United Kingdom Arts 1

United Kingdom Arts Part I



In the six centuries that go from the end of the Roman domination (ca. 400) to the Norman conquest (1066) the architectural activity was concentrated above all in the sec. VII-VIII and X-XI. Little remains of Anglo-Saxon architecture. Widespread schemes seem to have been that of the church with three naves with a narthex to the west and apse to the east, which was accessed by a triple arch (Brixworth, seventh century) and that of the single nave with aisles (porticus) accessible by narrow passages and with separate rectangular choir (Bradford-on-Avon, late 7th century). The primitive masonry often shows the use of salvaged Roman bricks. The sources (Alcuin). In the sec. X and XI the architecture was affected by the Carolingian tradition of Germany (axial towers, transepts and Westwerk); nothing is left of the churches built by Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury (959-88) and great reformer, to Ely, Ramsey, Winchester, Thorney. Remains of churches can be found in Stow, Deerhurst, Bradford-on-Avon. The most characteristic buildings of this period, however, are the towers, such as that of Earl’s Barton (ca. 1000), whose wall face is interrupted by a rough trellis of stone frames while the edges are decorated with the typical “long and short “. The monumental sculpture of pre-Romanesque Britain is documented by hundreds of fragments of stone crosses (7th-9th centuries) which were erected in public places. They were decorated in relief with figurative scenes taken from the Gospel and stylistically very varied (crosses by Ruthwell, Bewcastle, Easby, Colerne); as in any other artistic manifestation of the period (miniature, gold, ivory), a prevalence of iconographic elements of classical ancestry alternated with a convergence of local Celtic-Barbarian styles, with a prevalence of decorative bands with geometric elements. The architectural activity took wide development only after the conquest of the Normans, who introduced it to the island Romanesque style. It came to full maturity in a series of cathedrals and abbey churches of larger dimensions than those of Normandy itself. The plans are extremely varied: terminations with three apses and transepts with chapels are found in Canterbury (rebuilt by Archbishop Lanfranco, 1070-77), Ely (1081), Lincoln (completed in 1092) and in the abbey of St. Albans (1077-88); ambulatory terminations in the cathedrals of Winchester (1079), Gloucester (1089), Norwich (1096). The elevation is generally on three floors (arches, women’s galleries, cleristori), the walls punctuated by high pillars. Frequent are the towers, both on the transept (Exeter), either western, axial (Ely) or double (Durham, Lincoln). An exceptional building in the Romanesque architecture is Durham Cathedral (1093-ca. 1135), with a ribbed cruise roof considered to be the oldest in Europe. According to Cheeroutdoor, the English Romanesque churches, even after Durham, maintained flat wooden ceilings, but the ribbed vault model was taken up and developed in the Gothic style of France. In some respects, Gloucester Cathedral and the abbey churches of Tewkesbury and Pershore, divided by simple cylindrical pillars, are detached from the schemes of the Anglo-Norman school. In some buildings (Cluniac priory of Lewes; Canterbury Cathedral) the double transept, derived from Cluny III, appears, destined to have great success in English architecture of the Gothic period. The decoration, rigorously geometric according to the Norman tradition (Durham), accepted zoo-phytomorphic elements only from around 1130 (Canterbury crypt). The sculptural decoration in the late Romanesque period is very rich, perhaps due to Aquitanic influence, which is a prelude to the screen façade of the first Gothic cathedrals. The Norman military architecture consists of buildings centered around the keep with corner towers, buttresses, entrance to the second floor with external staircase, hall, chapel, spiral staircases carved into the thickness of the walls. The first example is the White Tower of London (1078). The castles of Kenilworth, Corfe, Rochester, Dover, Newcastle.


Until the mid-sixteenth century the late Gothic style still dominated: the palace of Hampton Court, begun by Cardinal Wolsey in 1514 and given in 1529 to Henry VIII who continued its construction until 1540, has a monastic structure with courtyards, towers, crenellated walls, red brick facing, late Gothic beamed ceilings (as in the Great Hall) but decorated with crude Italian-style candelabra. During the reign of the Tudor dynasty, England remained substantially foreign to Renaissance culture: Italian artists such as Pietro Torrigiani (Tomb of Henry VII, 1512-18, Westminster Abbey) and Giovanni da Maiano (Hampton Court, terracotta decorations) worked there, and Germans like H. Holbein, whose work constitutes the starting point of the courtly Renaissance portrait, and if the Italian treatises on architecture were not unknown, nevertheless the English art of this period tended irremediably to provincialism; the interest in the novelties of the Renaissance did not correspond to a real understanding of it and was limited to the sporadic use of decorative motifs.

United Kingdom Arts 1