Assignment 2: Draft of Analysis of Gothic Cathedral Visit

I tried to bear in mind the following comments from my assignment 1 feedback on the analysis section:

“Description: In this section you need to describe the form, medium, scale, key shapes, and palette.

Interpretation: You should interpret the work by addressing the question of function and meaning, analysing distinctive elements, the effect of compositional devices or artistic choices, and why the artwork was created (context) with reference to evidence from other sources.

Evaluation: To evaluate the image record positive and negatives responses to the quality of the work and appraise scholarly/critical judgements. How successful do you think the painting is? Gauge the influence of the painting on later artists.” Tutor Feedback

The course notes say

  • Describe what you see.
  • Interpret its historical and artistic context.
  • Evaluate how successful the image is and how it compares with similar images by other artists or other works by the same artist.

I really struggle with the word count though. Especially with this one because there is so much to see and describe in the cathedral. I started writing and below is what I came up with. When I saw the word count was way over I stopped writing but could have continued and fleshed out the interpretation and evaluation paragraphs, but what would be the point when I have to trim it back to 500 words for the assignment. I thought I’d record this as is before I edited it right down to barebones to get it nearer the assignment mandated word count. Also, I found it very hard to separate out the evaluation and interpretation. I felt like i was repeating myself or otherwise missing out info or putting it in the wrong paragraph.

 

Description:

Southwark is a small cathedral London’s Southbank. The plan of the church is a traditional cross shape, with ‘top’ of the cross being represented by the Sanctuary, Choir & Retrochoir, the ‘arms’ of the cross, the North and South Transept and the long part of the cross, represented by the Nave. Other buildings adjacent to the main church are connected via a covered walkway of glass called Lancelot’s Link. The entrances to the main interior are at the western end of the Nave (at the ‘foot’ of the cross).

The interior itself is filled with a light airy feeling owing to the many windows, (some with stained glass), and the very high vaulted ceiling. This was especially felt in the Nave, Transepts and Crossing at the time day I visited (almost 6pm when the sun was low in the West). The ceiling above the central column of the church, the Nave and the Sanctuary is two stories up, with lancet windows at the clerestory level windows and a blind arcade with thin columns at gallery level. The vaulted ceilings in the Transepts are equally high, with large pointed arched windows (north, with stained glass and octofoil window and south with plain glass but elaborate curvilinear tracery). The Aisles have their own vaulted ceilings, in the same style but one level lower (presumably to support the gallery level gabled roof only because from the outside there doesn’t look to be space to have a full gallery level). Stained glass windows line the walls. The arches leading to the choir aisles are not the same on both sides of the church, on the south is the usual equilateral arch, on the north is a stilted arch, where one distorted side has been flattened to allow for a staircase leading up to the tower. The Choir has an ornate wooden seating area (the stalls) and elaborate wooden screens, tombs and monuments across the 5 bays each side, the piers are alternately circular and octagonal leading up to triple vaulting shafts for the ceiling. The High Altar has an altarpiece with geometric patterns and religious sculptures which looks to be covered in gold leaf which melts into a wall of statues on the Great Screen. The Crossing under the central tower has four piers, flattened on the inner sides with a flat patterned ceiling that the chandelier hangs down from. Next to one of these piers stand the pulpit. The Transepts are quite small and filled with various 17th and 18th century monuments. Most of the capitals were quite plain but there was one column at the back of the Nave (by the Font) which looked to be a stiff-leaf capital.

The exterior, at the East end (the retrochoir), has a symmetrical set of chapels with pointed arched windows and pointed roofing. Above and behind them there is a small rose window visible on the sanctuary tower (which I could not see from inside). Behind that rises the central tower with four spiral pinnacles and a clock. Moving around the building to the left is the South churchyard & garden. Here you can see the medieval pointed arch windows with geometric tracery and further along, the newer curvilinear tracery of the South Transept pointed arched windows and the sweep of the flying buttresses as they support the upper level of the building. At the west end of the nave, showing equilateral arch stained glass windows with, for symmetry some blind tracery arches. Above these are two pointed medallion moldings with religious scenes in them and above that a strip of arabesque molding. Above that are some more lancet windows with what looks to be shutter blinds in them. The edges of the buttresses and cornerstones of the building have quoins, ‘larger rusticated blocks’ of a different material to the rest of the brickwork. This gives a very pretty edging pattern.

Interpretation:

The church dates back to the early 12th century but was rebuilt in the Early Gothic style after a ‘disastrous’ fire in 1212 damaged the church, priory, and hospital. The oldest complete part of the building, the Choir and Retrochoir, still dates from 1212 and is now the oldest gothic building in London. At the end of the Choir is the Great Screen built in 1520 and embellished with (‘New Jerusalem’ style) statues in 1905 when it was officially named a Cathedral.The Nave has been replaced several times since then, the current one dates from 1897 (designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield) in the Gothic Revival style. The North and South Transepts were built in 1283 and 1310 respectively, however the current south transept is the result of another fire related rebuild in the 1390s. At this time they also increased the height of the tower and restored the chapel. The tracery in the South Transept looks to be of Decorated style (equivalent to flamboyant style).

Evaluation

The style of the church is a hodgepodge of styles but mostly Early Medieval Gothic and 19th Century Gothic Revival but overall architecturally majestic. To evaluate how successful this is as a Gothic cathedral we have to remember that this was only made a recognised Cathedral in 1905. The original function was more humble so it is not really fair to compare with the likes of Ste-Chapelle in Paris (p385, fig 9.50 in WHA). The ‘chapel of the Kings of France’ is a grand affair (as you would expect), a pinnacle of the Gothic style’s drive for ‘divine light’, the interior has very little wall space, it is one giant space entirely enclosed by stained glass windows and a “lacy mesh of tracery” (WHA, p385). One must also realise that the Medieval English speciality was embroidery (highly sort after by all of Europe), the original of which (if it survives) would be in a museum (such as the pieces in the V&A). There was some embroidered material on the High Altar but I do not know its age. So we are not seeing this ‘church’ as originally it would have been in Medieval times. As a Gothic Revival Building I think it is very successful. High vaulted ceilings and pointed arched religious stained glass windows run throughout the building but the two Gothic era concepts of simple religious stories in stained glass and daily life revolving around the church has been ‘revived’ and combined by the Victorian windows (designed by Charles Eamer Kempe) of famous literary figures who were Southwark inhabitants (such as Geoffrey Chaucer) along one aisle wall. Other more modern stained glass has been added too. The exterior of the building has typical Gothic elements, flying buttresses and use of symmetrical sets of pointed arched windows with conspicuous curvilinear tracery.    

References
Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing

Hopkins, O. (2012) Reading Architecture: A Visual Lexicon. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing

Hughes. (2009) Timeline Of Southwark Cathedral – PDF At: http://cathedral.southwark.anglican.org/downloads/visit/timeline.pdf
(Accessed on 30 April 16)

Southwark Cathedral . (2009) Various links from the main visit menu At: http://cathedral.southwark.anglican.org/visit/
(Accessed on 30 April 16)

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