Strasbourg Cathedral: Daring Plans and Many Influences
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Strasbourg Cathedral: Daring Plans and Many Influences

A dry list of dates gives no idea of the revisions, hesitations and changes of mind that went with the two hundreds years of the construction work. It is a moving fact that Strasbourg Cathedral is the first for which the various plans have survived, in the form of three sketches from which we can read the mathematical preoccupations of their creators.

Though burned down, rebuilt, restored and enriched, Strasbourg Cathedral is unique as a catalogue of medieval European art. Its architects and sculptors came from Prague, Ulm, Cologne, Aachen and of course France; but Strasbourg did not accept all these influences undigested. In the 12th century, the town had a fine Romanesque cathedral that suffered several fires, and that of 1176 drove Bishop Conrad to rebuild his church. Only the choir remained from the Romanesque era.

Already, the transept, begun in 1240, shows the mark of an architect with a thorough knowledge of Chartres. The dimensions of the new nave were imposed by the foundations of the old church, unusually wide and squat, some 30 metres across, including the side aisles. The building was achieved and roof installed between 1250 and 1270. The façade was put up between 1298 and 1318 by Erwin von Steinbach, an Alsatian genius, but the work was delayed by all sorts of disasters: a fire broke out on the scaffolding, then an earthquake and finally the Black Death arrested the building schedules.   

Gerlach took over and, in the 15th century, a brave architect erected a daring spire of 142 metres, the highest in the West. Jean Hultz finished the job in 1439. With its layers of little towers and its lantern topped with a cross, the cathedral looks like a finger pointed towards God. This dry list of dates gives no idea of the revisions, hesitations and changes of mind that went with the two hundreds years of the construction work. It is a moving fact that Strasbourg cathedral is the first for which the various plans have survived, in the form of three sketches from which we can read the mathematical preoccupations of their creators.

The first plan has a French inspiration and shows a very classical Gothic style; the second has the fantasy and daring of a genius fascinated by height and lightness, but the plan defied gravity and could never be put into effect; the third corrected its mistakes. Despite the unusual proportions of the nave, it is the most French part of the church, and suggests an affinity with Saint-Denis Basilica.

Strasbourg Cathedral, façade and plan.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/StrassburgMuenster.jpg

The so finely carved West front of Strasbourg Cathedral : http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/35/Frontispice_cath%C3%A9drale_Strasbourg.JPG

Side view of Strasbourg Cathedral: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ea/Strasbourg_Cathedral.jpg?uselang=fr

Examples of sculptures at Strasbourg Cathedral: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ee/Tentateur_et_vierge_folles.jpg

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Comments (1)

Gothic architecture is really a majestic work of art, thanks dear Francois for the job well done here.

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