John Lobell: Early Christian, Romanesque, Gothic Architecture




This is a lecture given in first year architectural history in the school of architecture at Pratt Institute. It is mostly focused on Gothic architecture, looking at it in historical context, then at Gothic structure, and then how it is the “temple form” for Western culture.

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14 Comments

  1. PreciousFifi
    November 10, 2014
    Reply

    And it's anti-Christian. 

  2. dlwatib
    February 2, 2015
    Reply

    Early Christianity was not as antagonistic toward adopting pagan forms as later Protestantism. After Christianity was made the state religion and pagan worship was suppressed, Christians unhesitatingly converted many former Roman temples into churches. For new buildings, it is true that they preferred the basilica form because it better suited Christian worship needs. It was also common practice when the church entered a former pagan area to take over the ancient pagan worship sites and place the altars of the new churches directly on the former pagan focal point and preserve the alignments of whatever structure had been there before. Today's Protestants would be horrified, but the church at the time took the attitude that they were converting the pagan sites to Christianity and considered it a great idea.

    It's also not really true that Catholics were against having a dome over the congregation. Cathedrals (such as at Florence or Pisa) often had a dome over the crossing, and the main altar at the back of the church in the apse. The problem is more structural than theological. It's quite difficult to build a dome large enough to house a large congregation, whereas building a vault over a long narrow room is much easier to span with vaulting or a timber roof. You also need to take into account that the dome or walls somehow have to be pierced to let in natural light since there was no electricity, and they had no structural steel. The emperor Justinian did build Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (now Istanbul) with a large dome over the congregation and it was considered a technical marvel for centuries afterwards.

  3. dlwatib
    February 2, 2015
    Reply

    No, saints were way too valuable to be cremated! They were buried, and people would come and pray at the gravesite. If the dead saint got a reputation for miraculous healings, his bones would be dug up and what remained would be "translated" (moved) into a magnificent tomb or reliquary inside a chapel of the cathedral. That's why cathedrals needed all those chapels.

  4. dlwatib
    February 2, 2015
    Reply

    It's by no means clear that the pointed arch was an import from Islam. Islam at this time was actually favoring horseshoe arches and the peculiar stacked arches called double arches as can be seen at the Great Mosque of Cordoba. It would take a careful dating of all early uses of the pointed arches and vaults and domes in Europe to establish that they were all made after the first crusade was called in 1095, and in fact I believe that there are earlier examples of pointed arches to be found in Romanesque buildings. Wikipedia states (without attribution): "The first example of early Gothic arch in Europe is set in Sicily in the Greek fortifications of Gela." These ruins predate Christianity by several centuries! It's particularly suspicious that only the pointed arch would have been borrowed from Islam into what was otherwise a completely organic transition from Romanesque to Gothic styles.

  5. dlwatib
    February 2, 2015
    Reply

    @ 1:02:15 Far be it for me to downplay the importance of Christianity in Western culture, but I have to rate Western culture as a synthesis of equal parts Christianity, Classical Greek and Roman civilization, and barbaric invaders from the North and East.

    Classical Greek and Roman culture died, not to Christianity, but to the German and Norse tribes and all the other barbarians moving into the former Roman empire. They established first small kingdoms, and then a complex feudal system. What survives today is in large part Frankish, Norman (French Viking), Germanic, and Celtic cultures that adapted the classical Greek and Roman culture to their own needs in Northern Europe. In religion, Christianity supplanted the actual religious beliefs of the populace, but not the mythology, which lived on and gets expressed over and over again in art and architecture. Likewise the Norse and Germanic myths live on in the epic sagas, the art, and the architecture. Every few centuries there is a fresh influx of Roman and Greek revival and another classical Renaissance, first in Italy, then in Great Britain, then in the USA as the Federalist style. Every time that a Western culture aspires to empire, Roman architecture gets revived. It's had more resurrections than Jesus Himself!

    Likewise, the Norse and German mythologies get revived by such movements as Nazism to fuel nationalism and whet the thirst for war.

  6. dlwatib
    February 2, 2015
    Reply

    Yale did see itself as Christian originally. It was started as a seminary, like all the ivy league schools. In this case by Congregationalist ministers.

  7. dlwatib
    February 2, 2015
    Reply

    @ 1:09:13 St. John the Divine is not the largest cathedral in the world, no matter what they claim. Wikipedia admits that "The cathedral vies with Liverpool Cathedral for the title of the largest Anglican cathedral and church. It is also the fourth largest Christian church in the world."

    St Peter's Basilica in Rome and Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil share honors for the most cubic volume at 1,200,000 cubic meters. Seville Cathedral is third with 500,000+ cubic meters. St John the Divine is fourth at 480,000. The Liverpool cathedral is longer than St John, but doesn't have as much volume, at 450,000+ cu m. Saint Joseph's Oratory in Montreal Canada encloses 660,000 cubic meters, but it only has an area of 6,825 square meters (it has an extremely large dome for its size) whereas the other large cathedrals exceed 10,000 square meters in area. Not listed are any of the evangelical megachurches such as Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston Texas, for which only seating capacities are published.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_church_buildings_in_the_world

  8. dlwatib
    February 3, 2015
    Reply

    Sorry for nitpicking. Thanks for publishing what is really quite accurate information for youtube.

  9. Dave Rees
    May 29, 2015
    Reply

    Engaging and informative. A couple of things: Buddhism is all about change; the importance of impermanence is a central understanding. Secondly, any discussion of the Gothic revival should surely involve Pugin?! Thanks for the posting though;  I learned a lot.

  10. sitting nut
    June 11, 2015
    Reply

    it is true that church as an organization in theory and parctice mediates between god and faithful.  but where in Catholic theology does it say that built up architectural dome gives access to god and church only wanted priests under it? be specific and quote with citation, as a real academic scholar would . or did you make that up? why? is that usual practice at Pratt Institute?

  11. Yeolita
    November 3, 2015
    Reply

    YES, thanks for uploading this…this really helps to clear up stuff I could not remember and lost my notes of them!!!!! Your class seem very engaging 🙂

  12. ChePennyDK
    September 29, 2016
    Reply

    Thanks for uploading, very interesting! But it does get quite confusing at times here on Youtube, I assume you use a laser pointer during your presentation, so we can't see what you are pointing on during your explanations here on Youtube.

  13. MandyJMaddison
    October 19, 2017
    Reply

    One of the small problems with this video, from a point of the general viewer, is that the lecturer never uses the word "Renaissance" or gives a date in relation to the present St Peter's Basilica. This could possibly be very confusing to anyone (coming from outside the lecture series) who did not already know the dates of Michelangelo, Bramante and the newly designed St Peter's.

  14. MandyJMaddison
    October 19, 2017
    Reply

    What a FANTASTIC lecture! I recommend this to any student of architecture.

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