Romanesque Art in Alsace: On The Edge Of Two Worlds
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Romanesque Art in Alsace: On The Edge Of Two Worlds

Alsace, on the edge of the two worlds of the Latin and the Germanic, is a crucible in which were forged together all sorts of influences, Ottonian, Burgundian, Italian and Flemish. Even the name, Strasbourg, the town of roads tells of its destiny. Carolingian traditions are upheld here better than anywhere else, and the octagonal plan of the 9th century abbey church of Ottmarsheim copied that of Aachen. On the other hand, the basilican plan was inherited from the Empire.

When talking about churches in Alsace, immediately a Gothic Flower comes to mind, the Cathedral of Strasbourg. There are also countless charming little churches on hilltops that seem intended to be homes for the storks. But even here the Romanesque Art, though it arrived late in the 11th and 12th centuries, has left some magnificent abbey churches with a special flavour that owes much to the historical and geographical situation. Alsace, on the edge of the two worlds of the Latin and the Germanic, is a crucible in which were forged together all sorts of influences, Ottonian, Burgundian, Italian and Flemish. Even the name, Strasbourg, the town of roads tells of its destiny.

Carolingian traditions are upheld here better than anywhere else, and the octagonal plan of the 9th century abbey church of Ottmarsheim copied that of Aachen. On the other hand, the basilican plan was inherited from the Empire.  But the art of Lombardy came up the Rhine and knew how to enliven the austere façades and rectangular apses with arches and festoons: the façades of Murbach, Marmoutier and Neuwiller-lès-Saverne are all Lombardic, as are the happy two-coloured patterns that use white and red sandstones.

The expansion of Romanesque Art was facilitated by the protection of Frederick Barbarossa in the mid-12th century, a fact that explains, for example, the exceptional wealth of small parish churches such as at Roshheim, decorated with arcades accentuated with mouldings and monstrous sculptures on round bosses. Alsatian Romanesque is so eclectic that it has its own particular atmosphere, a sort of rather heavy serenity that conveys a majestic feeling, with massive volumes, sober forms, bare geometrical decoration and thick cubic capitals. The Vosges sandstone gives this soft colour. The Gothic arrived late, but dramatically: this precise, airy art from the Ile -de-France would take over from the massive monumentality of the earlier age.  

 Interior of the Church of Ottmarsheim here:  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/Ottmarsheim_-_Eglise-3.JPG

Apse of the Church at Ottmarsheim: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/Ottmarsheim_abbey_church_2011-03.jpg

Romanesque Church of Murbach:  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b3/Murbach_051.JPG

Abbey-Church of Marmoutier: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/de/%C3%89glise_de_Marmoutier.JPG

Abbey-Church of Neuwiller-lès-Saverne: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/41/Neuwiller_st_pierre_3.jpg

Parish Church of Rosheim: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/SaintPierreNord.jpg

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Your articles are always very informative and interesting. Keep writing. I love to read your work at knoji.

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