture in Italy
In 1026 Teodaldo, bishop of Arezzo (1023-36), sent Maginardo to Ravenna to study San Vitale as a model for completing the cathedral of Arezzo, completing the training of this architect whom the bishop esteemed as arte architectonica optime erudito. What little documentation remains of the resulting building, which was destroyed in 1561, indicates that Maginardo did indeed integrate aspects of San Vitale. What he adopted is significant for understanding the development of Romanesque architecture throughout Italy. He fused the central, palace-chapel plan of San Vitale with a basilical plan, and thereby infused his cathedral complex with an imperial character.
Maginardo and Teodaldo’s intentions in developing this hybrid cathedral and palace chapel are made clear in reference to another copy of San Vitale, 200 years earlier, across the Alps, Charlemagne’s Palatine Chapel in Aachen. This earlier Carolingian structure was less compromising than Teodaldo’s, beginning with a purely centralized plan that was remarkably true to the Justinianian model. With his palatine chapel Charlemagne had asserted architecturally the same link to the last great Roman Christian emperor, Justinian, that he had asserted politically when he had himself crowned, on Christmas Day, 800, as Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. Teodaldo’s return to this same model suggests his own ambition to link himself to Imperial Roman Christianity. The overlaid longitudinal plan of the basilica suggests, however, a slightly different intention from that of his Northern imperial predecessor: the palace church is fused with a building capable of ministering to a far larger congregation than a centralized church alone. San Vitale is therefore not a religious attachment Christianizing a secular imperial palace, but rather an imperial religious structure fusing secular and religious authority at the traditional seat of a bishop.
The repetition of similar overlays of centralized and basilical forms in Romanesque Italian churches in the eleventh century, whether in Ancona, Montefiascone, or, most notably, in Pisa, indicates how ambitious Italian bishops were in their building programs and their symbolism, to the point of competing not only with past Holy Roman Emperors, but also with their present-day successors. Their consistent reference to models at Ravenna, even more than to Roman models, indicates that Rome was by no means the sole font for Romanitas. The remains of Imperial Roman architecture were still visible throughout the peninsula as well as across the Alps. In some cases, especially in Ravenna, they were in better condition than in Rome itself. The quality of Ravenna’s late antique buildings, amongst the best preserved in the peninsula, helped to establish the importance of Ravenna in Italian Romanesque architecture. Their dating to the Christian era of Roman antiquity was another factor. Furthermore, the monuments of Ravenna are not only Roman and Christian. They are also imperial, and therefore ideal models for constructing institutions with aspirations to follow the Christian Imperial tradition so dramatically asserted by Justinian in both Ravenna and Constantinople. The characteristic designs of Ravenna’s buildings, from the time immediately preceding, during and after Justinian’s rule, also made them easy to recognize, even in copies. They are composed of plan elements and details that include simple volumetric massing and the open or blind arch, for instance at the Mausolea of Theoderic (photo, top left) and Galla Placidia, and unornamented exterior buttressing piers, such as at San Vitale. Their interiors and exteriors are similarly decorated with arcading, such as at the Baptistery of the Orthodox at Ravenna (photo, top right), and with mosaic work. The latter continued to be executed in Italian Romanesque and even Gothic churches up to the thirteenth century and beyond, due to the influence of the mosaic workshop tradition in Justinian’s other, and primary, residence, Constantinople, and through the western Byzantine offshoot of that workshop, the mosaicists of San Marco in Venice.
The argument here is not, however, that Ravenna was the exclusive font of Romanesque Italian architecture, but rather that there was a plurality of recognizable sources from diverse moments and places in antiquity. Types originating from the city of Rome itself, whether the basilical section or cruciform plan of St. Peter’s, or even earlier pagan temple facades and circular, Pantheon plans, were often overlaid over one another, as in Arezzo Cathedral. A third distinct source was also present, that of another great city of Christian antiquity, Jerusalem.
The story that follows explores the variety of ways that different patrons adopted, mixed and transformed these prototypes over time and across the diverse landscape of the Italian peninsula, Sicily and Sardinia. Again, as at Arezzo, the final package produced from this assortment of heterogeneous models appears to have been driven not only by formal or technical interests, but particularly by symbolic ones. As Hans Sedlmeyer and Richard Krautheimer have made quite clear in their studies of architectural symbolism and iconography, the religious structures of Romanesque Italy not only housed congregations, but also spoke to them, telling them specific messages that varied according to the admixture of scale, models, and overall composition. And few buildings were static entities, but were themselves changed by successive generations of patrons and architects in order to modulate their architectural-symbolic messages according to the composition and importance of their congregations. These messages followed their architectural sources loosely but consistently, declaring the connection of local religious and even lay institutions to three fundamental sources for political, religious or moral order that provide the cultural framework for the architectural history in these pages: Imperial roots, Christian Imperial authority, and the Apostolic mission. These three symbolic worlds combined, and often conflicted, in the mentalities of eleventh- through thirteenth-century Italian bishops and priests, emperors and lords, abbots and monks, merchants and artisans.
The area to the north and west of Ravenna proved to be the starting point for the revival of Roman and Ravenesque architecture in Italy. Patrons and architects adopted and transformed diverse forms over time in response to divergent patrons and publics. The city that retained the strongest ties of any Italian city with Byzantine culture, Venice, shows in its architecture simultaneous tendencies linking it to Justinian and earlier antique traditions and also of establishing a distinctly local character, not only regarding construction and forms, but even in the programs of its buildings. The primary church of Venice was, and still is, not a cathedral, but rather the palatine chapel for the elected secular ruler of the city; the Doge’s chapel of St. Mark’s, begun in 1063. Its plan and interior (figure, p. 76) show a fusion of the clarity of the centralized scheme of San Vitale with the multiple domes of Hagia Sophia and particularly of Justinian’s five- and six-dome Greek cross designs for the Holy Apostles in Constantinople and for St. John the Evangelist in Ephesus. The significant difference from any model is the relation of the church to its setting, Piazza San Marco, visible in the 1204 depiction of St. Mark’s the entry portal mosaic (photo, bottom left). Not only does it draw a broad screen of inviting arches across the east end of the great space, but it then communicates its constellation of interior cupolas across the city with the quincunx of domes projecting high above the rooftops of the adjoining urban fabric. Both inside and out, the church appears as a glistening reliquary, appropriate for the recently stolen relics of St. Mark, whisked away from Alexandria in the ninth century by Venice’s true source of power, its merchant adventurers (pirates). The accessibility and visibility of these relics, around which the new church was built, made them and the church the common identity of the entire city, not just of its ruler or bishop.
The unique program and open, inviting character of St. Mark’s is a hint at the sort of the fusion of architectural, social, political and religious innovations that was to be repeated in institutional architecture in Italy. These innovations, together with the funds for Romanesque Italian building campaigns, can largely be attributed to the growing number and importance of merchants throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The early and forceful presence of merchants along the Adriatic coast even led the region’s monasteries to be constructed and administered as much for the laity as for the cloistered monastic brethren, in marked contrast to contemporary abbeys across the Alps. South of Venice, by the mouth of the Po, Benedictine monks constructed a settlement at Pomposa (photo, top), between the ninth and eleventh centuries. As in the earlier development of Carolingian monasteries in the north, the Benedictines of Pomposa built for themselves a monastic complex as the command center for managing extensive agricultural holdings, for studying the abbey’s rich library of antique and Christian texts, and for the musical composition and chanting of psalms, greatly aided by the codification of musical notation by Pomposa’s own Guido d’Arezzo in the early eleventh century. The prominent role of the monastery in the regional economy and culture is clearly broadcast in its architectural forms, with its richly decorated porch and tall, multi-level Lombard campanile. It even had a structure given over to the laity, its Venetian-style Palazzo della Ragione. The brickwork, blind arcades and buttressing piers of the church show the debt to nearby Ravenna, now overlaid with a triumphal arch motif opening the porch to the west, decorated not with antique spoils, but with Ravenesque majolica plates and geometric ornamental patterns stemming from both merchant trade sources and regional Lombard decorative traditions. The echo of the triumphal entry of Old St. Peter’s at the porch of Pomposa appears to be more than a coincidence. During the very years that the Pomposa porch was under construction, Abbot Guido, although himself from Ravenna, succeeded in securing the abbey’s autonomy from the bishop of Ravenna, placing it under the direct authority of St. Peter’s in Rome. Guido built the image of the mother church at his own abbey.
The brickwork, the arched corbel tables and primitive ornamental forms, and the campanile of Pomposa recall another architectural school that was as influential in the construction and decoration of Italy’s Romanesque churches as Rome, Ravenna and Jerusalem were in their symbolism. This is the school of the Lombards, the Germanic tribe that descended from the north-east, beyond the Alps, with the conquests of the Lombard King Albonio in 568-72, establishing centers north of the Venetian lagoon, at Cividale and Aquileia, and surrounding the Byzantine Exarchate with territories along most of the western Po, and as far north as Como and as far south as the foot of Italy. The remarkable Tempietto of Santa Maria in Valle at Cividale (photo, right), from c. 762-76(?), is an early example of the richness of Lombard decorative work, fusing Byzantine and even Saracen influences, which would have been communicated through the southern Italian territories of the Lombards. More typical is the architecture originating around Milan and Pavia around 800, known as “the first Romanesque” in Europe. It is best seen in the Milanese basilica of San Vincenzo in Prato, renovated in the eleventh century, though with few deviations from the original structure from c. 814-33. It is a simplification of architectural forms derived from the Byzantine Exarchate, not only adopting them from the religious structures mentioned above, but also from the Palace of the Exarchs, erected for the governors of Byzantine Ravenna after 712. From the latter comes the upper-storey blind arcade corbel vault, whose columns are either abstracted into stiffening pilasters or, for intervals of open wall, abandoned altogether. At the main apse of San Vincenzo in Prato these arcades become windows, forming an arcaded gallery that, together with the blind arcaded corbel vault, was to become the signature of the Romanesque apse, from Southern Italy to Lombardy, across the Alps to Northern Spain, the Rhine valley, eastern France and Normandy, and even as far afield as Hungary and Dalmatia.
The success of Ravennesque galleries, blind arcades, corbel tables, buttresses and brickwork under and after the Lombards was based on a mixture of pragmatic, political and symbolic reasons. Although records or remains of extensive building programs initiated by the Lombard kings and dukes are scarce, from early on the precocious governing apparatus of the Lombards out of their capital at Pavia showed a clear respect for, and willingness to protect, the building profession. In 643 the Lombard King Rotharis registered the privileges of builders. In 714, King Liutprand promulgated a graduated list of prices to be paid for buildings and construction work. These legal provisions indicate a support for new construction and renovation across the Lombard kingdom, which by King Liutprand’s reign included nearly all of Italy. Such legislative protection favored the development of what King Rotharis called the “magistri comacini,” or building masters, as a coherent, trained corps of Lombard builders. These master masons would not have been limited to those originating from Como, from which the term “comacini” may derive, but rather to masons from across the peninsula, steeped in a still present Roman tradition of brick and stone construction, whom the Lombard kings respected and helped to organize legally into what appears to have been the equivalent of a guild.
It was this legal organization of long-established but decaying Roman building crafts that literally revived the building industry in Italy as early as the seventh century, not only in major centers, but, through bands of itinerant masons under their masters, in small towns and even the countryside. However, their masonry techniques were distinctly different from those of their Roman predecessors. While the latter used long bricks or square stones to reinforce and stiffen rubble and mortar or concrete walls, the Lombard masons used the higher-profile Byzantine-type bricks to construct entirely brick walls, without rubble infill. This technique simplified construction considerably, eliminating the necessity for form- work. It was appropriate for smaller-scale construction, but was also effective for large buildings, and could be executed with dressed or even carefully selected undressed stones in place of bricks. The tendency of Lombard walls to be thinner than traditional Roman walls led to the elaboration of the various vertical buttresses, seen as early as San Vitale (photo, p. 77), which stiffened the area of wall planes, while arched corbel tables helped to reinforce their upper edges.
The market for well-organized Lombard mason teams constructing both urban and rural brick structures was greatly enhanced by the new politics of the papacy beginning in the early eleventh century. As in the case of Pomposa, popes began to sponsor monastic foundations which were independent of local bishops as a means of achieving new goals of spiritual reform and temporal jurisdiction. Because many abbots, such as the Lombard William of Volpiano, either moved to new posts at other abbeys or held churches and monasteries under a mother abbey, Lombard building techniques and mason teams moved rapidly across not only Italy, but elsewhere, such as in William’s abbey church in Dijon, France, begun in 1001, and even as far as his satellite abbey of Fecamp in Normandy. A capillary system of simple, well-built, and recognizable abbeys and churches began to populate areas of Italy and the north that had previously been bastions of the Holy Roman Emperors and the bishops they appointed. It should not be surprising that as tensions began to grow between the papacy and the empire in the later eleventh century, emperors began to respond with their own building programs, adopting the Lombard Romanesque techniques and style to their own territorial and symbolic ends.
The area of Italy where the Lombard Romanesque style developed earliest and remained most pure is along the Po, extending from the Adriatic just east of Pomposa up the river’s 337 miles of navigable waterway. At centers both large and small the red Po valley bricks were used to create the wall, arch and vaulting systems. This constructional system in turn was used to articulate institutions with larger-scale symbolic forms, such as the porch of Pomposa discussed above. At Vigolo Marchese, a small rural community far upstream along the Po, the local feudal lord, Marchese Oberto, had the new abbey of San Giovanni constructed with two such forms, combining a traditional monastery with a structure apparently directed towards the local populace. Besides the abbey church of San Giovanni stands the circular baptistery of the same name, adopting its plan from the Orthodox Baptistery of Ravenna, from San Vitale, and possibly from the round-planned Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (photo, page 81). The function of this circular structure remains a mystery: the rareness of monastic baptisteries makes some scholars consider it an oratory. The record of an early baptismal font within, however, suggests that this rural monastery, although turning its portal away from the nearby village, welcomed its children and converts into the Church.
The other symbolic form at Vigolo Marchese, less cryptic in its use, is the bell-tower, similar to that of Pomposa. These towers, like their numerous counterparts throughout Romanesque Italy, combine multiple stories of Romanesque blind arches and pilasters with the square plan made famous in the eighth-century belfry of Old St. Peter’s. A papal bull of Innocent II from 1134 accounts for this early reference to the Vatican: like Pomposa, San Giovanni di Vigolo Marchese belonged exclusively to the Patrimony of St. Peter’s.
Upon his death in 397 St. Ambrose was himself buried in the church, giving it its current name. In 784 Peter, archbishop of Milan, established a new Benedictine foundation at the basilica, which was confirmed in 789 by Charlemagne, who added to the establishment a college of canons as well, who were to minister directly to the urban lay congregation. Its square plan, material, construction and decoration make it the earliest surviving Lombard belltower to base its design on the recently finished campanile of St. Peter’s. Between 1018 and 1050 composite pilasters replaced the antique fourth-century columns, allowing for the vaulting of the aisles, without ribs, and of the nave, with ribs, to be erected over the following century. The same period saw the construction of the present atrium, with the second, taller campanile added between 1128 and 1144. The collapse of some of the western bays of the church led to their construction and reinforcement in the late twelfth century; the entire church was restored in 1863. The complex and continuous building history of Sant’Ambrogio indicates how its monastic and canonical institutions periodically redefined themselves architecturally for the evergrowing community of this great center of administration, trade and communication at the threshold between Italy and the North.
By the late eleventh century Lombard structural innovations and Romanesque architectural vocabulary were well established throughout the Po valley and began simultaneously to diffuse both south and north and to be adapted and varied, even in the regions of Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and the Veneto. Sant’Abbondio in Como was reconsecrated as a Benedictine abbey church in 1095, concluding the construction of an allstone version of Lombard Romanesque architecture (photo, opposite). It was begun as early as 1027 with an ambitious five-aisle plan and a deep, precociously rib-vaulted apse. Its twin towers anticipate the second tower of Sant’Ambrogio by at least three decades, though their symmetry shows that they were not looking only to Rome, but also to the great contemporary French monastery of Cluny.
Pavia’s San Michele, built between c. 1100 and 1160, is another variation on the regional architectural vocabulary (photo, opposite), with its large pediment spanning the entire facade, as at Sant’Ambrogio, but again rendered in stone, richly sculpted on the facade, and with deep arcades following the slope of its roofline. This same model is followed at the twelfth-century cathedral of Parma, with its octagonal twelfth-/thirteenth- century baptistery deploying an even more plastic rendering of its elevations and interior, with multiple stories of trabeated galleries surmounted by elegant arcades defining the termination of its eight wall surfaces. The single-bay porch of the cathedral of Parma compresses the elaborate sculptural figuration of Pavia into a remarkable representation of the months of the year, repeated at the baptistery. Similar porches and sculptural schemes appear as well at Modena’s Porta della Pescheria and Ferrara’s Porta dei Mesi, to mention a few.
The strongly sculptural nature of eleventh- and twelfth-century Romanesque churches along the Po valley should be seen in the same light as their counterparts in the north, such as Hildesheim’s St. Michael or Autun’s Saint-Lazare. Facades, portals, bronze doors, interior capitals and even floors and ceilings were articulated with vegetal, monstrous, and narrative sculptural schemes directed to the growing lay population of cities whose monastic and episcopal administrative centers attracted merchant communities. Innovations in agricultural tools and techniques and increasingly successful stewardship of agricultural holdings, particularly by monastic houses, provided crop surpluses capable of feeding not only serfs, tenant farmers and their feudal administrators, but also urban dwellers. Urban dwellers in turn provided local laborers and manufacturers of agricultural tools, clothing and luxury goods as well as traders importing similar goods. The trade successes and increasingly sophisticated monetary instruments of Venetian and, especially, Tuscan merchants, who are treated later in the text, made it possible for this new class, many of whose members had recently been serfs or peasants tied to the land, to wander further and further from their local origins. Travel in turn begot increased worldliness, sophistication and wealth, and freemen and women began to aspire in their own tastes to goods and ways of life previously reserved to their episcopal, monastic or noble lords. We have already seen the first stage of this transformation in architecture, with religious buildings addressing broader publics both with architectural iconographies, such as the towers and porches reflecting features of Old St. Peter’s, and also with alluring figural extravagances, with monstrous creatures straight out of the pagan imagination. The scenes of the months at the portals of Parma, Modena or Ferrara represent a shift from images of fantasy and fear to a more sophisticated, narrative content, precociously represented in Hildesheim’s bronze doors, but now even more empathetic, with their scenes of the daily activities of both peasant and village.
The shift in sculptural figuration from the fantastic and even threatening figures of the eleventh century to the more empathetic ones in the twelfth was paralleled by changes in architectural design. The use of pilasters and blind arcades that had characterized earlier Romanesque in Italy became more complex, developing more and more from a structural system to one expressive of harmonic order. Such a shift was consistent with changes in musical composition at the time and with the culture of trade, no longer barter, but based on abstract, proportional systems of major and minor monetary values, such as lire, soldi, and denari.
One architectural example of this development is Verona’s San Zeno, an urban Benedictine monstery and church built in its current form between 1123 and 1135 (photo, top left). Its historiated bronze doors and flanking marble relief panels contain, subdivide and control figurative scenes into narrative sequences relating stories of the Old and New Testament, Ostragothic kings and Carolingian sagas. The vertical pilasters and piers of the facade, the side elevations and the campanile similarly subdivide the exterior walls, providing three levels of phrasing and rhythm, from the three bays of the main facade, to the four- and eight-bay rhythms of the side and central bays, to the horizontal striation of the side elevations and campanile. San Zeno is the logical development of the Lombard Romanesque structural innovations, now transformed from the simple readings of planes, gables, roofline arcades, atria and towers into a complex layering of major and minor themes. Like the musical notation developed by Guido d’Arezzo at the nearby Benedictine house of Pomposa 100 years earlier, the horizontal and vertical marks of San Zeno provide an ordering matrix that is capable of organizing both architectural and sculptural composition at once abstractly and narratively.
The planar abstractions of San Zeno’s elevations become spatial once inside the church, in the poly-rhythmic subdivision of the nave, and in the vaulted bays of the crypt. The scale of the crypt and of its endless field of columns would have returned monks, the local faithful and pilgrims to a more primitive world of architectural composition and prayer. The crypt’s absence of phrasing rhythms induces an oscillating reading between the individual and infinity that echoes the relation between the worshiper and the gold relics of the church’s patron saint. What remarkable progress is evident in the layered composition of the nave and exterior by no means precludes the building’s capacity to continue to transmit the pre-urban, pre-merchant messages of the church, whether in the crypt’s atavistic capitals or in its ancient cult of an early-Christian saint, who offers salvation not to labor, virtue or sophistication, but to physical intimacy and to an irrational, unquestioning faith in the presence of spirit in body parts and in the building housing them.
The exterior of San Zeno suggests that the church designers were eager to draw the laity into their holy precinct with a mixture of abstraction and narration tuned to their increased sophistication. The presence, design and effect of the crypt suggest that once having lured the laity into the core of the church’s body, the designers willingly abandoned the world of structure and order, excavating at once their own architectural archaeology and the archaeology of faith, displacing reason with sensation and magic and exhuming the faithful’s most primitive instincts of pantheism, fear and credulity.
To the south, not far from the confluence of the Adige passing by San Zeno with the Po, the cathedral of Modena was built between 1099 and 1184 with a rather different relation of outside to inside. In place of San Zeno’s grid of horizontal and vertical piers and stripes, the elevations of Modena’s cathedral are integrated by piers supporting blind arches, integrating these two traditional elements of Lombard Romanesque. Subdivision occurs within the curvature of the single arches, with triple-window galleries lining the entire circumference of the church and then penetrating the interior. Once within the body of the church, however, the outer layer of pilasters shifts to a rhythm of every two arches, their sequence less ordered than that of the Gothic vaulting. Single arches still frame triple-window galleries, but now as incised curves into an apparently continuous skin of brick wall surface which slides behind the giant order pilasters sustaining the vaults. At the end of the nave one last triple sequence of arches, framed now by the breadth of the nave, leads the visitor past a richly historiated pulpit and sanctuary screen (photo, above), past the ferocious sentinels of lions supporting the screen columns, and into the field of columns and arches sustaining the triple apse crypt vaults. Even here the logic of one to three remains, ordering and harmonizing the competing animalistic and Classical capitals of the crypt columns.
The subterranean, atavistic world of San Zeno discussed above is also present in Modena’s crypt, but in tension with the church’s dominant rhythm of threes, which organizes the crypt’s cult of Saint Geminiano, the city’s first bishop. The order, and even classicism, of Modena Cathedral tell of the continuous settlement of the area and strong connection to the Roman past – a past also present at Verona, but less explicitly at San Zeno. The linkage of the crypt of Modena to its elevations leads the church to forge a different relation with its public from that at San Zeno, less surprising the laity with the world of the crypt than advertising its entire sacred iden-tity to all the spaces surrounding the church. An extraordinarily rich documentation of the cathedral’s construction process suggests why Modena Cathedral may have had a different relation to the laity: from the beginning of its construction process they appear to have been involved. By shortly after 1115 the laity had established a free commune and were voting in their consular meetings on matters regarding the construction of the cathedral. The product of their joint efforts with the clergy, the architect Lanfrancus, sculptor Wiligelmo, and their countess, the famous Mathilda of Canossa, established a new paradigm for the region, perhaps on the basis of its stylistic innovations, but more likely for practical reasons: it appears to have been the only church along the Po valley, albeit incomplete, to have withstood the great earthquake of 1117, which damaged severely or destroyed the cathedrals of Cremona, Piacenza, Parma, and most of the other structures that we have examined in the region.
Rome and Tuscany
The use of arches at Modena links it to contemporary and earlier churches built across the Apennines, in Tuscany, before and under the rule of Mathilda of Canossa, who controlled Tuscany and much of Emilia Romagna from 1069 to 1115. Like San Miniato al Monte in Florence, Pisa Cathedral, and numerous other Tuscan churches of the time, Modena
adopts elements of the atria present at Pomposa, Sant’Ambrogio, and contemporary and earlier Roman churches, whether Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Santa Maria in Trastevere (photo, p. 90), or Old St. Peter’s. With its Tuscan counterparts, Modena compresses the atrium arcades from the detached facade of the atrium directly onto the church’s main west facade, registering the atrium depth and rhythm in the relief of its blind arcades. The result was the presentation of an entry iconography within the thickness of the single facade, which was therefore capable of projecting its symbolism directly, yet abstractly, into the surrounding space. As in Florence’s baptistery, Pisa Cathedral, San Martino and San Michele in Foro in Lucca, San Giovanni Fuorcivitas in Pistoia, and Santo Stefano in Prato, the imagery of triumphal entry arcades is echoed on all visible facades of the church, in both tall blind arches and in gallery-level corbel arch friezes or recessed arcades. The result was indeed a more robust wall construction, thickening and reinforcing the wall along the same lines as earlier Lombard designs, but more dramatically and, considering Modena’s good fortune during the earthquake, with greater seismic robustness. The good fortune of Modena Cathedral in 1117 appears to have ratified the style of Tuscan blind arcaded churches, which are more classically composed than their northern Italian counterparts, designed with carefully harmonized fugues of relief arches sustained with sometimes elaborately carved Corinthian or composite capitals. Tuscany’s Romanesque churches in most cases present even more elaborately and richly articulated elevations to facing streets and piazzas, using the same precious marbles visible in the pulpit, sanctuary screen and portals of Modena for all exterior surfaces. The result is a series of churches which rival Roman temples, triumphal arches and amphitheaters in the richness and composition of their elevations, appearing in the case of the baptistery of Florence (photo, p. 92, top right) so convincingly classical that subsequent generations, as early as Giovanni Villani in the early fourteenth century, considered it to be an antique Temple of Mars.
It is remarkable that the Tuscan churches pictured in these pages even surpassed their Roman contemporaries in the classical materials and compositions of their exteriors, and so resemble the designs of fifteenth- century Florentine churches to be dubbed “Proto-Renaissance” by architectural historians of a more teleological bent. Rome’s eleventh- and twelfth-century monuments were elaborated similarly to those in Tuscany, but more on the inside than outside, such as in the cloister of San Paolo fuori le Mura (photo, p. 89), in the nave columns, choir and apse of San Clemente, or in the cosmatesque floors of these and many other contemporary Roman churches. However, the porches or atria of these Roman churches bufferred jewel-like interior sacred precincts from their urban surroundings within the same tradition that we have seen in Milan or Pomposa, a tradition that was equally present south of Rome, at Sant’Angelo in Formis (photo, p. 90, bottom right) or at the abbey of Montecassino.
The significance of the Tuscan compression and enrichment of the porch facade is clearly evident in the building history of San Miniato al Monte in Florence. The earliest portion of the church on record is the crypt, from the early eleventh century, built by and primarily for the rather corrupt bishop of Florence, Hildebrand and his consort, Alberga. The columns and capitals are rich in their spolia, framing the bichrome intarsia altar housing the supposed remains of the patron saint, Minias, gleaming at the back of the crypt. By mid-century an alliance of local bishops, popes, and, by 1069, Countess Mathilda made Florence into the center point of the era’s great reform movement. The architects of San Miniato pushed attempts to attract the laity yet further than church institutions north of the Apennines. They began to elaborate the crypt entrance, presbytery and lower facade of San Miniato with identical forms, projecting the interior iconography of their saint’s precinct and of the sanctuary from the facade across the city. The five bays of the sanctuary are defined with polychrome arches placed on Corinthian capitals on rich green Monte- ferrato marble; this same schema is repeated at the sectional shift between the presbytery and the nave, where stairs lead up along the side aisles and down along the nave axis to the crypt. The five bays of the lower facade provide the final recapitulation of this imagery of framing and passage, alternating blind arches with the three portals providing entry to the church itself. The iconography of these repeated five polychrome classical bays is made explicit in the upper facade of San Miniato. It is composed of an abstracted classical temple front, with a mosaic figure of Christ, St. Minias and the Virgin guarding the window, which, at the base of the pedimental temple front, appears as a door to its figurative cella. Like the resbytery within the nave, this temple door is visible to the faithful, but appears unreachable, hovering above and out of reach. Only the nave of the church and the crypt remain accessible, providing the intercessionary powers both of St. Minias and of the clergy celebrating the Eucharist in the presbytery above his altar. The message both within and outside the church is the same: salvation is rich and beautiful, but accessible only through the hierarchy of the church and the veneration of saints.
The imagery of a splendid paradise – of the Celestial Jerusalem – rendered in classical arcades and rich polychrome marbles became the common theme of churches along Tuscany’s own major river valley, the Arno. It also appears in Florence in the Baptistery, in the Vescovado, in Santo Stefano al Ponte, and in the church of SS. Apostoli as well as in the Badia in Fiesole. As it proceeds along the valley it becomes fused with other motifs, whether the zebra stripes of San Zeno or the deeply sculptural rendition of surfaces characteristic of Pisan Romanesque architecture. In each case the effect is to animate the cityscape with the same conflated images of classical antiquity and salvation that had previously been contained within the apses or crypts of earlier or northern churches. Even the remote chapel of San Galgano at Monte Siepe, built around 1185, projects its interior striping onto the cylindrical drum of its exterior, constructing the same richness of its marble neighbors with alternating bands of brick and white stone.
The largest-scale expression of Tuscan Romanesque is at Pisa’s cathedral complex was begun in 1063, possibly as an ex voto, honoring the Virgin upon her delivery of a dramatic victory of the Pisan navy over the Saracens off Sicily. A contemporary facade inscription records that funds for the building enterprise came from the spoils of victory, celebrating Pisa’s emerging role as one of the two dominant naval powers of the Tyrrhenian Sea, together with Genoa. Plans for this remarkable interlocking of church with baptistery, similar to that at Florence but more precisely on axis and with a purer geometry of circle and cross, may date from the time when the archbishop of Pisa was serving as patriarch of the newly established Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, contemporary with the extension of the cathedral facade in the first decades of the twelfth century. Pisa’s strong connections with Jerusalem at this time, both through its archbishop and through its recent conveyance of crusaders to the Holy Land, explain the startling similarities between the Campo dei Miracoli and Jerusalem’s most sacred site on the Temple Mount. The circle and line composition of Pisa’s baptistery and Cathedral echoes that at the Temple Mount’s Haram-al-Sharif, or Noble Sacred Enclosure, where the centrally- planned Dome of the Rock, known to the Pisans and crusaders as the Temple of the Lord, aligns with the basilical Mosque of Al-Aqsa, then called the Temple of Solomon. At the time of its completion the Pisan complex would have even been more splendid than its Holy Land prototype, with its polychromatic intarsia, marble and richly sculpted elevations gleaming like that other Jerusalem of Revelation, the Heavenly Jerusalem, which John describes as studded in precious stone. The other structures added to the complex only amplified the Campo dei Miracoli’s gold presence, transforming an entire area of the city into an outdoor reliquary with the endless arches of the 1174 leaning tower, and with earth, excavated and transported by the Pisans from Golgotha, lining the burial ground of the 1278 Campo Santo.
The connection to Tuscany was probably through the Benedictine monastery of Camaldoli, which by early in the century controlled properties nearby in Saccargia and elsewhere in its judicial and administrative region, the Giudicato of Torres. The Abbey at Saccargia was also a conduit for Tuscan design motifs for Nostra Signora di Tergu, which was itself an abbey church, and which also had strong connections with Italy’s original and most powerful Benedictine seat, Montecassino.
The diffusion of the highly plastic Romanesque style of Pisa was not limited to the Tyrrhenian sea. The Pieve of Santa Maria Assunta in Arezzo adopted a flattened portico entry similar to that at Pisa Cathedral (photos, pp. 96-7). Although geographically closer to Florence, where a similar blind porch frames three portals, the high relief of the Pieve’s second- and third-level arcades and fourth-level gallery shows a stronger debt to Pisa. The same applies to the treatment of architectural details, where the builders relied exclusively on sculpture for their articulation, abandoning polychromatic intarsia or the planar harmonic subdivision of San Miniato or the Florentine baptistery.
It would be a mistake to look only west for influences, however dominant Pisa and Florence were at the time of the Pieve’s interior and new facade, which were executed in the twelfth and early thirteenth century. Rather, this extraordinary flat-roofed elevation and the later, early fourteenth-century tower show traces from one of the earliest sources of Italian Romanesque architecture, Ravenna. While it is possible that the similarity of the facade of the Pieve to the Palace of the Exarchs in Ravenna and of the tower to towers such as that of Pomposa are due to a direct Ravenesque influence, this author suggests that the source for these forms may have been the very buildings built by the architect Maginardo for Teodaldo after 1026, after his visit to Ravenna, namely, the cathedral of Arezzo and the bishop’s palace. Within its rectangular urban site the architects of the Pieve inserted a cross-shaped plan surmounted with a dome which, however, remains incomplete. The apse and side walls are lined with upper-level arcaded galleries which, apparently Pisan, may again derive from the now destroyed cathedral and its original Ravenesque sources, which would have included the second-storey arcade, now fallen, of the Mausoleum of Theodoric. What is extraordinary about the Pieve is the apparent fusion of the cathedral’s domed cross plan with the flat- roofed, galleried facade of the Palace of the Exarchs, which may have been visible, in copy, at the bishop’s palace in Arezzo. The Pieve is a religious monument that looks like a civic structure. The secular reading is reinforced by the heavily fortified appearance of the massive later tower. It is at once temple, cathedral and palatium, although in reality it is none of these, but the relatively modest institution of a parish, second in importance to the famous cathedral of Teodaldo.
By the year 1200, however, parish churches in Tuscany were capable of monumental expression, as in Prato’s Santo Stefano or similar institutions at the Collegiata of Empoli and San Gimignano (photo, right). Each of these canon churches thrived due to its distance from cathedral seats in other towns. While the local bishop’s seat seems to argue against a similar situation at Arezzo’s Pieve, it turns out that the cathedral of Arezzo was unusually distant from the town, situated within its own fortified enclosure on the suburban Pionta hill. It was so remote, in fact, that the bishop was forced to move into the town center, and to build a new, more central cathedral seat, beginning in 1277. In the meantime the Pieve of Arezzo had begun to cater to the religious needs of the urban population through its presence at the Platea Communis, documented since 1008 as the official town marketplace. The Pieve, etymologically the church of the people, grew in scale and monumental articulation from that date to the early fourteenth century, paralleling the increase in the merchant population of Arezzo. Consistent with its counterparts to the north of the Apennines, the stages of its growth are marked by a transition of its architectural sculpture from grotesque figures to narrative scenes, including its own cycle of months, now with both agricultural and urban vignettes. The architectural equivalent is the reorganization of the interior into a vast open space clearly delineated by Gothic structural forms, articulated with the round arches and mouldings that remain true to the long-standing Romanesque – or rather Ravenesque – tradition of the town.
As if in counterpoint to these urban developments, another religious institution began to take shape during this same period south of Arezzo, in the wine-rich countryside overlooked by the citadel of Montalcino. Sant’ Antimo, as pure a Benedictine monastery as any in Europe, was begun about 1118 (photos, pp. 100-1). It is closer in spirit and in architecture to Burgundy than to any Tuscan or Northern Italian monuments. Its Toulousian style sculpture, its radiating apse chapels and ambulatory and its remote setting all confirm a Cluniac influence. So does its scale, as one of Italy’s largest, wealthiest and most powerful Romanesque monastic complexes. Its status, however, derived from quite a different source than that of Cluny: unlike its Burgundian counterpart, Sant’Antimo was an imperial foundation, reminiscent of Carolingian monasteries, even in the title of the abbot as “Conte Palatino.”
Despite its obvious wealth and the vast expenditure on its construction, Sant’Antimo never developed to the extreme scale and excess of either the early Carolingian monasteries or Cluny III. If architecture can indeed communicate religious ideals, then the design and construction of Sant’ Antimo codify in stone a sensibility consonant with the spiritual aspirations of eleventh and twelfth-century monastic reform. Though its plan and sculpture show clearly Burgundian influence, the purity, even muteness, of its vast expanses of unarticulated wall, anticipate another Burgundian architectural tradition, that of the Cistercians. The resemblance is less in structural systems than in concept: architecture, not sculptural figuration, is the primary means of representation. Sant’ Antimo achieves this expression without suppressing sculpture, but simply by the primal force of its architecture. It has the same layering of single arches over double-arched windows at the apse and interior gallery that the Cistercians were to use, but where the Cistercians and later Gothic architects were to elaborate this layering through vertical structural units interlaced by ribs and rib vaulting, the architects of Sant’Antimo render their layers as so many peeled away skins of smooth stone. The side elevations are supported with Lombard, even proto-Gothic piers, rapidly proceeding between each window as they move to the apse. As they arrive, however, something extraordinary happens: the wall surface breaks free from the structural rhythm, supported rather by the most fundamental architectural reinforcement, the curve. The ground-level radiating chapels provide the only visible buttressing for the ambulatory’s vast sensuous arc, above whose terracotta roof tiles rises the sanctuary’s exposed semi-cylindrical form.
Sant’Antimo is the swan-song of the great medieval monasteries of the Benedictine rule in Italy. Though followed in the region by other masterpieces by the Cistercians themselves, such as San Galgano in the early thirteenth century, none matches the unity, force and scale of its impact. Signs of the waning of its era are already visible at Sant’Antimo’s facade, left incomplete to this day, with one of its elaborate portals placed instead, according to Raspi-Serra, at the nearby church of San Quirico d’Orcia. Despite the subsequent efforts of the Cistercians, the tide of social and religious change was away from the countryside and increasingly towards the city, where many communities of all sizes were investing the equivalent of an abbot’s wealth in the construction of their local churches and cathedrals.
The churches of Assisi and Spoleto (photo, top) are a few examples of the development of Romanesque architecture in Umbria, to the south and east of Tuscany. The chronology of San Ruffino at Assisi reflects the history of Umbrian Romanesque architecture and intimates the eventual displacement of Italian Romanesque by the Gothic. The church dates from a “parva basilica” from the eighth century, which provided a modest setting for the remains of the town’s patron saint, the third-century martyr Rufino. Around 1028 Bishop Ugone replaced this with another structure and, by 1035, established it as the cathedral of Assisi. One hundred years later, around 1134, Bishop Clarissimo hired Giovanni da Gubbio to replace this basilica with the far larger one that stands on the site today. The facade of the church registers the work of Giovanni da Gubbio at its lower portion, with a triple rhythm of larger bays subdivided by a second triple rhythm in each bay. The horizontal and vertical subdivisions of the facade plane recall the designs of San Zeno, which was begun eleven years earlier, although the verticals dominate the latter more dramatically and with a consistent rhythm. San Rufino instead has an equivalent bias of horizontal and vertical divisions, which form a grid that seems to run as a layer behind the more structural vertical buttresses providing the major facade subdivisions. This grid is similar to that employed at San Pietro fuori le Mura at Spoleto, though again the latter is more regular in its subdivisions, neatly framing its remarkable sculpture (photo, p. 307). At the lower facade of San Rufino the sculpture is concentrated on the portals, with the wall surfaces ornamented only by the superimposed grid. Rather than serving as frames for figures, the panels of this grid respond to the size of the portals, which push for themselves a wider space at the center of each of the three main facade panels. As at Sant’Antimo, architecture is the primary expressive medium, not sculpture. Instead of layering skins, San Rufino develops layers of Lombard bay systems, pushing it beyond the abstract consistency of San Zeno into a similarly expressive language as at Modena or San Miniato in Florence. In each of these churches, a syncopated rhythm of threes reinforces the primary function of the west facade: the expression of passage.
The classicism of this rhythmic system is repeated on the later upper facade and echoes a similar clacissim within the earlier church crypt. The three Gothic rose windows vary in size from edge to center, and align precisely above their respective portals, as if to recapitulate the imagery of passage by penetrating the church with circular arc of light. The pointed arch framed within the tall pediment crowning the facade is again Gothic, but with broad dimensions that are in character with the spacious proportions of the rest of the facade. The two dividing corbel tables and miniature blind-arcade galleries restrain any vertical potential in the upper-storey Gothicism and maintain the clear overall image of a temple front overlaid with a ground-storey triumphal arch entry. It is not necessary to look as far as San Miniato or Empoli’s Collegiata for the source of this imagery, but rather to the nearby market piazza, where the Corinthian columns and pediment of the ancient Roman Temple of Minerva stand to this day as an explicit model for the overall form and abstracted portico of San Rufino’s facade.
The earlier crypt of San Rufino is even more explicit in its classicism, with most of its columns classical spolia, and even the seat of the bishop, according to tradition the burial place of San Rufino, a Roman sarcophagus. The magic of San Rufino and of so much Umbrian Romanesque architecture is that this classicism in composition and in details by no means excludes the homunculi of sculptural imagination, but rather freely accommodates them, as does the upper Gothic facade. Figurations of the Evangelists are painted in the early Ugonian crypt and then repeated in sculptural form around the central rose window. They confuse any easy notion of progress from figure to abstraction, and rather emphasize that even at the time of the construction of the basilica of St. Francis, when the upper facade was completed, creatures from the primitive world could share and even support the International Gothic. A close look at the base of the central rose window reveals, indeed, one of two famous Romanesque Umbrian reinterpretations of classical caryatids.
The other caryatids support another rose window at another Umbrian cathedral, that of Spoleto, south-east of Assisi. That these two statues are framed by carefully carved miniature Corinthian columns and capitals makes it clear that Umbrian sculptors and architects were well versed in their antique models already in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. As at Assisi, with its Temple of Minerva, the patrons and artists of Spoleto were blessed with impressive antique models, the Temple of Clitunno and the paleo-Christian church of San Salvatore. The early thirteenth-century mosaic of Christ above this rose window reveals the same instinct that guided the architects of the last phase of San Miniato al Monte in Florence, who similarly broadcast an image of Christ for the entire town to see. The diverse sources for the design of the cathedral, from Assisi to paleo-Christian to Roman and Ventetian mosaicists suggest a rich, vibrant artistic culture in the city during the Romanesque period, which only grew in intensity after the sack of the town by Frederick Barbarossa in 1155. A continuous classical building tradition in the area from distant antiquity made such a culture possible. This building tradition was in turn sustained, as at Milan and Pavia, by the active presence of a powerful Lombard seat in the Duchy of Spoleto. By the tenth century the advent of the Carolingians led to the shift of power from the Lombard dukes to imperially and papally appointed bishops, who even occupied the same palaces as their secular Lombard predecessors up to the thirteenth century.
The Lombard history of Spoleto is best recorded architecturally in the gem-like church of Santa Eufemia (photo, top left). Here, in the middle of Umbria, stands a twelfth-century church that serves as a text-book example of Northern Lombard design principles, from the triple apses to the pilaster strips and corbel tables stiffening the exterior elevations. Its Umbrian lineage is hinted at by the simple biforate window above the portal and the subtle designation of a triple rhythm with the two side windows on either side of it. The interior reveals the archaeology of Spoleto’s Romanesque sources, with paleo-christian columns, piers and capitals interwoven between abstract semi-columns supporting taut, perfectly composed lower and gallery arches and vaulting that echo in miniature the nave and side aisles of Sant’Ambrogio in Milan.
As one proceeds far enough south and east along the Italian peninsula to reach the Adriatic coast, another set of influences appears, from Byzantine sources. The eleventh-century monastic church of Ognissanti di Cuti by Valenzano, in Puglia (photo, p. 105, bottom), has the same triple apse termination as Santa Eufemia and so many other early Romanesque churches, but the three square protrusions in the nave roofline indicate an utterly different organization of the interior space. Here, three bold domes spring from tall piers and pendentives, subdividing the interior like that of San Marco in Venice and its early-Christian and Byzantine sources. However, as so often, more local sources may have been equally important to the designers, in this case the corbelled domes, or trulli, typical of utilitarian buildings in the area since the Etruscans. Similar domed forms are visible in the octagonal cupola of the centralized church of Santa Caterina by Conversano, built in the twelfth century following a plan typical of Syrian quatrefoil churches.
The oldest large-scale monument of the region, San Nicola at Bari, built around 1089, appears more Lombard in its design than Byzantine, with links in layout and interior details to Pisan and Florentine architecture as well. The reason for such northern influences so far south in the heel of Italy is simply the ocean, which provided rapid conveyance to and from areas far more remote than the Po or Arno valleys. Indeed, the patrons of San Nicola at Bari were perhaps the most capable and far-ranging seafarers in the world, namely Norsemen, or Normans, from their recently established Duchy of Normandy. By 1041 they had arrived at the shores of Puglia, by 1059 the Norman Robert Guiscard was anointed Duke of Puglia and Calabria, and by 1063, his Normans had extended their territory to include Sicily. Their Norman French origins, however, are less present in their Apulian and Sicilian architecture than other influences. The first and most important inspiration in the case of Bari was Saint Nicholas himself, whose remains the Normans transported from Asia Minor in 1087. Two years later they began his church, applying to the facade a triple division adopted from Lombard churches such as San Zeno or Modena. Its vertical proportions, steep roof and two flanking towers link it to the spires, westworks and tall narthex entries of Norman churches of Jumieges, Mont-Saint-Michel, and Caen, all from the mid eleventh century. It is in the interior that the Tuscan influence is evident, with the horizontal arched screens, grouped piers, triple rhythms, triforia and clerestory echoing San Miniato and Pisa Cathedral.
The cathedrals of Trani (begun 1098) and Bitonto (begun after 1175) share sufficient characteristics with San Nicola in Bari to indicate that the latter spawned an Apulian school of architecture (photos, top right and pp. 108-9). Both are unencumbered by the double towers of Bari. Even though the tall, slender tower of Trani is nearly coplanar with that church’s facade, it detaches itself as an apparently separate form above the ground-storey arch. The west elevation of Trani breaks from its model at Bari by providing a continuous, smooth surface without the reinforcing piers breaking Bari and Bitonto into a triple rhythm. The only rhythm is that of entry, where a compressed and extended version of the Tuscan porch, flattened from its original protrusion from the facade, frames three portals above a dramatic double stair. The single-tower composition of Trani is particularly well-suited to its site: the tower is counterbalanced by nothing less grand than the Adriatic, reflecting in its azure blue the bright white stone and elegant proportions of the church.
The same balance of similarity and difference between the architecture of Trani and San Nicola of Bari is present in their cults. The cathedral of Trani is also dedicated to a St. Nicholas, but not the same one as at Bari. Rather, the Trani St. Nicholas was a pilgrim boy from Greece, who took up a cross and bore it to holy sites in Greece, Dalmatia and the Adriatic coast of Italy, singing incessantly “Kyrie eleison” up to his death near the original cathedral of Santa Maria at Trani. The sanctification of this young pilgrim in 1094 led archbishop Bisanzio to found a new church on the site of the earlier, ninth-century cathedral. Beneath the entire complex the Tranesi constructed a vast new crypt, perhaps the source for later doublechurches, such as San Francesco in Assisi, which shared San Nicola’s necessity of accommodating throngs of pilgrims without disturbing services. The giant, vertical transept, with its tall exterior apses spanning the two interior levels, symbolically interlinks nave and crypt with the site’s traditional and new cults. The transept’s large thirteenth-century Gothic rose windows illuminate the terminus of both the eucharistic sacrifice and the pilgrim saint’s journey to death and salvation at the center of the tall church crossing.
The cathedral of Troia (photo, left), begun shortly before Trani in 1093 by Bishop Girardo, proclaims clearly its independence from the school of Bari. Unlike San Nicola or Trani’s cathedral, Troia is designed with broad proportions and with a blind facade arcade punctuated by inlaid decorative motifs within its arches. They derive from Tuscan Romanesque architecture, particularly from the elevations of Pisa’s cathedral, dating from 1063 to approximately 1108. The latter date corresponds to the date of the second major building campaign at Troia, between 1106 and 1119, when Bishop Guglielmo II completed most of the church. The tell-tale Pisan inset rotated squares and circles in the blind arcades date from one of these two early building campaigns. The link to late eleventh-, early twelfth-century Tuscany is due to the political status of Troia, which was directly under the patronage of St. Peter’s in Rome, which, in turn, had its strongest ally on the Italian peninsula in Tuscany’s Countess Mathilda of Canossa during these very years. Either direct visits by local architects to Mathildine architecture in Pisa, Florence, Pistoia, Lucca or even Modena, or contact with Tuscan builders through pilgrimages or the first crusade, which departed from the area in 1096-7, led to the adoption of these motifs at Troia. The presence of other Tuscan planning ideas in the interior of Bari’s San Nicola suggests the latter. The explicit presentation of distant Tuscan motifs at Troia, on its main elevation, emphasized how important uniqueness in Apulian religion and politics was to the bishops constructing and inhabiting the cathedral seat.
The mixture of Byzantine, Islamic, Norman and papal Roman styles present in Norman Puglia is even more extreme in the other kingdom established by the Normans, just beyond the tip of Italy, on the island of Sicily. The recent and powerful presence of Islam on the island and the Normans’ tolerant attitude to it, as well as to Byzantine and to Roman Christianity, led to an extraordinary receptiveness to combining Islamic and Byzantine architectural forms for Latin-rite churches. The simultaneous presence of the Normans in North Africa assured continuous influences from African Islamic traditions throughout the Romanesque period. The Normans arrived in Sicily from France in 1061, and won control over the island over the next thirty years. As in Normandy, England and Puglia, these “Northmen” transformed themselves from restless Viking marauders to permanently settled citizens of a highly organized political kingdom. One of the primary vehicles for this radical change in identity was their adoption of Latin Christianity, which not only led to a normalization of relations between the Normans and the Europeans they once terrorized, but also provided an ideal means for the Normans to pacify and unite the areas they conquered and settled. Just as Charlemagne had used a mixture of palace, cathedral and monastic construction to stabilize and extend the Carolingian empire two and a half centuries beforehand, the Normans, beginning with William Longsword at Jumieges in Normandy, William the Conqueror at Hastings in England, Robert Guiscard at Venosa in Puglia and Roger II at Palermo in Sicily, engaged enthusiastically in building campaigns to establish their presence in each region in stone.
As if to confirm the parallel between Carolingian and Norman architectural policy, Roger II constructed himself a palace and attached palatine chapel, dedicated to St. Peter, in Palermo. The chapel was completed between the year of Robert’s coronation, 1130, and 1143. Like its contemporaries in Normandy and the Italian peninsula, it has a triple apse. Its two side aisles are screened from the nave by marble columns supporting classicizing Corinthian-composite capitals. The tall pointed arches these capitals sustain are typically Islamic, as is the stalactite ceiling, while the rich mosaics, dating from 1143 and 1189, are Byzantine. The dissolution of the wall and ceiling by mosaics and elaborate non-structural vaulting patterns undermines the simple geometric clarity of the rectangular space of the nave, anticipating the more complex spatial arrangement of the sanctuary’s triple apses and their sectional projection into the screening arches and dome of the crossing. The ensemble creates a similar sense of hieratic awe as that of the great Imperial churches of Justinianian Byzantium at Hagia Sophia and San Vitale, on a more modest scale.
Similarly rich, hybrid church complexes sprang up across Palermo during the twelfth century, including the Martorana, (Santa Maria dell’ Ammiraglio), San Giovanni degli Eremiti, San Giovanni dei Lebbrosi, San Cataldo, and Santo Spirito. The largest of the Norman building projects in Palermo was the Cathedral, built between 1069 and 1190 by the Archbishop Walter of the Mill (Gualtiero Offamilio) of Palermo (photo, top). Its apse and side elevation are the best evidence for how the entire complex would have originally appeared. The interlocking major and minor pointed arches of the former and the wave-like array of stepped windows and crenellation of the latter are both Islamic in origin. The four corner towers were added in a new phase of Sicilian architecture, under the Hohenstaufens, starting in 1094, while other elevations and the interior, which serves to this day as the Pantheon for Norman and Staufen kings and emperors, were changed later, especially after 1781.
Roger II originally planned and began construction of another cathedral to house the tombs of the Norman kings of Sicily, not at Palermo, but to the east at Cefalu. The transept and sanctuary date from Roger’s time, but his successors and the Hohenstaufens completed the nave and facade, between 1180 and 1240, on a more modest scale, focussing instead on Palermo Cathedral as their Pantheon. The
difference between the original and completed version of the complex is evident at the side view, where the scale drops dramatically past the interlaced arches of the apse, side chapels and transept. Traces of this complex ornamental treatment of arches are still present in the newer nave walls, visible from the cloister, but are more contained and internally layered, rather than interlocked. They reappear at the upper west facade, but are tamed by the smoother ashlar of the triple–arch porch and the powerful, monolithic towers framing the entry. The interior is similarly simplified, with the regular rhythm of the unadorned nave arches leading up to a sanctuary whose only uniquely Norman feature is the extraordinary Byzantine mosaic of the semi–dome.
Monumental secular architecture in Romanesque Italy derived from the same sources as those of religious architecture. The fifth-century Palace of Theodoric and the early eighth-century Palace of the Exarchs in Ravenna transmitted examples of Imperial palace design to both episcopal and lay builders of governing palaces. Their lower arcades and upper-level galleries were copied at such geographically diverse sites as the Palazzo della Ragione in Pomposa, the Zisa in Palermo (1164-80), possibly the Pieve of Arezzo, and the town halls of Bergamo, Milan and Orvieto, all built between the early twelfth and mid thirteenth centuries. These structures established a town hall type, with a lower-level arcade supporting a glazed rectangular second-storey meeting hall, which became widely diffused between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries.
The unprotected arcade made this urban palace type inappropriate for rural residences of emperors, kings or their vassals. Feudal strongholds in Italy, as in the North and along the Crusade routes, tended, rather, to be built of multiple rings of fortification, first around an entire settlement, then around the castle, and finally forming a prominent tower. Usually on hilltop sites, such as at Frederick II’s castle at Assisi, such fortresses generally conformed more to the topography in their layout than to the laws of symmetry. Frederick II was the only castle-builder at the time to develop as well an alternative to these rather crude expressions of defense and power, in a series of symmetrical, centrally planned castles ranging from Castel del Monte in Puglia (photo, top) to the Palatium Imperatoris at Prato in Tuscany. Both examples fuse the image of impenetrable fortress with the iconography of Roman imperial palaces by situating classically pedimented portals between twin towers, just as at Diocletian’s Imperial palace at Split.
When the growing wealth of Romanesque Italian cities began to attract rural lords to build near their marketplaces, the nobility imported their rustic castle and tower forms and adapted them to entire blocks or sectors of towns. The Tuscan town of San Gimignano (photo, p. 115, top) provides an example of how most Romanesque Italian cities would have looked, literally bristling with towers constructed by both the nobility and by powerful merchants emulating them. Even papal Rome had its share of towers, occupied by its powerful families such as the Caetani at their Torre delle Milizie (photo, p. 115, right).
As the civic governments of Italy’s cities grew in wealth, population and military aspirations, they began to compete with the tower-house complexes of the nobility on two scales. One was by constructing towers of their own, often grafted onto more urban public palaces such as those discussed above. The other was by encircling their towns with city walls protected by regularly placed towers and gates, which in many cases had previously protected only individual monuments in the cities, such as the originally fortified eleventh-century cathedral and palace complex of the bishop of Arezzo. In Florence, Prato and numerous other cities, the construction of city walls, in most cases by the mid twelfth century, coincided with the building of civic palaces and with the formation of secular civic governments to reside within them.
The moment most communes built city walls their populations quickly filled them, leading to densely packed spaces and narrow streets that seemed all the more cavernous due to the frequency of tower houses. This busy, noisy, cramped and dangerous environment made the ornamented facades and vast interior spaces of urban Romanesque houses of worship all the more splendid. The inscription reads: catharos ut debuit uxit, “he burned heretics as he ought to.” It was only with the revolution of the mendicant orders, in the mid thirteenth century, that the concentrated monumentality of the Romanesque city began to diffuse throughout townscapes, leading to the spread of monumental arcades, such as those in Bologna, along all major thoroughfares, and to the multiplication of mendicant churches and piazzas disseminating a new, popular piety with what was to become the architectural equivalent of the vernacular, the Gothic.
The monastery as Heavenly Jerusalem
Early Christian and medieval architecture and urbanism derive their emotive strength from their capacity to express in earthly materials the promise and durability of the heavenly afterlife. The first architectural expression of the world after death was St. John the Divine’s literary description of the Heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation. He tells of a place that is at once a city and not a city, built with walls, foundations and gates, yet floating down from the sky, built of durable materials, yet of transparent gems, not opaque stone. The number of gates, twelve, reveal that the image is as much a community of apostles and tribes of Israel as it is a physical place. At the center John tells us there is not a temple, but Christ the Lamb himself. Architecture is no longer necessary in the city of salvation, and yet the only way to describe that city is in architectural terms.
The paradox of St. John the Divine echoes in the architecture of monasteries up to the Reformation. The first monastic settlements in Egypt were no more than assemblages of hermit retreats, organized by nothing more than their proximity and their walls, which were as much to keep hermits in as to keep the evils of the world out. And yet already by the time of St. Pachomius, in his coenobium of the early fourth century, a more architectural organization of buildings and activities was developing. Architecture was the most effective means for expressing at once the individual retreat of each hermit and the growing sense of common mission and needs which the hermits shared. They organized an ideal city for themselves, dividing themselves into smaller groups according to trade. Each fold had its own architectural unit, with a series of cells and a common room. The tension between individual retreat and life in common persisted in monastic The heavenly Jerusalem. Detail from a ceiling painting in the abbey church of Saint-Chef (France) developments in Syria, Ireland, Italy and Northern Europe. By the sixth century two clear strands existed in the West. One was Irish monasticism, where the scale of communities founded by monks such as St. Patrick remained as small as possible and the settings remote and desolate. Irish acetic extremism developed to the point of monks competing with one another in self- denial, bringing upon them the critique of wild individualism by St Benedict of Nursia. St. Benedict’s own monastic foundation represents the other strand. Benedict codified a monastic rule which regulated every aspect of daily life, providing a military-like organization that guaranteed a pious life and a capacity to live harmoniously. Benedictine monasteries became oases of stability, order and even agricultural and economic productivity within a harsh, chaotic world.
Under Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, Benedictine monasteries became the core of a policy of reevangelizing the countryside and organizing agriculture, learning and the training of the court. The clearest architectural expression of Carolingian monasticism is in the plan of St. Gall, from around 820, which was literally a blueprint for the construction of monasteries throughout the Holy Roman Empire. The scheme is organized around it most significant innovation, the cloister, which became the focal point for all monastic architecture since.
The three great monastic houses of the Romanesque period were all based on the Carolingian plan of St. Gall. The first was Monte Cassino, Benedict’s settlement in Campagna in the sixth century. It was rebuilt by Abbot Desiderius in the eleventh century. Masons from the nearby seafaring town of Amalfi introduced Islamic pointed arches and groin vaults into the mixture of early Christian and Lombard traditions at the site.
One visitor to Monte Cassino, in 1083, was Abbot Hugh of Cluny. By this time Cluny had established itself as another of the most important monastic centers in Europe. When Hugh returned to Burgundy he began, by 1088, to build Cluny III. It is through Monte Cassino and Cluny III, according to Kevin Conant, that innovations in Romanesque engineering techniques made their way across Burgundy and France.
By the late eleventh century the scale and beauty of Monte Cassino and Cluniac monasteries were matched only by the magnificence of monastic life. Monks were serviced by serfs providing them with the best in food and wine. Their sole labors were prayer, illumination and the chanting of psalms. The relation of worldly to spiritual became so unbalanced that, already in 1075, the first of a series of Cluniac monks fled to establish a more ascetic retreat. By 1119 Pope Calixtus II had approved their new monastic charter, establishing the Cistercian Order at the third great monastic house of Europe, named after its remote valley, Citeaux. The best preserved Cistercian abbey is Fontenay in France, sited far from any urban center, along a stream that the monks channeled for power and sanitation. The architecture eschews all figurative excess, elevating the layering of structural elements, the quality of surfaces and joints, and the admission of pure white light to an expression of paradise. The separation of activities and setting assured the insulation of church and cloister from the profane world, restoring the settlement at once to the ordering principles of Benedict and the acetic isolation of the Egyptian and Irish hermits.