Richard Sundt, Visiting Scholar in Art History
Cathedral and Non-Cathedral Gothic and the Construction of Simplicity in the Middle Ages
Richard Sundt, University of Oregon
The obvious disparities between Cathedral and Non-Cathedral Gothic are the result of different socio-religious agenda guiding the mission of bishops on the one hand, and of clergy belonging to non-cathedral institutions on the other, such as the friars of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders.
Inextricably tied to their respective missions and canonical standings are economic factors. These both influenced the size of buildings and controlled the degree of surface elaboration.
What has not yet been recognized sufficiently is that another important factor also determined the differences between Cathedral and Non-Cathedral Gothic. In the case of the friars' churches, these are not, as some have claimed, a "reduction" of the key concepts embodied in High Gothic cathedrals, but stem from a totally different source. I will argue that in the grand narrative of Western architecture the duality inherent in the Gothic style is the product of two distinct modes of constructing walls, and that these had long co-existed in European architecture, and perhaps since as early as Late Antiquity.
As a consequence of the two competing technologies, this led to the creation of very different aesthetic effects: one characterized by a rich memberization of surface, as in cathedrals; the other by rigorous planarity, as in non-cathedral churches. In the case of the latter, many of these edifices, by virtue of their simplicity and absence of Classical detailing, may be regarded as harbingers of modernity, only to be snuffed out by the coming of the Renaissance.
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