Current Medieval Research I
I am working to complete five pieces of research that will, in a way, round off all my efforts over the past 35 years in the Paris Basin. They are interdependent and need to be completed together.
a) To use the style of foliate carving to date each part of the 700 more interesting churches, especially the less well-studied smaller and medium-sized buildings. Two approaches are needed. For those carved after 1170, there is a regular evolution of foliate style from "spring" to "autumn" that looks like being accurate within a half-decade.
The decade of the 1170s saw one of the most dramatic transformations of sculpture in historical times - from abstract carving to naturalistic. It forms a watershed from which many monuments and carved works may be dated.
This has now been published as The Creation of Gothic Architecture - an Illustrated Thesaurus: The Ark of God. Part A: "The Evolution of Foliate Capitals in the Paris Basin 1170 to 1250", London and Hartley Vale, 2002.
For capitals carved before 1170 I will need to identify some of the individual carvers or carving styles (whichever they may turn out to be). A trial sample of twenty carver/styles have already been put into chronological order from they way their details change over time. As these carvers seldom worked in fixed gangs but appear in somewhat random groupings in each building, I have linked the resulting dates across many sites, and this matrix has greatly refined the dates themselves.
Some carvers can be followed to churches in northern Italy and Spain, as well as central France and southern England. Dates from these sites will further refine the dates from the Paris Basin churches. This will be published in 2006.
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b) To follow the evolution of the vault rib from being decorative to becoming a structural member (and the effect this had on the constructional process), from Durham to the 1145. I have been able to visit all the ribbed churches in Europe. As with capitals, masters often traveled long distances in search of work and many can be followed leaving England and Normandy during the Anarchy to work in the Paris Basin. The dates from this study with those from the capital study above may seriously affect how we study the evolution of Gothic architecture.
This includes a major study of the construction history and the geometric methods of Durham cathedral, the finest Romanesque monument let to us (1094-1132±).
c) To inventory each of the inventions that went into the creation of Gothic, where they came from and the dates they were first used. From the way in which they were combined, altered and others discarded, I hope to assess the dynamic process of creation within the Paris Basin. Preliminary work suggests a major creative drive in the 1130s, before Saint-Denis, and that most of the inventions that went into the creation of the Gothic style came from the northeast region of the Soissonais, Laonnais and along the Marne.
d) To analyze the costs of all Early Gothic churches in the Basin and plot them over time. This is showing that some regions had a very different rate of expenditure over this century than others. For example, there was a vast and steadily increasing amount of construction in the Laonnais from the 1130s to 1190. This declined to almost nothing thereafter. If this reflected a general financial crisis in the bishopric, what was its cause?
In the Ile-de-France, by contrast, there was a major crisis in the 1160s to early 1180s, and an enormous surge in expenditure in the early 1200s. What can this tell us about the effect of the political or military situation, and even on the source of funding - perhaps wealthy peasants in the northeast up to 1200, and wealthy merchants in the western region between 1180 and the 1220s.
e) To publish on the web photographs and plans of all the buildings in these studies for everyone's use.
I doubt these studies can be separated from one another, and though I would like to write some articles on aspects of this work to maintain contact with my fiends, it has become such an inter-dependent study that I doubt it is possible.
John James bibliography