Developments in West – Rome: Milan: Germany: Aquileia

By the middle of the fourth century, as the vitality of paganism waned, the Christian Church had become the inheritor of both classical thought and classical art- forms, charged with a new significance. Just as the terms of Greek and Roman philosophy were used for the construction of an ever more detailed system of Christian theology, so the church-builders took over and developed the well-tried forms of an earlier architecture. The two principal types of church, the centralized compact martyr-shrine and the elongated basilica hall with nave and aisles well adapted for congregational worship, appear throughout the Empire. Practical needs, no less than precedent, dictated a certain sameness of design, but, as in the Middle Ages, the vigorous impress of local character clearly distinguishes the churches of one region from those found elsewhere.

A standard form of basilica church served to express the artistic ideas and meet the day-to-day requirements of the West during the fourth and fifth centuries, and the pattern of architecture varies little from Milan to North Africa. Balanced, austere and dignified, it reflects the old Roman ideal of gravitas, 'composure and authority', deceptive only in that it served as a frame containing a rich embellishment of light and colour.

By the fourth century, churches were usually designed to run from west to east. The west end was sometimes approached by way of an atrium, or enclosed forecourt, but, more frequently, the architects contented themselves with providing a porch (narthex). This was not, as often in Gothic churches, a small protuberance, but rather a slim, rectangular room running the whole width of the building, either inside or outside the nave. This nave, or general meeting-place, was either a single hall or could be divided by two rows of piers or columns to make three compartments, often of nearly equal size.

Sometimes practical needs dictated that these aisles should be furnished with galleries, a pattern which may be seen repeated in certain of the Waterloo Churches, buildings set up in a vaguely classical style to accommodate large congregations in the rapidly expanding urban areas of early nineteenth-century England. The columns might be symmetrical and made to match or else, particularly in Rome itself, taken over as spoils from some earlier building, while, above every arch, it was usual to set a clerestory window filled with some such material as a thin layer of alabaster, through which light would filter and strike the decoration of paint or mosaic which covered the wall space. Floors, whether made of polished stone or mosaic, similarly reflected the light, as did the ceilings, panelled or made up of open timber-work but in either case often touched with gold or bronze.

The nave led towards the central altar, placed in front of the apse with its formal benches for the clergy, but in the larger churches the aisles might be cut short by a transept, which sometimes projected hardly at all beyond the line of the exterior wall, designed less as an architectural refinement than to serve the down-to- earth purposes of providing vestries or convenient space for liturgical manoeuvre. Nothing in the nature of medieval rood-screens obstructed access from nave to chancel, but low barricades, usually made of pierced stone, and themselves known as 'chancels', protected the area reserved for the clergy from any undue pressure of the devout or the curious alike.

The earliest churches built at Rome along this general plan have without exception been destroyed or overwhelmed in later reconstruction. San Clemente offers the standard example. Here the present structure, with its arcaded nave, aisles and semicircular apse, is built on top of a fourth-century church, similar in general design but larger. The top parts of the arcade dividing the earlier nave from its aisle appear built into the right aisle of the existing church and, in the vault below, sections of masonry outline the older structure amidst the walls and buttresses designed at various times to support the upper church. The fourth-century S. Clemente, itself perched above the remains of houses where religious rites first of Mithraism and then of the Christians were carried out, is shown to have been a broad, low basilica, lacking transepts—a large hall, in fact, with the aisles and arcaded portico forming a graceful ambulatory around it. Such columns as have been uncovered from the foundation walls of the upper church differ from one another both in style and in material, being drawn haphazardly from older monuments.

The basilica of St Paul 'outside the walls' belongs, like the original S. Clemente, to the time of Siricius, who was pope from 384 to 398 and, according to an epitaph written of him, 'built up anew the temples of the saints’. This basilica (fig. 63) superseded the small church which Constantine had erected over the shrine marking the apostle's reputed burial-place on the Ostian Way. Despite pillage by the Saracens, it remained in more or less its original state until 1823, when almost the entire building, apart from the 'triumphal arch’ separating nave from transept, was destroyed by fire. The work of reconstruction began almost at once and was carried through vigorously by a group of architects headed by Luigi Poletti.

63. Rome: the church of 'St Paul outside the walls' as it was before the fire of 1823. From a water-colour by G. P. Panini, 1741. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum

The result is usually criticized as cold and spiritless, since the early nineteenth century was perhaps not the ideal period in which to reproduce the last enchantment of the classical age; nevertheless a determined effort was made to bring the original back to life and its vast dimensions were scrupulously followed, so that, particularly with the help of early illustrations, a clear notion of the fourth-century basilica may be obtained. The nave, approached by way of a grandiose courtyard with columns around it, extended to a length of 97 metres, and was flanked on each side by a double arcade of fluted columns with Corinthian capitals.

The aisles thus constructed seem to have been low and dark, in contrast to the nave which was lofty and furnished with a range of clerestory windows. Nave and aisles led to a vast stumpy transept, affording ample space in which the faithful might throng about the shrine while beyond that again was set the semicircular apse. Amply decorated with marble, plaster and mosaic 'in the manner of meadows that blossom when spring comes with her flowers' the whole arrangement was one of classic order adapted to the vitality of a revived and triumphant faith.

The closing years of the fourth century in Rome were marked by the greatest enthusiasm for building or rebuilding churches and, among those attributed to Pope Siricius, the church of S. Pudenziana, on the Esquiline Hill, is the most celebrated. This is a brick basilica, standing below street level, and, though drastically altered, still displays the original marble columns, with small circular channelled capitals, recessed into newer work. The apse, with its splendid mosaic, may claim a similar antiquity despite frequent remodellings.

For classic grace and symmetry, however, nothing66 of the period can equal the church of Santa Sabina, which occupies a site at the top of the Aventine Hill where the cliff falls precipitously down to the valley of the Tiber. Repairs and alterations carried out during the last century were designed to remove medieval additions and restore the church to its early form as a simple but perfect example of the basilican plan (fig. 64). An uninterrupted line of a dozen fluted columns, ranged opposite one another, divides the nave from each of the narrow aisles and leads directly from the entrance-porch to the apse.

64. Rome, S. Sabina: interior

The columns, set on their square bases, may be an earlier set reused, but they match one another flawlessly. They support deeply- carved Corinthian capitals from which spring high- pitched, round-headed arches, the whole combining disciplined regularity of form with a feeling of lightness and vigour. Immediately above the nave arcade on both sides runs a decoration of coloured marble, this ornamental scheme, no less than the architecture, displaying a happy union of dignity and grace. Above the arches the marble imitates brick laid in courses while over the columns are set panels displaying a chalice, paten and cross in the form of military insignia which betoken the victory of Christ. Tall roundheaded windows repeat the rhythm of the nave arcade below, and flood the building with light.

Formerly this was reflected by the shimmer of mosaic, but all that now remains of this is a large panel occupying the wall space above the doorway. An inscription in letters of gold on a pale blue background records the foundation of the church during the reign of Pope Celestine I (42232 ad) and is flanked by two large female figures, Roman matrons clad in full-length purple draperies that stand out clearly against a golden background. Each holds an open book in her left hand while the right hand is raised in blessing. Bold lettering beneath their feet indicates that one woman represents the Hebrew Church and one the Church of the Gentiles. In the fifth century these were thought of as the two elements from which the whole united Church is composed, but they also point to a contrast between Jew and Gentile and develop, in medieval imagery, to become the figures of the Christian Church, crowned and victorious, standing in opposition to the blindfold Jewish Church, who clasps a broken standard.

 






Date added: 2022-12-11; views: 245;


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