The History Book Club discussion


Comments (showing 1-32 of 32) (32 new)    post a comment »
dateDown_arrow    newest »

message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Jul 23, 2010 04:01PM) (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments This seems like a good folder to initiate which deals with Art and Architecture. This particular thread will be a thread where Medieval Art and Architecture can be discussed.

Here is an excerpt about Medieval Art and Architecture and some of the topics that we could explore on this thread:

The Art and Architecture of Medieval times encompasses many movements, or eras, in art history. Included in this period are the Early Christian, the Byzantine, the Carolingian, the Romanesque, and the Gothic periods of art and architecture.

The Medieval period is complex, but a good overall review of the distinctive natures of each era can be found at Age of Discovery – Medieval Art – Renaissance – Exploration.

An excellent overview of this period is at Early Medieval Art, an extensive art history site that covers all areas of art history.

A good start in the study of Medieval Art and Architecture is to understand the vocabulary. The University of Pittsburgh has a glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture at Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture. Another source for basic information is Medieval Art and Architecture: Western Europe 400-1500.

The most significant artworks of the Early Medieval period are the illustrated manuscripts, books that were written by hand on handmade parchment paper made from animal skins. The monks who spent their lives producing these priceless treasures painted the beautiful illustrations and initial letters. For further information, as well as photographs of these books, see The Art of the Book in the Middle Ages, produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Perhaps the most famous of the illustrated manuscripts is The Book of Kells. Photos and information can be found at Book of Kells.

The Byzantine art and architecture can be seen at various websites. Byzantine Art has photos of some of the most famous of medieval architecture, mosaics, and sculptures. The Virgin Mary was represented frequently during this period, and many Byzantine art pieces can be viewed at The Cult of Mary in the Middle Ages.

The next era of Medieval Art and Architecture was the Carolingian period. Early Medieval: Merovingian, Carolingian, Ottonian displays a few examples of this work, and Images from World History: Carolingian synthesis: miniatures has some excellent photos of the miniatures popular during this time.

The Romanesque era of the 11th and 12th centuries is well known for its architectural elements, examples of which can be studied at Romanesque Art. Churches and cathedrals became highly decorated with painted frescoes of Biblical scenes and elaborate architectural elements. Metalsmithing was at its peak, and its craftsmen made many decorative scenes and utensils for these churches. Another source of information is the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland, an organization with information on the Romanesque period.

Many of the French cathedrals can be seen at the University of Pittsburgh’s site, Medieval Architecture in France. One page of that site, Medieval Saint-Denis Home Page, shows many detail of the St. Denis Cathedral. Medieval Paintings in the South of France also is a good source for information on many aspects of the French Medieval time.

In Britain, examples of the architecture and stained glass windows of the Gothic period can be found at English Gothic. French Gothic examples are at Medieval Art & Architecture: French Gothic.


We will develop threads along these lines.

Please feel free to add books, images of medieval art, urls, etc that pertain to this subject area. No self promotion please.

message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments This is a wonderful on line resource to Medieval Art - from the Harvard College Library:

message 3: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments Art Images for College Teaching is a wonderful resource:

message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments The Book of Kells  An Illustrated Introduction to the Manuscript in Trinity College Dublin by Bernard Meehan by Bernard Meehan

This is a splendid resource, well worth anyone's while.

This is the write-up from goodreads:

The Book of Kells is the most spectacular of a group of manuscripts created in Ireland and northern Britain between the seventh and tenth centuries, a period when Irish monasticism was in the vanguard of Christian culture.

Its earliest history remains controversial but it was in the keeping of the monastery of Kells, Co. Meath, for most of the Middle Ages - hence its name - and has been in the library of Trinity College Dublin, since the mid-seventeenth century.

It is a masterpiece of medieval art - a brilliantly decorated copy of the four Gospels with full-page illustrations of Christ, the Virgin and Child and the Evangelists, and a wealth of smaller decorative painting that does not always relate to the sacred text.

The strange imagination displayed in the pages, the impeccable technique and the very fine state of its preservation make it an object of endless fascination.

This edition includes the most important of the fully decorated pages plus a series of enlargements showing the almost unbelievable minuteness of the detail - spiral and interlace patterns, human and animal ornament - a combination of high seriousness and humor.

Accompanying the illustrations is a new, up-to-date text by Bernard Meehan, the current Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College Dublin. It provides a scholarly analysis of these exuberant inventions, the artists, the text and the writing, and a full account of the historical background to the miraculous world of the Book of Kells.

message 5: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments Here is a great site for looking up Medieval Art and Architecture and is referenced in the Harvard College Site I posted:

This is the medieval art section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

message 6: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Jul 23, 2010 07:40PM) (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments The Early Medieval Art included the following eras/empires

Early Medieval

This is a good blog on Early Medieval Art with some suggestions for books but it does not seem to be kept up.

message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments Here are some books for those interested in this subject:

Word and Image  An Introduction to Early Medieval Art by William J. Diebold by William J. Diebold

Early Medieval Art (Oxford History of Art) by Lawrence Nees by Lawrence Nees

Early Medieval Architecture (Oxford History of Art) by Roger Stalley by Roger Stalley

Ottonian Germany  The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg (Manchester Medieval Sources) by David A. Warner by David A. Warner

message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Jul 24, 2010 10:53AM) (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments I think we will start out by focusing on Early Medieval Art in Europe with some of the adds. And of course the history, art and culture of that period.

Possibly we can focus on a comprehensive survey of the most important monuments of Early Medieval Art and architecture from the fifth though the eleventh centuries.

I would be very interested to hear from those folks who view a more modern view of Medieval art as opposed to Classical and Renaissance art. We could explore the importance of the Classical themes and traditions in the arts of Carolingian and Ottonian Germany as an example.

So this period of time would probably include monuments, history, themes, and culture of Early Medieval Art first from the span of time from the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century to the Investiture conflict at the end of the eleventh and twelfth.

See message nine where Professor Klein expands her ideas.

message 9: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Jul 24, 2010 08:46AM) (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments There was a great course at Columbia which does give a progression with this focus. Some of you may want follow to this syllabus which was a course taught by Professor Holger Klein:

Here is the pdf file which is on the internet:

message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Jul 24, 2010 08:47AM) (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments I guess we could follow along in this course outline and "explore the formation of Western Medieval culture and its relationship to the Late Antique tradition, the establishment o a Western Roman Empire under Charlemagne and its cultural and artistic implications, and the continuation of the Carolingian cultural and artistic achievements under the Ottoman and Salien emperors of the tenth and eleventh centuries" as Professor Klein's course outlines.

She raises some great topics for potential discussion:

* Function of Art and Architecture as a means of imperial self-representation
* The role of bishops, abbots and abbesses as patrons of the arts
* The problem of cultural exchange between the Byzantine and the German empires
* The development of Medieval church architecture and its function as a liturgical space
* The production methods and use of liturgical books and sacred vessels
* Explanation of the emergence of the Romanesque as a decidedly European stylistic phenomenon

This must have been a fabulous course offered by Klein.
The above were the highlights covered by Klein in her course.

message 11: by André (last edited Aug 01, 2010 09:22AM) (new)

André (AndrH) | 2385 comments Bentley, and everybody else interested in the topic, I have never stopped wondering how it came to be that after the decline of the Roman empire, people (I won't call the clergy artists) somehow seemed to have forgotten about proportions and shapes and sizes.
When I look at Roman or Greek sculpture or even their wall paintings, and then compare things to what was created in the early Middle Ages, it somehow looks like Art class for 3 year olds (there's some humor here, get it?)
How can that happen?
I know of the religious restrictions to showing just the beauty of God's creations - but why make them ugly - unless because of being too dumb to copy what was left of the Roman examples... which probably wasn't that much...
I have had a lengthy discussion on the topic with a Dutch friend who's a specialist on Medieval art but although he tried his best to convince me otherwise I still have not seen any example of sculptures as sophisticated as the Romans and Greeks made long before that.

message 12: by Pilar (new)

Pilar Rivett | 3 comments Dear Bentley,

as a Medievalist, I am very excited about this project.

Could I suggest Erwin Panofsky who is a well known Germany iconologist.

To answer Andre's question above, could I suggest looking at Panofsky's "Principle of disjunction" page 89 of: Renaissance And Renascences in Western Art

The medieval mind could see no distinction between antiquity and the present. The best tribute that a medieval artist could pay to a work of antiquity would be to make it contemporary.

To understand Medieval art between the 11th and the 13th century one needs to be aware of the "dialectic" that existed in the medieval mind: between the time of history (real time) and the time of salvation. Faced with this loss of historical perspective, I am not surprised that medieval artists never bothered to use perspective in their art at all.

Here, I highly recommend Jacques Le Goff and the following: The Medieval Imagination by Jacques Le Goff

The chapter about Space and Time and Body are very pertinent to this project, in my view.

message 13: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2063 comments Hi Pilar,

Thanks for your books suggestions. Please be sure to use the "add book/author" feature to add both the book cover and the author picture & name. If I'm reading your suggestions correctly, the books should look like this:

Renaissance And Renascences in Western Art by Erwin Panofsky by Erwin Panofsky


The Medieval Imagination by Jacques Le Goff by Jacques Le Goff

If the authors had photographs, that would be included as well as the names.

Again, thanks for your suggestions. Especially for designating which are the most helpful chapters.

message 14: by André (new)

André (AndrH) | 2385 comments Pilar wrote: "Dear Bentley,

To answer Andre's question abo..."

Thank you, Pilar. The problem is I don't have the book and I probably won't buy it because of one page. Maybe another time.
Perspective in art came very late. The Romans didn't know how to use it either.
As to the reason for Early Medieval "art" being so simplistic, my guess would be that not only were the people creating the pictures and sculptures complete laymen, they also did not create things to praise (either a person - like in a portrait, or the body - like in athletic sculpture, or nature) but merely to tell stories or to transmit religious piety. Sure, they praised God through their images but that's different.
The thinking was different, also the way art was seen and respected by society (if you would want to call the early Medieval mess a society...
LAter, with Kingdoms establishing themselves, things changed again, also because finally others were willing to pay talented people to create art.
Another reason might be that because the Vandals and other Barbarians had destroyed most art there were only very few examples left to copy. Even if somebody would have wanted to.
Being an artist myself it's very hard to imagine people not seeing the beauty of life.

As I said before, these are just my own thoughts, not based on any writing or proof. So, Pilar and others, please advise.

message 15: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments Sounds like a spirited discussion and all good. And Andre...we will add other periods for art appreciation and if this is not your cup of tea; what thread would you like.

message 16: by André (new)

André (AndrH) | 2385 comments Thanks, Bentley. It's not that this period is not my cup of tea. In fact I'm very interested if not fascinated by the early Middle Ages, France in particular.
What fascinates me about the art is the lack of it. ANd also the apparent lack of interest. How could that happen? It's more a trying to understand the thinking of those people back then.
I can see why peasants and workers didn't find the time while they were building the churches and harvesting the land. But the others, the ones in power, who would have had the opportunity. Not much there either...
At least some of the Barbarian leaders who entered ROman territory must have seen the beauty of it all. Why didn't they bring it home? Were they just brutes as if straight out of a comic book or was there more?
I'll think of some thread when I'm done with my Roman script, o.k.?

message 17: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments No problem..your input is quite valued.

message 18: by Bea (last edited Apr 18, 2012 10:42AM) (new)

Bea | 1836 comments I highly recommend Henry Adams's "Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres" for its celebration of the unity of Medieval society as represented by the great cathedrals of France. The book is also a fine companion piece to the "Virgin and the Dynamo" chapter from "The Education of Henry Adams" which brilliantly contrasts medieval and modern society.

Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams by Henry AdamsHenry Adams

The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams by Henry AdamsHenry Adams

Mont Saint-Michel

Chartres Cathedral

message 19: by Jill, Assisting Moderator - Global NF, HF, European/Brit. Hist/Music (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) | 7973 comments Ghent, Belgium has some wonderful medieval architecture as evidenced by the picture below.
The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe. Today it is a busy city with a port and a university. Although many of Belgium's visitors overlook Ghent, its beauty is often compared to the more well-known Bruges.

message 20: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 26272 comments Quite beautiful Jill.

message 21: by Bea (last edited Apr 24, 2012 04:50PM) (new)

Bea | 1836 comments This month let's look at Western European medieval graphic art as exemplified by illuminated manuscripts. As the article below notes, for some periods these manuscripts represent the only surviving examples of Medieval painting.

"An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders (marginalia) and miniature illustrations. In the most strict definition of the term, an illuminated manuscript only refers to manuscripts decorated with gold or silver, but in both common usage and modern scholarship, the term is now used to refer to any decorated or illustrated manuscript from the Western traditions.

The earliest surviving substantive illuminated manuscripts are from the period AD 400 to 600, initially produced in Italy and the Eastern Roman Empire. The significance of these works lies not only in their inherent art historical value, but in the maintenance of a link of literacy offered by non-illuminated texts as well. Had it not been for the monastic scribes of Late Antiquity, the entire literature of Greece and Rome would have perished in Europe; as it was, the patterns of textual survivals were shaped by their usefulness to the severely constricted literate group of Christians. The very existence of illuminated manuscripts as a way of giving stature and commemoration to ancient documents may have been largely responsible for their preservation in an era when barbarian hordes had overrun continental Europe and ruling classes were no longer literate.

Manuscripts are among the most common items to survive from the Middle Ages; many thousands survive. They are also the best surviving specimens of medieval painting, and the best preserved. Indeed, for many areas and time periods, they are the only surviving examples of painting.

More here:

Here are some images of illuminated manuscript pages. I would love to see other people's favorites.

Book of Kells, Folio 292r, Incipit to John. In principio erat verbum., about 800 AD

Lindisfarne Gospels, "Carpet Page", about 700 AD

message 22: by Bea (last edited Apr 24, 2012 05:00PM) (new)

Bea | 1836 comments Whether they were illuminated or not, the work done by monks copying secular works after the fall of the Roman Empire kept some the the classics of antiquity alive and paved the way for the Renaissance hundreds of years later.

This year's Pulitzer Prize winner for General non-fiction is an interesting account of a Renaissance scribe's search for forgotten manuscripts in monasteries. His ultimate prize was finding Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things." The author argues that Lucretius' ideas were the gateway to modern thought.

The Swerve  How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt by Stephen Greenblatt Stephen Greenblatt

The Way Things Are  The De Rerum Natura by Titus Lucretius Carus by Titus Lucretius CarusTitus Lucretius Carus

Here are some relevant books I was not able to fit on the above post:

A History of Illuminated Manuscripts by Christopher De Hamel by Christopher De Hamel

The Book of Kells  An Illustrated Introduction to the Manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin by Bernard Meehan by Bernard Meehan

The Lindisfarne Gospels by Janet Backhouse by Janet Backhouse

message 23: by Jill, Assisting Moderator - Global NF, HF, European/Brit. Hist/Music (last edited Mar 07, 2014 12:38PM) (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) | 7973 comments I was lucky enough, while in the Republic of Ireland, to see the Book of Kells. Of course it is locked securely in a glass case but each day, the curators turn a page so that visitors see a different one each day. It is almost beyond imagination as to the time and precision it takes to produce these amazing images.

message 24: by Bea (new)

Bea | 1836 comments Oh. My. Goodness. What a labor of love and devotion.

message 25: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5321 comments Girl in a Green Gown: The History and Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait.

Girl in a Green Gown  The History and Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait. by Carola Hicks by Carola Hicks by Carola Hicks

The Arnolfini portrait, painted by Jan van Eyck in 1434, is one of the world's most famous paintings. It intrigues all who see it. Scholars and the public alike have puzzled over the meaning of this haunting gem of medieval art, a subtle and beautiful double portrait of a wealthy Bruges merchant and his wife.

The enigmatic couple seem to be conveying a message to us across the centuries, but what? Is the painting the celebration of marriage or pregnancy, a memorial to a wife who died in childbirth, a fashion statement or a status symbol? Using her acclaimed forensic skills as an art historian, Carola Hicks set out to decode the mystery, uncovering a few surprises along the way.

She also tells the fascinating story of the painting's survival through fires, battles, hazardous sea journeys, and its role as a mirror reflecting the culture and history of the time - from jewel of the Hapsburg empire to Napoleonic war trophy. Uniquely, for a masterpiece this old, it can be tracked through every single owner, from the mysterious Mr Arnolfini via various monarchs to a hard-up Waterloo war hero, until it finally came to rest in 1842 as an early star of the National Gallery. These owners, too, have cameo parts in this enthralling story of how an artwork of genius can speak afresh to each new generation.

message 26: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5321 comments The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece

The Bayeux Tapestry  The Life Story of a Masterpiece by Carola Hicks by Carola Hicks

One of Europe’s greatest artistic treasures, the Bayeux Tapestry depicts the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. For all its fame, its origins and story are complex and somewhat cloudy. Though many assume it was commissioned by Bishop Odo—William’s ruthless half-brother—it may also have been financed by Harold’s dynamic sister Edith, who was juggling for a place in the new court. In this intriguing study, medieval art historian Carola Hicks investigates the miracle of the tapestry’s making—including the unique stitches, dyes, and strange details in the margins—as well as its complicated past. For centuries it lay ignored in Bayeux cathedral until its discovery in the 18th century. It quickly became a symbol of power: townsfolk saved it during the French Revolution, Napoleon displayed it to promote his own conquest, and the Nazis strove to make it their own. Packed with thrilling stories, this history shows how every great work of art has a life of its own.

message 27: by Jill, Assisting Moderator - Global NF, HF, European/Brit. Hist/Music (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) | 7973 comments A must-see attraction in NYC for the art lover. the building itself is worth the trip, let alone the treasures it contains.

The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture

The Cloisters  Medieval Art and Architecture by Peter Barnet by Peter Barnet (no photo)


The Cloisters is the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. This splendid new guide, richly illustrated with more than 175 color pictures, offers a broad introduction to the remarkable history of The Cloisters as well as a lively and informative discussion of the treasures within.Assembled with Romanesque and Gothic architectural elements dating from the twelfth through the fifteenth century, The Cloisters is itself a New York City landmark, overlooking sweeping vistas of the Hudson River in Upper Manhattan. Long cherished as a world-class museum, it also contains beautiful gardens featuring plants, fruit trees, and useful herbs familiar from the collection’s medieval tapestries and other works of art. Among the masterworks of medieval religious and domestic life housed in The Cloisters are exceptional examples of carved ivory, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, silver- and goldsmiths’ work, and tapestries, including the famous Unicorn in Captivity.Enriched by the latest scholarship from The Cloisters’ expert staff of curators, educators, and horticulturalists, this volume will stand as the definitive source on the collection for years to come.

message 28: by Jerome, Assisting Moderator (T) - Military History (new)

Jerome | 2500 comments An upcoming book:
Release date: June 15, 2014

The Riddle of the Image: The Secret Science of Medieval Art

The Riddle of the Image  The Secret Science of Medieval Art by Spike Bucklow by Spike Bucklow (no photo)


From monumental church mosaics to fresco wall-paintings, the medieval period produced some of the most impressive art in history. But how, in a world without the array of technology and access to materials that we now have, did artists produce such incredible works, often on an unbelievably large scale? In The Riddle of the Image, research scientist and art restorer Spike Bucklow discovers the actual materials and methods that lie behind the production of historical paintings.

Examining the science of the tools and resources, as well as the techniques of medieval artists, Bucklow adds new layers to our understanding and appreciation of paintings in particular and medieval art more generally. He uses case studies—including The Wilton Diptych, one of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery in London and the altarpiece in front of which English monarchs were crowned for centuries—and analyses of these works, presenting previously unpublished technical details that shed new light on the mysteries of medieval artists. The first account to examine this subject in depth for a general audience, The Riddle of the Image is a beautifully illustrated look at the production of medieval paintings.

message 29: by Jill, Assisting Moderator - Global NF, HF, European/Brit. Hist/Music (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) | 7973 comments Good addition, Jerome.

message 30: by Jill, Assisting Moderator - Global NF, HF, European/Brit. Hist/Music (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) | 7973 comments An informative look at the differences in Scottish and British medieval architecture.

Scottish Medieval Churches: Architecture and Furnishings

Scottish Medieval Churches  Architecture & Furnishings by Richard Fawcett by Richard Fawcett (no photo)


A major difficulty for those who wish to understand and enjoy Scottish medieval churches is the ecclesiological groundwork was not carried out in the nineteenth century in the way that was done for England and other parts of Europe. In an effort to interpret what they see when visiting Scottish churches, many people attempt to apply techniques of analysis they have learned from English publications - but that way madness lies. Even in the twelfth and eleventh centuries, when architectural relationships between Lowland Scotland and England were close, Scotland followed its own course in many respects, while in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Scottish architecture followed an almost completely different course from that of England. The present ground-breaking work makes good this deficit and analyses the planning and detailing of Scottish churches from 1120 to 1560 with hundreds of illustrated examples that can be firmly dated.

message 31: by Jill, Assisting Moderator - Global NF, HF, European/Brit. Hist/Music (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) | 7973 comments Illuminated manuscripts are some of the most glorious of mans' work in the arts. This book delves deeply into all aspects of this lost art.

The History of Illuminated Manuscripts

A History of Illuminated Manuscripts by Christopher De Hamel by Christopher De HamelChristopher De Hamel


Medieval manuscripts are counted among the greatest glories of Western civilization. With their gold and painted decoration and their charming miniatures, they have always had immense appeal, and images from them can be seen everywhere - from greeting cards and wrapping paper to expensive facsimiles. This entertaining and authoritative book is the first to provide a general introduction to the whole subject of the making of books from the Dark Ages to the invention of printing and beyond. Christopher de Hamel vividly describes the widely different circumstances in which manuscripts were created, from the earliest monastic Gospel Books to university textbooks, secular romances, Books of Hours and classical texts for humanist bibliophiles. As the story unfolds the wonderful variety of manuscripts and their illumination is revealed, and many fundamental questions are answered - who wrote the books, what texts they contained, who read them, how they were made and what purposes they served. Illuminated manuscripts have alway been highly valued, and among them are some of the world's great masterpieces of art. With its lively narrative and many new and superb illustrations, this new edition of a much-praised book provides the perfect introduction to a large and fascinating subject.

message 32: by Jill, Assisting Moderator - Global NF, HF, European/Brit. Hist/Music (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) | 7973 comments A beautifully illustrated book with some rather surprising secrets to the stained glass windows of St. Pierre Cathedral at Beauvais.

Picturing the Celestial City: The Medieval Stained Glass of Beauvais Cathedral

Picturing The Celestial City  The Medieval Stained Glass Of Beauvais Cathedral by M. Cothren by M. Cothren (no photo)


The cathedral of Saint-Pierre in Beauvais, France, is most famous as a failure--its choir vaults came crashing down in 1284--and only secondarily for its soaring beauty. This lavishly illustrated and elegantly written book represents the first serious look at the stunning collection of Gothic stained glass windows that has always dominated the experience of those who enter Beauvais Cathedral.
Chapter by chapter, Michael Cothren traces the glazing through four successive campaigns that bridged the century between the 1240s and the 1340s. The reader is transported back in history, gaining fascinating insight into what the glazing of Beauvais actually would have looked like as well as what it would have communicated to those who frequented the cathedral. Contrary to the widespread assumption that these windows are heavily restored, Cothren shows that they are in fact surprisingly well preserved, especially in light of the cathedral's infamous history of architectural disaster.
More importantly, Cothren goes far to dismantle a long-held misconception about medieval painted windows, and indeed monumental medieval pictorial art in general: the notion that it was conceived and produced as a substitute text for ignorant, illiterate folks, providing for them a "Bible of the Poor." Indeed, Cothren shows us that stained glass windows, rich with shaded meanings, functioned more like sermon than scripture. As an ensemble, they created a radiant interpretive backdrop that explicated and situated the performance of the Mass in this giant liturgical theater.

back to top