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I completely ran out of time today, so here is a picture of a sculpture which I made at the end of last year.  It is a Romanesque Flounder with strange Babylonian parasites embedded in the various arched niches.  The fish is made of wood and the smaller sculptures within are sculpted of sculpey polymer. As you can see, my “studio assistant” Sumi Cat is reviewing it carefully to see if there is anything which needs to be altered by being clawed off and knocked into a forgotten corner.

It is a bit harder to say what this sculpture represents, but the flatfish is my avatar of Earth life (and a sometimes a sort of psychopomp/spirit guide sent by the dark gods below).  The dark tree is a cruel parody of the tree of life and the parasites are clearly beings of pure appetite (albeit with a certain ecclesiastic flair).  This must be a sculpture about the appetites which religion is meant to satisfy…but what the nature of those appetites is and how we can avoid being controlled by them is a question which resists facile answers.

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Vamlingbo Church (mid 13th century, photo by photographer Olivia Wittberg)

Gotland is the largest island in the Baltic Sea.  It is culturally and politically part of Sweden (although it has ancient ties to Denmark, Norway, Germany, Poland, Russia, and lands beyond).  Many historians believe the Goths, the tribe of invaders which sacked Rome, originated from Gotland (a story which will have to wait for another post).  The main town of Gotland is Visby, the city of roses and ruins, which was a principal port of the Hanseatic League.  Gotland is scattered with strange ancient rune stones (some of which are graven with valknuts) and ancient hidden treasure hordes, but todays post concerns the island’s 94 medieval churches.  These buildings executed in the Romanesque and Gothic architectural style are one of the Island’s top tourist draws.

Anga Church (13th Century)

The Romanesque churches of Gotland were built between  1150–1250 AD.  Then the style switched to Gothic from 1250 to 1400 AD (nearly a millennia after the original Goths began to cause unrest in the northern provinces of the Roman empire).   The era of church building was a golden age for Gotland which grew rich from Baltic trade.  Priest, sailors, merchants, bankers, fishermen, architects, monks, and all manner of other folk walked the thriving streets of Visby.   Many of the churches remain (though many have been rebuilt) and their elegant architecture provides a window to the vanished medieval world.  Here is a little gallery of some of the churches of Gotland.  If you are wildly curious about any particular building you can visit this site for a more comprehensive explanation.

Atlingbo Church

Kräklingbo Church

Fårö Church

Garde Church (built originally in the mid-1100s)

Ala Church was originally built in the 12th century

Lärbro Church (Mid 13th Century)

Slanga Church

När Church (photo by Swedish National Tourist Board)

Ruins of St. Nicolai, Visby

Väte Church (14th century)

Träkumla Church

Fröjel Church (photo by Helen Simonsson)

Aren’t they beautiful?  I am sorry that I could not find  the names of a couple of churches, but there is a “find the six differences” aspect to this group of images which I didn’t appreciate at first.  I was hoping to make this an easy Friday post, but I have been trapped at my computer comparing the slants of steeples and the shape of windows.  I’ll leave you with a little picture of the gorgeous cathedral at Visby and let you look for the rest of the churches of Gotland on your own!

Visby Cathedral

 

Announcement of Death to the Virgin (Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1310, tempera on panel)

Duccio di Buoninsegna was born in the middle of Sienna in the 13th century.  Before his death in 1319 or 1320, Duccio combined the stiff formal conventions of Byzantine and Romanesque art with newfound Italian interests in modeled forms, three dimensional architectural interiors, and naturalistic emotions.   Along with Cimabue, Giotto, and Pietro Cavallini he is regarded as one of the progenitors of Western art (and the sole father of Siennese gothic art).

Detail of “Announcement of Death to the Virgin” (Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1310, tempera on panel)

Duccio’s painting Announcement of Death to the Virgin is one of only thirteen surviving works by the master.  A beautiful gothic angel has materialized before Mary as she reads from a psalter. The heavenly visitor silently presents Christ’s mother with a palm frond to symbolize the coming death of her son.  Mary gestures in resolute horror at the message.  Beyond the three-dimensional room delicate arches lead to a background of blackness.

Detail of “Announcement of Death to the Virgin” (Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1310, tempera on panel)

Little is known of Duccio’s life, but we know that it was a disorganized mess.  He had seven children and thanks to an inability to manage money he was frequently in trouble with debts and fines.  Fortunately his gifts as an artist outshone his problems with organization.  By the beginning of the 14th century he was the most famous (and revolutionary) painter in Sienna and he managed to solve his financial problems by painting numerous commissions around the thriving communal republic.

This is the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire.  The story of the crown’s creation has been lost in myth but it was most likely constructed by a jewelsmith somewhere in Western Germany during the late 10th century (probably during the reign of Otto I).   The Imperial Crown, was kept in Nuremberg from 1424–1796.  In 1796, Napoleon was marching on Nuremberg.  The crown was moved first to Regensberg before Franz II, the last Holy Roman Emperor, had the crown “temporarily” removed to Vienna.  After Napoleon’s crushing victory at the battle of Austerlitz, Franz dissolved the Holy Roman Empire (but held onto the crown, which became a historical relic).  The crown was returned to Nuremberg by Nazis after the Anschluss of 1938.  When American forces took Nuremberg, the U.S. graciously returned the crown to Austria (although it would probably look very nice in the Smithsonian).   At present the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire is with the Austrian Crown Jewels which are kept under guard at the Hofburg in Vienna, “until there is again a Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation”.

The crown is constructed from eight plates of 22 carat gold (which is why the metal never tarnishes and glisters with an otherwordly buttery glow).  It is ornamented with 144 precious stones—sapphires, emeralds, and amethysts en cabochon (faceting was unknown in the tenth century) as well as more than one hundred pearls.  The twelve largest gemstones on the front represent the twelve apostles. There are four cloisonné enamel pictures executed in the Byzantine style which show scenes from the bible (three plates portray Old Testament kings and the fourth pictures Jesus with two angels).  To quote a Czech website, the crown is indeed “a unique artistic masterpiece of the Romanesque era.”

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