Le Temps Revient...

Poetry, Music, Art & Ideas for the Archaic Recurrence...

sábado, 10 de octubre de 2015

Santa Maria del Pi

 The main fourteenth-century type of Catalan church has no aisles. It is one big nave with an apse at one end - polygonal rather than round - and a choir at the other. North of the Pyrenees, this form was rare. In Catalunya it is common, the great example in Barcelona being Santa Maria del Pi. Single-nave churches could be very wide indeed - the Pi's span is fifty-four feet, about a third of its length. English and French cathedrals of this period were high and long; Catalan ones, broad. They are wide Gothic. "We look at the monuments of other countries and find them strange," wrote the Catalan art historian Alexandre Cirici i Pellicer in 1980, pointing out that the length of English cathedral naves, which could run to six hundred feet, was unthinkable in Barcelona or anywhere else in Catalonia. As for the French, Cirici i Pellicer wrote, "When a Catalan enters (Notre Dame) he feels a great disappointment: it has a splendid facade but the interior is like a corridor - narrow, anxiety-making, too long, a thing which does not hold space and cannot be compared with the best of our churches, which are much roomier." Cirici i Pellicer's anxiety has much to say about the subliminal Catalan desire for coziness, felt as much by critics as by architects. If, as conservative prelates in the nineteenth century used to say, the church was the casa pairal de Déu, it should not run too far from your eye; you ought to be able to gather around the altar like a family around the llar de foc - the cave, again.

Wide Gothic has its own external grandeur and internal drama. As you approach it down the curve of the Career del Pi, the church of Santa Maria del Pi appears like a cliff, sunless (except briefly in the afternoons) and flat - an incontrovertible plane, closing the small square in front of it. It must have looked more ornamented once; the twelve high niches around its portal lost their sculptures long ago. But still, its aspect was always severe. It is a single plane of stone stretched between two engaged octagonal towers. The only holes in it are the pointed portal, framed by a two-tier gallery - whose projection is so shallow that it accentuates, rather than diminishes, the sheetlike tightness of the wall - and the huge rose window. It has three strips of horizontal molding, running clear across. Frame, face, window, door: the "primitive" house of God. And an octagonal bell tower, a hundred and eighty feet high - a brown prism, finished somewhat later, around 1470.

Inside, the severity persists, but its effects rise. The Pi's single nave confronts you all at once, explicitly, not unfolding to view angle by angle as a nave-and-aisle basilica does, but in one spatial utterance without hidden corners. There are chapels - fourteen in all, one between each pair of buttress - but they seem less like nooks than clear extensions of the nave. At one end, the wall of the great box folds around into an apse, half a dodecagon, plain sheer facets of stone pierced by a gallery of stained-glass windows. At the other end, below the solemn disk of the rose window, a choir is supported on a shallow stone arch that spans the width of the church with a rise of no more than six feet from its springing. It is almost flat, so flat that it seems impossible to build in stone segments; yet it has been, for by the fourteenth century Catalan masons had developed a unique skill in constructing shallow arches that seem to defy the ordinary laws of bending stress. They still had it in the nineteenth century, when the Pi's choir was rebuilt in its present form. No modern architect would attempt such forms in stone without concealed steel reinforcement today, and no builder could make them stand up.

Robert Hughs.

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario