Light in the romanesque period

Monday, july 8th

Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine.

Philippe Plagnieux

Tuesday, July 9th

Intégration of light in the southern romanesque architecture

Andréas Hartmann-Virnich, Aix-Marseille Université

The theme of light in medieval architecture is as rich and multifaceted as it is inexhaustible, and has given rise to so many commentaries and studies in the history of art that it might, at first sight, seem pointless, superfluous or even foolhardy to revive an old debate. However, the place of light openings in architecture itself remains a useful angle of approach, both from the point of view of their design and construction and from that of their relationship with the built space and the liturgical space. A common theme in so many writings on Gothic architecture, “divine light” remains first and foremost a material light and a practical issue, without denying its dual immaterial nature that emanates from that of its doubly celestial source, the sun. Around 1080, at a time when Norman expansion was giving rise to so many monumental worksites in Normandy, England, Sicily and southern Italy, Goscelin de Saint-Bertin made light one of the main reasons for justifying a prestigious new construction: “He who builds better things does well to destroy them. I resent small buildings… if it were in my power I would not leave standing churches, however respectable they may be, which are not at the same time – in my judgement – famous, magnificent, very high, very vast, very luminous and very beautiful” [1]. In a similar vein, the architecture of the second southern Romanesque period in turn emphasised the value of the window in a variety of ways, through its location and exposure, its shape, size and decoration, and the way it let in light. As for luminosity, the all too rare remains of stained glass windows provide only a fragmentary insight into the filtering and colouring of light by monochrome and polychrome glass or other transparent materials. Beyond the material data, the unusual case of the oculus on the façade of the chapel of Saint-Gabriel near Tarascon proves that the spiritual dimension of light was tacitly, if not explicitly, present, through the integration of the opening into the discourse of a Christological iconographic programme.

[1] [1] Bene destruit qui meliora construit. Ego… indignor pusillis edificiis… data facultate non paterer stare templa quamvis spectata, nisi scilicet fuissent ad votum meum inclita, magnifica, precelsa, perampla, perlucida et perpulchra. Goscelin de Saint-Bertin, Liber confortatorius, H. Talbot éd., Coscelin von Saint-Bertin : Liber Confortatorius, dans : Studia Anselmiana (Analecta Monastica), XXXVIII, Berne, 1955, p. 1-117, p. 93.

Light and darkness in the XIIth century roman basilicas

Daniela Mondini, Università della Svizzera italiana (Suisse).

In the revival of religious architecture in the city of Rome around 1100, there was a trend towards reducing the size of windows, which until now has received little scholarly attention.
The study will look at the traditions of natural (and artificial) lighting in Roman basilicas, and will examine the reasons behind the preference for the ‘windowless’ apse in the twelfth century and the reduced use of light in the sacred space. Particular attention will also be paid to the rhetoric of light and the bright edifice promoted in the apsidal inscriptions of the early Middle Ages, which in many cases were still visible in the 12th century. According to the working hypothesis, these tendencies towards architectural obscurity seem to be motivated less by constructional necessities than by aesthetics, and may have their origins in a deliberately dosed use of light in the effective mise-en-scène of mosaics in vaulted surfaces by means of “artificial lighting”.

Nella rinascita dell’architettura religiosa nella città di Roma intorno al 1100, si è verificata una tendenza verso finestre più piccole, che finora ha ricevuto poca attenzione da parte dei ricercatori.
Lo studio analizzerà le tradizioni dell’illuminazione naturale (e artificiale) nelle basiliche romane ed esaminerà le ragioni della preferenza per l’abside “senza finestre” nel XII secolo e l’uso ridotto della luce nello spazio sacro. Particolare attenzione sarà rivolta anche alla retorica della luce e dell’edificio abbagliante promossa nelle iscrizioni absidali dell’Alto Medioevo, che in molti casi erano ancora visibili nel XII secolo. Secondo l’ipotesi di lavoro, queste tendenze all’oscurità architettonica sembrano essere motivate più da esigenze costruttive che estetiche e potrebbero avere origine dall’uso deliberato di “luci artificiali” per mettere in scena efficacemente i mosaici nelle superfici voltate.

Grandmontine light : natural light in the churches of the Order of Grandmont.

André Larigauderie, Centre d’archéologie et d’histoire médiévales des établissements religieux

The distribution of natural light in Grandmontine churches is quite specific. Its particularity is to encourage the faithful /the observer to go beyond their initial subjective sensation.
This phenomenon stems from the simultaneous presence of sunlight, as well as of a particularly refined architecture and of course an observer present in the building. Each element of this ternary system interacts according to its own specific characteristics. Firstly, the apparent, cyclical path of the sun’s disk conditions the penetration of sun-rays through the windows all day long. Secondly, the position of the church in relation to the apparent path of the disk, i.e. the azimuth of the main axis of the church, and the geometry of its bays, have a major influence on the amount of light which gleams in the church. Lastly, the observer’s position in the church can help them become aware of the importance of the church’s dimensions and proportions on their field of vision ; therefore these characteristics influence their own perception of the lighting. The positioning and architecture of the bays designed by the Grandmontines, as well as the blind nave, appear to be fundamental parameters for obtaining this kind of lighting, both quantitatively and qualitatively, particularly in the apse; Nevertheless the proposed methodology for studying these physical phenomena is not specific to Grandmont architecture. The aim being to encourage prayer, the atmosphere created helps focus on the altar.

Lighting simulation using digital models: Sant Quirze de Pedret

Immaculada Lorés, Xavier Pueyo, Milagros Guardia, ViRVIG-Ars Picta, Universitat de Lleida, Universitat de Girona, Universitat de Barcelona (Catalogne, Espagne)

As part of the European project Enhancement of Heritage Experiences: The Middle Ages. Digital Layered Models of Architecture and Mural Paintings over Time (EHEM), virtual reconstructions were obtained for three medieval buildings with mural paintings from different periods, resulting in sets of superimposed pictorial layers: Sant Quirze de Pedret (Catalonia), Santa Maria Antiqua (Rome), and the Enkleistra of Agios Neophitos (Cyprus). The project incorporates the diachronic perspective as a fundamental axis to reconstruct in each phase both the architecture of the building and its corresponding pictorial decoration, to get as close as possible to the churches in their successive original states.
The small church of Sant Quirze de Pedret was constructed towards the end of the 9th and was entirely renewed in the 10th century. The church’s walls were painted in two separate periods, with the first decoration completed in the early 11th century and the second in the early 12th century, overlapping the first one. In 1921 and 1937, these paintings were removed and transferred to the Barcelona Museum and the Solsona Museum, respectively. Therefore, nowadays it is impossible to appreciate and understand the complete ensemble, unless using digital techniques.
One of the issues we have dealt with in the digital models of Pedret is the simulation of the lighting conditions in the different spaces of the church; particularly, those decorated with romanesque wall paintings. The lighting reconstruction includes natural lighting, considering the openings in the church, as well as artificial lighting that would have been used around the altars, particularly in the apses, with candles and oil lamps.
Our goal is to display the frescoes as they were perceived at each of the phase we have studied; therefore, we used software that prioritizes precision of calculations over aesthetic results. The natural lighting brought by the sky, whether clear or cloudy, requires the use of software enabling the users to fix the date and the time for which the user wants to see the result of the simulation. This way, we can analyse what areas and paintings are more or less lit at different moments of the year. As for artificial lighting, there is little certainty about the type of luminaires used. Therefore, we worked with different assumptions, such as paraffin and beeswax candles, and extra-virgin olive oil lamps with and without salt.

En el marc del projecte europeu Enhancement of Heritage Experiences: The Middle Ages. Digital Layered Models of Architecture and Mural Paintings over Time (EHEM), es van obtenir reconstruccions virtuals de tres edificis medievals amb pintures murals realitzades en diferents èpoques, donant com a resultat conjunts de capes pictòriques superposades: Sant Quirze de Pedret (Catalunya), Santa Maria Antiqua (Roma), i l’Enkleistra d’Agios Neophitos (Xipre). El projecte incorpora la perspectiva diacrònica com a eix fonamental per tal de reconstruir en cadascuna de les fases tant l’arquitectura de l’edifici com la seva corresponent decoració pictòrica, amb l’objectiu d’apropar-se el màxim possible a les esglésies en els seus successius estats originals.
La petita església de Sant Quirze de Pedret va ser construïda a finals del segle IX i completament reformada al segle X. Va ser pintada en dues èpoques diferents (a principis del segle XI i principis del XII), la segona decoració superposada a l’anterior. Els anys 1921 i 1937, aquestes pintures van ser arrencades i traslladades al Museu de Barcelona i al Museu de Solsona respectivament, de manera que avui és físicament impossible apreciar i entendre el conjunt, excepte amb l’ajuda d’eines digitals.
Un dels aspectes que s’ha treballat en els models digitals creats per a Pedret és la simulació de les condicions d’il·luminació dels diferents espais de l’església, especialment els decorats amb pintures murals romàniques: il·luminació natural, tenint en compte les obertures a l’església, i il·luminació artificial que devia funcionar especialment als absis al voltant dels altars, amb espelmes i llums d’oli.
L’objectiu del nostre treball és mostrar els frescos tal com es percebien en el seu moment, hem utilitzat un programari que afavoreix la precisió dels càlculs abans que l’estètica dels resultats. La il·luminació natural del cel, ja sigui clara o ennuvolada, requereix l’ús d’un programari de simulació que permeti establir una data i hora i, opcionalment, les condicions atmosfèriques per a les quals l’usuari vol veure el resultat de la simulació. Això ens permetrà analitzar quines parts de l’església, i quines pintures, estan més o menys il·luminades a cada moment del dia. Pel que fa a la il·luminació artificial, hi ha poca certesa sobre el tipus de lluminàries utilitzades. Per això vam treballar amb diferents hipòtesis: cera de parafina i espelma de cera d’abella, llum d’oli d’oliva verge extra amb i sense sal.

Turning towards the light, coming out of the darkness: shaping vision in the High Middle Ages

Nancy Thébaut, Skydmore College (U.S.A.), CESCM, Université de Poitiers

This paper studies the ways that medieval art offered its viewers models, and sometimes anti-models, of vision. It focuses on a series of liturgical objects in which figures look at or turn away from light, both represented and actual, and proposes that their artists conceived of vision as a physical struggle in which the full body should be engaged. Special attention will be given to the 11th-century candlesticks made for Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim, specifically the figures at their base that mark the act of vision and belief as highly embodied experiences.

The romanesque church of Lavernose-Lacasse (Haute-Garonne)

Lola Sabardine, Université de Toulouse Jean-Jaurès

The Church of Lavernose-Lacasse is a small Romanesque church built between the 11th and 12th centuries and located in the countryside north of France’s Comminges region. Though it had not aroused interest until recently, its location along a major traffic route, its relatively large size and its basilica-style layout evoking buildings of greater importance invite an interpretation of the church as an architectural statement. On the other hand, this reading is somewhat diminished by the facings, which reveal poor craftsmanship. Nor did the ornamentation work receive very careful treatment, at a time when sculpture was otherwise widely developing within architecture.
This article aims to introduce this little-known church and the questions it raises, based in particular on the findings of archaeological study. Particular attention is paid to its insertion within contemporary spatial dynamics and to its architectural links with better-known regional buildings, with the aim of better understanding the reasons for its construction.

La sculpture ornementale et la mise en valeur de la baie axiale : quelques exemples angoumoisins

Estelle Chargé, Université de Toulouse Jean-Jaurès, Université Bordeaux-Montaigne

The axial bay is an important feature of Romanesque church, positioned in the main axis of the monument, distinguished within the overall apse and bringing light from the east inside the sanctuary. A study of the sculpted decoration inside the apses, and in particular the arrangement of its ornamental forms (mainly vegetal and animal), reveals organisational systems designed to distinguish the axial bay using representations that gradually increase in value as one moves towards it.
This involves compositions depicting vegetal forms blossoming into increasingly positive forms moving eastwards, or pairs of capitals set out facing each other and showing forms of increasing value, as successive thresholds, from the western parts up to the frame of the bay. These arrangements complement the specific decorations of the axial bays and contribute to their visual and symbolic importance within the church.
A few examples from monuments belonging to the former diocese of Angoulême shed light on such systems, how they work and the issues they raise, providing a better understanding of the importance of the axial bay in the design of Romanesque churches and in the dynamics of apses

Wednesday, July 10th

Excursion en Catalogne : Santa Maria de Lledó, Santa Maria de Vilabertràn, Michel Desmier-Oliveres.

Thursday, July 11th

Fiat Lux (Gn., 1,3-4). The Creation of the Light in pre-Romanesque and Romanesque painting. Variations on the Same Theme

Jacqueline Leclercq-Marx, Université libre de Bruxelles (Belgique)

The present paper will concentrate primarily on the way in which artists have visually expressed « The Creation of Light » the Fiat Lux of Genesis 1. 3-4 from the earliest instances of such depictions to the end of the twelfth century. The examples are drawn from monumental painting, miniature painting, and even from mosaics, the goal being to show the great diversity of representations of a subject which does not extend in influence much beyond itself. As we will see, certain mises en scene contain only the figure of the Creator who emanates rays of light. But it also happens that the composition integrates some diverse elements, for example, some angels whose number and type vary or some secondary personages whose presence in the compositions is not easy to interpret without the aid of exegetical commentaries. As the examples are quite numerous and often varied, the question of filiation is not one often or easily undertaken. The first part of the discussion will pertain to the presentation of examples dating from before the eleventh century.


« Illuminare » : la matérialité de la lumière dans l’enluminure romane

Charlotte Denoël, Centre Jean-Mabillon, Bibliothèque nationale de France


When the light comes from the golden background, about an experiment at Germigny-des-Prés

Christian Sapin, CNRS et Line van Wersch, Université de Liège (Belgique)

Using a double approach combining building archaeology and experimental lighting, we offer a new look at the famous Carolingian mosaic in the oratory at Germigny-des-Prés. Textual sources and previous architectural studies place this emblematic building from the time of Charlemagne as the work of Théodulfe, Bishop of Orléans (V.780-80), who was also Abbot of Saint-Benoît sur Loire. In addition to the new archaeological research, we had the opportunity to observe the interior and exterior masonry of the main apse without its plaster coating, and study in detail the materials used in the mosaic with its glass tesserae covered of gold and silver leaves. An understanding of the masonry of the restored bays that were niches, led to the hypothesis of an eastern space with no direct lighting. Using oil lamps specially made for this experiment, it was possible to demonstrate that the original illumination of the apse and its mosaic by just a few lamps and candles, reflecting the light from the gold background, was enough to give it a completely different brightness.
Based on this experience, we think it would be interesting to reflect on the intention of the designer of the Carolingian complex as a deliberate achievement in which, in the darkened apse, the “divine” light coming from a golden background is in harmony with the the subject of the mosaic.


Romanesque stained glass : light, colour, space

Alberto Virdis, Centre d’Études du haut Moyen Âge, Mazarykova Univerzita, Brno (Rép. Tchèque)

Following the path of Romanesque stained-glass art involves undertaking a meticulous process of reconstructing panels or even individual fragments that have been dispersed and then recontextualized.
Indeed, whether it be stained-glass windows saved from a fire such as the “Belles Verrière” of Chartres, relocated within a new architectural context following the Gothic renovation of Romanesque churches and cathedrals (Augsburg, Vendôme, Strasbourg), exposed in museums (Châlons-en-Champagne, Wissembourg, Arnstein, Neuwiller, Chenu or some of the famous stained-glass windows of Saint-Denis), rediscovered in archaeological contexts (Lorsch, Jumièges), and perhaps known more through documentary evidence than through material remains (Barcelona), Romanesque stained glass is mostly found outside its original context.
The historical trajectory of Romanesque stained-glass art is not easy to reconstruct. To do so, one must take into account the architectural contexts of origin, the shape and size of the windows, the relationship with the frescoes and polychrome decoration of the original buildings, and the challenges posed by the coloration of the glass itself in relation to internal lighting conditions.
With reference to these themes, this paper aims to illustrate some of the most important turning points in the path of Romanesque stained glass in the 11th and 12th centuries, attempting to reconnect this path with what has long been emerging from archaeological excavations and related studies on pre-Romanesque, early medieval stained glass. Although sparsely documented, stained glass art, at the turn of the millennium, had been consolidated and well integrated into architectural decoration for centuries, at least in certain areas of Europe, as evidenced by the treatise of Theophilus.
The problems posed by the unequal distribution of stained glass between central-northern and southern Europe, relationships with other arts (goldsmithing, enamels, illumination), and some historiographical problems will therefore be addressed, through specific case studies, considering most recent research.

Che si tratti di vetrate reimpiegate perché salvate da un incendio come la “Belle Verrière” di Chartres, di vetrate ridislocate entro un nuovo contesto architettonico in seguito al rinnovamento in senso gotico di chiese e cattedrali romaniche (Augsburg, Vendôme, Strasburgo), di vetrate oggi musealizzate o ricollocate in altri contesti monumentali (Chalons-en-Champagne, Wissembourg, Arnstein, Neuwiller, Chenu o alcune delle celebri vetrate di Saint-Denis), di vetrate riscoperte in contesti archeologici (Lorsch, Jumièges), e magari conosciute più per via documentaria che per i resti materiali (Barcellona), seguire il percorso della vetrata romanica significa operare un lavoro certosino di ricostruzione di pannelli o addirittura singoli frammenti dispersi e poi ricontestualizzati.
Un percorso di non facile ricostruzione che per essere condotto correttamente deve tenere conto, laddove possibile, dei contesti architettonici di appartenenza, della forma e ampiezza delle finestre, del rapporto con le pitture e la decorazione policroma degli edifici originari, e dei problemi posti dalla colorazione stessa delle vetrate in rapporto alle condizioni di illuminazione interna.
Con riferimento a questi temi, la presente comunicazione si propone quindi di illustrare alcuni dei momenti di snodo più importanti dello sviluppo della vetrata romanica nei secoli XI e XII e si cercherà di riconnettere tale sviluppo a quanto da tempo sta emergendo dagli scavi archeologici e relativi studi sulla vetrata preromanica in età altomedievale. Infatti, benché scarsamente documentata, l’arte della vetrata, allo snodo dell’anno Mille, era già da secoli consolidata e ben integrata nella decorazione architettonica, almeno in certe aree d’Europa, come testimonia il trattato di Theophilus.
Verranno quindi affrontati i problemi posti dalla ineguale diffusione della vetrata fra l’Europa settentrionale e quella meridionale, i rapporti con altre arti (oreficeria, smalti, miniatura), e alcuni problemi storiografici, attraverso casi di studio specifici, alla luce delle ricerche più recenti.


Vendredi 12 juillet 

Matin : visite de l’abbaye de Saint-Martin du Canigou

Crystalline light in church treasures

Isabelle Bardiès-Fronty, Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris

“Then the angel showed me the water of life: a river shining like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev. 22.1). Echoing John’s words, medieval sculptors and goldsmiths exploited the transparency of rock crystal to create works for churches. Altarpieces in the service of the liturgy, and reliquaries that fascinated believers and pilgrims alike, all bear witness to the divine transcendence embodied by rock crystal in the Christian religion.
Symbolizing Jesus through its limpidity and transcendence, quartz is omnipresent in the church treasures we preserve. We will consider this search for divine light through the texts but also the material, focusing in particular on the treasures of Sainte-Foy de Conques and Sainte-Marie-de-l’Ascension in Hildesheim, as well as taking some other examples. The works analyzed will illustrate our proposal to consider rock crystal as a major Christic vector in Romanesque art.


More than liturgical light objects. An iconography study of candelabra and lamps representations in the Revelation book manuscripts.

Juan Antonio Olañeta, Université de Barcelone (Espagne)

The early medieval and Romanesque churches, either due to the poor natural lighting in some of them, or due to the performance of night services, had to use lighting devices such as candelabras and oil lamps. However, the presence in temples of this type of objects did not respond, in many cases, to merely practical needs, but was motivated by the symbolic connotations that Christianity gave them. That is why some of these lighting artifacts became essential elements in the development of the liturgy or in the setting of the context in which it was carried out. This is why many of the representations of lighting devices in Romanesque paintings, miniatures and sculptures do not respond to a descriptive purpose, but rather a symbolic one. Additionally, quite frequently, the lamps or candelabras, seven in number, illustrate the text of the vision of the Son of Man and the announcement to the Seven Churches (Revelation 1, 13-16) or that of the vision of the Lord with the living and the elderly (Revelation 4, 2-6). In this work, the different models of representation of these apocalyptic passages are analyzed, depending on the way of showing these elements of illumination and their fidelity to the biblical text. We will delve into the study of the peculiar case of the blessed and the particularities of these episodes in Pyrenean mural painting.

Les esglésies de l’alta edat mitjana i del romànic, ja fos per l’escassa il·luminació natural d’algunes d’elles o pels serveis nocturns, van haver d’utilitzar aparells d’il·luminació com canelobres i llums d’oli. No obstant això, la presència d’aquest tipus d’objectes en els temples no només responia, en molts casos, a necessitats merament pràctiques, sinó a connotacions simbòliques que els donava el cristianisme. Per aquest motiu, alguns d’aquests objectes lluminosos es van convertir en elements essencials per al desenvolupament de la litúrgia o per al context en què es desenvolupava. Així, moltes representacions de dispositius lluminosos en pintures, miniatures i escultures romàniques no responen a una finalitat descriptiva, sinó simbòlica. A més, amb força freqüència, llums o canelobres, set en nombre, il·lustren el text de la visió del Fill de l’home i l’anuncien a les set esglésies (Apocalipsi 1: 13-16) o la de la visió del Senyor amb els vius i els ancians (Apocalipsi 4: 2-6). En aquest estudi s’analitzen els diferents models de representació d’aquests passatges de l’Apocalipsi segons la manera en què es mostren aquests elements d’il·luminació i la seva fidelitat al text bíblic. Aprofundirem en l’estudi del cas particular dels beats i en les peculiaritats d’aquests episodis en la pintura mural pirinenca.

Leave Comment

Votre adresse e mail ne sera pas affichée. Champs obligatoires *

clear formSubmit