ABBOT SUGER -father of Gothic architecture -Part II


Post 739 -by Gautam Shah

Part II of series IV
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4 Abbot Suger and Ideas on Illumination —

27 The The interior illumination and the new expanse of the space, was perceived as the metaphysical light or Christ’s divinity, not available anywhere else. https www.flickr.com photos scottgunn 2885710162

Suger, understood lux, as the external light, shining outside the cathedral, coming directly from the sun and nature. This was for everyone, ‘even the heretic and the wicked’. But, once it entered through the windows, it emitted in all directions, and transformed into lumen. It is a new metaphysical light through the tinted glass. This interior light was consecrated and holy, for ‘faith and divine inspiration’. The interior illumination and the new expanse of the space, was perceived as the metaphysical light or Christ’s divinity, not available anywhere else. The new ethereal wall and the illumination functioned much like the ancient temenos, a sanctimonious precinct. ‘Walk in the light, as He is in the light’.

28 Interior of Saint-Denis Wikipedia Image by Gilles Messian

Suger could, somehow, visualize three different Latin terms for Light: Lux, Lumen and Illumination. (The Three terms, perhaps derived from a book* by Avicenna, the Muslim philosopher and physician of 11th C). *Kitab al Shifa =’The Book of Healing or Latin title Sufficientiae’. This was a voluminous philosophical and scientific treatise or encyclopaedia. It covered, topics like logic, natural sciences, psychology, (the quadrivium or four subjects like, geometry, astronomy, mathematics besides music, and metaphysics).

29 Predominance of Blue- Red by Suger The heart of the sanctuary glows in splendour, which is united in splendour, radiates in splendour. Detail of 12th C glass, St. Denis https www.flickr.com photos scottgun.

Coloured glass had long been understood as a surrogate for the precious stones. It has been in use even before the Gothic era. The exploitation of colour contrasts (Red -jasper Blue -sapphire, where the red represented the passion, holy blood, and the blue, as the colour of heaven) was rather new interpretation. Incidentally, these two colours, form nearly the opposite ends of the visual spectrum.

29-1 Saint Denis Basilique Saint Denis Wikipedia Image by Pierre Poschadel

Delighted with the effect of light, Suger, inside the abbey church, engraved an inscription to the glory of Light. ‘The heart of the sanctuary glows in splendour, which is united in splendour, radiates in splendour’. He also said that ‘while light is necessary for the worthy glorification of God, the largest possible number of the faithful must also be able to pray without jostling, to approach and contemplate the Holy Relics on feast days’.

30 Inside view of stained glass, St. Denis Cathedral, St. Denis, France, upper choir Wikipedia Image by Ninaras

Suger transformed the cathedral space into a different place. ‘It was to like bringing heaven on earth’. He wrote, ‘the multicolored loveliness of the gems has transported me from material to immaterial things, sapphire glass of intense blue colour as having the same importance as gems.’ He identified the best Glass makers across Europe, and sourced the glass raw material for the new construction.

31 Windows light and organ at St Denis https www flickr com photos scottgunn 28857102537

The improvement of quality of glass, its popularity and widespread use occurred in this period, mainly because of reduction of colour tonal intensity resulting in increased transparency. A significant feature to emerge in the 13th C, was the development of grisaille glass windows. It is composed largely of white glass, generally painted with foliage designs, and leaded into complicated geometric patterns. Such glass was cheaper and easier to produce. Its introduction made interiors lighter and other art and architectural features, noticeable.

32 Dull colours and dominance to whites in stained glass allowed architectural features to be visually important Nave of the Basilica of St. Denis, Saint-Denis, France Wikipedia Image by Zairon

The Gothic Colours of stained glass are prone to mis-use in wrong hands. The interiors often became snazzy with too many colours, but of dark shades. During daytime the stained glass on exteriors are dead grey, and at night time the interiors are lifeless (in absence of significant street illumination). This forced adoption of Grisaille (monochrome) glasses.

33 Illustrations and cover of the treaty Diversarum Artium Schedula by Theophilus Presbyter - encyclopedia of technical knowledge in the Middle Ages in the field of art and craftsmanship.

The blown glass had technical imperfections such as air bubbles, striations, and ripples, this made the transparency lively, as the light seemed to refract through the mass. The church interiors were now glowing, not just with the light from expansive stained windows, but altars, crosses, other liturgical objects were all richly embellished with gems, draped with brightly coloured and gold lined fabrics, with the new donations.

35 Construction workers on Site in Bourges Bourges Cathedral Built atop an earlier Romanesque church from 1195 until 1230 Wikipedia Image by Gerd Eichmann

With the Renaissance, the stained glass was to become varied in colours, faultless, flatter, larger, thinner, but less vivid. The glass joints however could now be thinner and sparser. This thin joints were exploited, as less marked lines for zoning of colours, and more for the articulation of the thematic composition.

34 Lighter colours Flamboyant (late Gothic) style windows of the nave of the royal abbey-church of Saint-Ouen, Rouen (early 16th C. Wikipedia Image by Philippe Roudaut

The technique of making stained-glass windows was first documented in the Schedula Diversarum Artium, a compendium of craft-information probably written between 1110 and 1140 by the monk Theophilus.

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