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Gothic/Italian "Gothic": Toward a Redefinition

MARVIN TRACHTENBERG Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

THIS PAPER WAS PREPARED for a session entitled "Gothic tecture-indeed, for medieval Italy in general. The question,
Architecture, the Italian Contribution," at the 1990 annual What is Gothic? is of course one of the most problematic in
meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians.1 Having the history of architecture (on close scrutiny, none of the many
considered this issue for some time, I inverted the premise of established theories of Gothic architectureworks as a consistent
the session and addressedthe problem in terms of "Italian Ar- or, as Louis Grodecki aptly put it, a "firm, rigorous" definition),
chitecture, the Gothic Contribution." I approachedthe subject and I have no wish to join the numerous scholars who have
from the standpoint of Florence or Siena rather than Paris, for lost their bearings on the Grail-like quest of answering it de-
I have come to believe that, working in this way, one might finitively.3 Having made this talismanic disclaimer, I will nev-
hope to free late medieval Italy from the chronic suffering of ertheless make some sweeping generalizations about this enig-
its tortured historiography. Complicated though it may be, this matic architecture.
historiography is simple enough to summarize.2 Whereas the First, I ask why we persist in the curious usage of calling
Renaissancecondemned Italy for having been too Gothic, mod- Europeanarchitectureof the twelfth through fifteenth centuries
ern scholarship has tended to fault it for not having been Gothic after a barbariantribe of late antiquity (Fig. 1). Is it merely
enough (compare Figs. 2 and 3). My premise is that Italy was meaningless, ingrained habit, or does the word Gothic contain
never really "Gothic" at all, never a colony of a Parisian ar- a truth of which we are subconsciously aware? I suggest that
chitectural empire-the way it is commonly regarded-but an the word does involve a key to understanding the period, in
independent culture with an individual architecture that used terms of the Renaissance usage of the word-that is, the usage
Gothic for its own purposes. It is concerning this architectural of the period that first made the connection between the word
culture and its relationship to the north that I offer a number Gothic and the architecture in question, and that first gave a
of observations. descriptive name to medieval architectureat all. This connection
From my viewpoint, the differencebetween Italian and north- is simple. In the eyes of the Renaissance, the Goths were the
ern European architecture in the period is not to be understood destroyers of Rome. In other words, they were the very em-
at the usual levels of style or iconography but in terms of deeper bodiment of the spirit of anticlassicism. This, of course, tied in
structures, involving context, method, and, above all, the dif- with the Renaissance view of medieval architecture:its essence
fering historical orientations of the two areas.This view hinges was its anticlassicism. But the Renaissance also used another
on a redefinition of the Gothic and, consequently, also of the descriptive term for the style, lavorimoderni.4 If we put this term
Romanesque. Without such a redefinition I find it difficult to together with Gothic-that is, put together the two earliest
attempt to set matters straight for late medieval Italian archi- descriptive terms for the style (the Gothic period itself, so far
as we know, having only qualified its architecture geographi-
1. The sessionwas conceivedand chairedby GaryRadke,whom I
thankfor providinga publicforumfor ideasstill in the developmental cally, as opusfrancigenum)5-we have an architecturethat is both
stage.I also would like to thankthose numerouscolleagueswho en-
couragedme to publishthispapersubstantially asdeliveredat the meet- 3. L. Grodecki,GothicArchitecture,New York, 1977, 24. See P.
ing; only minorchangeshave been made,principallythose necessary Frankl,The Gothic,Princeton,1960, for the definitiveaccountof all
in convertingit from lectureto publishedform. This taskwas much theoriesof the Gothic(includingexhaustiveetymologicaldiscussionof
facilitatedby Carol Krinsky,who scrutinizedthe lecturemanuscript the word itself) throughthe 1950s;althoughmore recenttreatments
with thispurposein mind.Severalmodifications weremadein response of the Gothicoffervaluablenew techniquesof analysis,virtuallywithout
to the criticalcommentsof David Gillerman,RichardPommer,and exceptiontheir lines of attackand underlyingconceptualframeworks
JoannaZiegler. Apartfrom necessarycitationsand a few points of have remainedwithin traditionalparameters, whetherstructural,for-
information,I haveabjuredthe footnotesthat,giventhe breadthof the mal, iconographic,or otherwise.
subject,couldeasilyhavebeenas long as the text. This paperis offered 4. Filarete(cf. Frankl,The Gothic,256f., 858f.). This should not
as a speculativeessay;its subjectis partof a largerstudycurrentlyin be confusedwith laterRenaissanceuse of the term modern for Renais-
preparation on medievaldesigntheory. sanceitself (for example,by the Pseudo-RaphaelandVasari).
2. Fora fasttourthroughthis literature,see my discussionin regard 5. The famousphrasewas usedby Burchardvon Hall around1280
to a single major monument in The Campanileof FlorenceCathedral,New in referenceto the Germanabbeychurchof St. Peterat Wimpfenim
York, 1971, chap. 1. Tahl (Frankl,TheGothic,55). As Franklpointsout (ibid.),Gervaseof

22 JSAH L:22-37. MARCH 1991


"modern" and "anticlassical," or going a step further, "mod-

ernist" and "antihistoricist,"which are two ways of saying near-
ly the same thing. I suggest that these early sources were closer
to the essence of the matterthan most later, scientific scholarship
preoccupied with rib vaulting, skeletal structure, scholasticism,

diaphaneity,geometry, diagonality, and so forth. In fact, I would \ .

propose that, were it possible to give late medieval architecture ^ *.^-.

a new name more descriptively accurate than Gothic (while at

C'7 r.?W
the same time revealing the hidden meaning of that term), the
name would be medievalmodernism.
This notion, by which I refer to something far more concrete
and intentional than any Focillonesque "spirit of modernism"
in the Gothic, becomes clearer if we go back another step, to
the period called the Romanesque.6As with the word Gothic,
we tend to use the term either unthinkingly or disparagingly-
that is, with the idea that it represents a rather naive under-
standing of the pre-Gothic. I believe, however, that the core
meaning of the word Romanesqueremains closer to the truth
about the period it denotes than all the later academic analysis
in terms of square-schematism,bay systems, radiating chapels,
and the like. In other words, the early nineteenth-century term
Romanesquewas on the mark, or nearly so. Pre-Gothic medieval
architecture was, quite simply, Roman-esque. That is, it was
deeply historicizing. That it embodied "modernist" tendencies Fig. 1. "The Goths Crossing into Italy" (anonymous nineteenth-cen-
as well is also true. In fact, perhaps the fairest characterization turylithograph).
of the Romanesque period would be in terms of a conflict-
often moving and poignant-between the two opposing cur- The components of historicism and modernism variedwidely
rents of historicism and modernism. In this view, the turn to in strength throughout Romanesque Europe. Some areaswere
Gothic would amount to the resolution of the conflict through nearly purist in stressing one tendency over the other. For ex-
the rejection of historicism in favor of a purist modernism (a ample, the medieval churches of Rome, such as the nave of S.
volte-face that would, in a Panofskian way, closely parallel de- Lorenzo fuori le mura (Fig. 4), are so faithful to Early Christian
velopments in literary-intellectualcircles centered in France, in models that they are hardly Romanesque at all. Normandy, on
the shift that occurred around 1150 from a strong proto-hu- the other hand, in interiors like St.-Etienne at Caen (Fig. 5),
manistic revival of antique material to self-consciously new was nearly pure modernist in spirit and thus for good reason
methods and interests emphasizing novelty, promoted by schol- was included by Ernst Gall in his admirable book on early
ars who sometimes were prone to calling themselves "mod- Gothic.8 Another example of this precocious strain of modern-
erns").7 ism is St. Gertrude in Nivelles, which eschews virtually all
references to the antique except for a basilican layout. More

Canterburywas similarlyawarethat the Gothic choir of Canterbury

Cathedralthat he chronicledderivedfrom France.In late medieval the past.The knownpast,both classicalandpatristic,initiallyprovided
Italy,thereis no reasonto believethatthe Gothicwouldnot havebeen the new ideasandmodelsfor action,andthesewerefor a time studied
seen as somethingFrench,althoughit also may alreadyhavebecome assiduously Then,by aboutthe middleof
associatedwith Germanyin the trecento(H. Klotz, "Deutscheund of the pastappeared
the twelfthcentury,the rediscovery to be complete.
italienische Baukunst im Trecento," Mitteilungendes Kunsthistorischen The 'moderns,'asthe scholarsof the timebeganto describethemselves,
Institutsin Florenz,xi, 1966, 173ff.). By the cinquecento the geographical hadassimilatedthe availablelearningof Antiquityandwere now con-
locus of the Gothic had completely shifted to Germany in the eyes of fidentof their masteryof it. Moreimportantly,they were awarethat
the Italians(who oftencalledit the maniera butfor Philibertde
tedesca); they couldandshouldlearnmoreandadvancebeyondwhat hadbeen
L'Orme, presumably reflecting current French notions, the Gothic re- known before.... After 1150 the culture depended less on classical
mained French, as well as being "modern" (Frankl, The Gothic,297). sourcesand was more open to other inspirationsand to newerideas.
6. On the term Romanesque, see Frankl, The Gothic, passim; and, ..." (S. C. Ferruolo,"The Twelfth-CenturyRenaissance," in W.
more recently, the perceptive analysis of L. Seidel, Songsof Glory:The Treadgold, ed., RenaissancesbeforetheRenaissance,Stanford, 1984, 139f.,
RomanesqueFacadesof Acquitaine,Chicago, 1981, 4ff. 144).
7. "Thefirstgenerationsof studentsto flockto the expandingurban 8. E. Gall, DiegotischeBaukunstin FrankreichundDeutschland,Leipzig,
schools found their inspiration in the learning and the achievements of 1925.



Fig. 2. Siena Cathedral. West faSadedetail (author).

?(loolne)sa.olelqqsapi!leuoid elpaqleOuano *?'-Sid



-^? y
26 JSAH, L:1, MARCH 1991

Fig. 4. S. Lorenzo fuori le mura, Rome. Nave (author).

s\ *

Fig. 6. Speyer Cathedral,reconstructionof early eleventh-century nave

Fig. 5. St.-Etienne, Caen. Nave (author). (Wenzel Hollar).


,i 111,111 i
w --
Fig. 7. Basilica,Trier(RheinischesLandesmuseum,

characteristicof the period, however, and true to the Roman-

esque method, are works embodying a conflict between histor-
icizing elements like classical columns, ornament, proportions,
and massive substantiality on the one hand and, on the other
hand, modernist tendencies toward the bay system, schemati-
zation, structuralrationalism, and attenuated proportions. The
cathedrals at Autun and Perigueux are good examples of this
fusion, in which the historicizing element is strong but not
overwhelming: the former building takes up the heavily clas-
sicizing detail of the Roman city gates of the town, such as the
Porte St.-Andre, and the latter clearly derives from Byzantine
models, perhapsvia Venice and S. Marco. But the great imperial
Cathedralat Speyer is the paradigmof this interaction. The first
Speyer of the early eleventh century took up the nearby Con-
stantinian basilica at Trier, turned it outside in, and added an
attenuatedcolumnar layer of bay-dividing elements (Figs. 6, 7).
What is particularlytelling is that the second Speyer as rebuilt
a half century later is more rather than less historicizing (Fig.
8). Not only are huge Roman-style groin vaults erected above
the nave, but also the main piers receive a double order of
massive columns that-regardless of their simultaneous inten-

Fig. 8. SpeyerCathedral.Nave as alteredin 1080 (nineteenth-century

28 JSAH, L:1, MARCH1991

Fig. 9. St.-Denis.Ambulatory(JoelHerschman).

Fig. 11. AmiensCathedral.Nave (ArchivesPhotographiques).

of Wolfflinian analysis). It was not driven by an unconscious

process of stylistic evolution but controlled by a strongly self-
conscious view of history, of the present in its relationship to
the past, in which the latter was not to be relinquished in
architecture but instead strongly emphasized. It did not want
vainly to be "Gothic" but-not unlike present-day postmod-
ernism (as well as much of the nineteenth century)-attempted
to be both modernist and historicist at the same time.
In the period of medieval modernism-or what we usually
call the Gothic-the historicizing elements disappearor, rather,
are madeto disappear.The massive substantialityand structural
ponderation taken from Rome are rejected,mainly by excluding
or dissolving the meaning-laden classicizing forms that con-
veyed these effects-that is, the visually heavy groin and barrel
vaults and solid columns, pilasters, and load-bearing walls. In
their place architectural modernism takes hold: a new system
of schematic, linear forms that are inherently anticlassical in
effect and, I believe, in self-conscious intent. This does not

Fig. 10. Notre-Dame,Paris.Nave (H. Abrams). happen instantaneously,of course, but in a century-long process
that sometimes is paradoxicalin its development. Thus at Suger's
sification of the "bay system"-are far more antique in pro- St.-Denis, as Jean Bony has noted, the conceptually point-like
portions than the original attenuated forms. In other words, support system of the linear, skeletal rib vaulting takes the form
Speyer tells us (and Cluny III manifests analogous transfor- of a revival of classicizing columns (Fig. 9).9 Such columns
mations of Cluny II) that the Romanesque was never an in-
9. J. Bony, "WhatPossibleSourcesfor the Chevetof Saint-Denis?"
exorable transitional movement toward the Gothic (a misinter- A Symposium,
in P. Gerson,ed.,AbbotSugerandSaint-Denis: New York,
pretationthat never has been quite put to rest despite generations 1986, 136ff.

Fig. 13. St.-Ouen,Rouen.Nave (author).

Fig. 12. TroyesCathedral.Choir(author).
was the exterior of the cathedral neglected. The signal event
(signs, perhaps, of a still-active "Romanesque" conflict despite here was the dramatic appearanceof the flying buttress in the
the great modernist advances-indeed, perhaps appearing in late twelfth century, which destroyed the closed, contained, an-
reaction to the advances and the radical vision driving them)
tique integrity of volumes and replaced classical decorum of
become prominent in the main elevations of early Gothic ca-
structure, which had persisted until that moment, with mod-
thedrals, including those at Laon and Paris (Fig. 10). Highly ernist structuralexhibitionism (Fig. 14).10
indicative of the full takeover of the building by the modernist Insofar as it first developed in and around the Ile-de-France,
vision is the manner in which these prominent historicist forms medieval modernism was attended by another factor of critical
subsequently are gradually subverted, transformed, and ulti- importance. To the eye of the specialist, each of the French
mately eliminated. First, the High Gothic pilier cantonne,in- cathedrals has a unique personality; but, seen against the pan-
vented at Chartres, literally imprisons them in a cage of atten- orama of most of architecturalhistory, including the rest of the
uated colonnettes (Fig. 11). A generation later, for example at medieval period, they form a closely linked series in a chain of
St.-Denis or Troyes Cathedral, bundles of such colonnettes
development in which possibilities of variation are rather nar-
dominate the pier completely (Fig. 12). And all along, pro-
rowly circumscribed(with Bourges, to be sure, offering an im-
gressively these colonnettes are thinned down and stretched out portant typological variant). The main energy of most French
to the point that all connection with the gravitationalsubstance Gothic architects went not into conceiving fresh architectural
and iconic presence of their antique columnar origins is negated
programs, but into the development and perfection of a long-
(Fig. 13). Similarly, the capital, that crucial sign of the orders,
is abstractedinto crocket form and shrivels to a mere speck in 10. ComparePanofsky'sanalysisof Gothicsculpture,in which "the
the gigantic elevation, and eventually, in many cases, it disap- classicalelementis so completelyabsorbedasto becomeindiscernible,"
and his characterizationof analogoustrendsin philosophy,historiog-
pears altogether-as does, in the more radical late Gothic, the andRenascences
raphy, and poetry (Renaissance in WesternArt, New York,
attic base and, indeed, the independent colonnette itself. Nor 1965, 102f.).
30 JSAH, L:1, MARCH 1991

Fig. 15. ChartresCathedral.Nave (H. Abrams).

Fig. 14. Le MansCathedral.Choirbuttressing(author). better than its intrinsic methodology). This is true whether one
looks at extraordinaryfantasies of the Decorated style such as
established type-a type that takes form in the twelfth century,
Ely and Bristol cathedrals (Fig. 17), at German hall churches
if not earlier, and continues at least through the fourteenth
like the Lorenzkirche in Nuremburg (Fig. 18), or at other re-
century in such examples as St.-Ouen at Rouen. Although this
gional Gothic schools. Throughout these developments the lib-
ideal cathedral type was bound up closely with the modernist
eration from historicism and the design possibilities inherent in
spirit as a whole, it was distinct from it. the modernist vocabularyand compositional method seized the
This distinction is useful because it allows us to analyze more
architecturalimagination. The French format could be resisted,
precisely the variations in the spread of the new architecture but not French modernism, which was warmly welcomed nearly
beyond the Ile-de-France.Thus it enables us to see, for example,
everywhere in Europe.
that Jean Bony's celebrated article about the "resistance" to
The great exception to this pattern was Italy. Italy did not
Chartres concerned a resistance to the building type-to the
follow the developmental stages of the north. For the most part
parti of Chartres-but, as seen at Notre-Dame at Dijon (Figs. its Romanesque did not embody a sustained conflict between
15, 16), not to modernism as such." With exceptions such as historicist and modernist tendencies (the vaulted Lombardstyle
Cologne Cathedral (designed by a Frenchman)or Westminister
being ratheran exception), and its architectureduring the Goth-
Abbey (a rather awkward imitation of Reims), most areas ic period was concerned with neither the resolution of such a
throughout Europe followed this pattern. That is, the "ideal" conflict into architectural modernism nor the mastery of an
parti was much less influential than the medieval modernist exclusivistic, French modernist methodology. Italy was never
architectural method of the French (although Spain appeared,
antihistoricist but, to the contrary, always deeply historicist-
at least initially, to graspthe alternativepartiof Bourges perhaps
deeply and irrevocably bound to its vast ancient heritage that
was so much richer, more pervasiveand culturally omnipresent,
11. J. Bony, "The Resistanceto Chartresin EarlyThirteenthCen-
than anywhere else in Europe. This well-known attachment
tury Architecture," Journal of the British ArchaeologicalAssociation,
20/21, 1957/1958, 35-52. was not always-indeed was probably not typically-a matter

i a

F i l.i
Fig. 17. Bristol Cathedral. Choir aisle (author).

and ambitious buildings, surely did not arise fortuitously. For

Fig. 16. Notre-Dame,Dijon. Nave (author).
one thing, it was not an invention of medieval Italy but one
that went back to its ancient roots, perhapsto the Etruscansand
of passive bondage, but rather one of active choice (as dem- certainly to the Romans, who were eclectic not only in their
onstrated by the ability of Italian architects to reinterpret and basic, omnipresent combination of the Greek orders with in-
to play with antique forms, and even to disregard them on digenous arcuatedstructurebut in a farbroadermanner.A build-
occasion at will). ing like the Pantheon, for example-to take a work by the
But the key to Italian architecture, to my mind, was not its epitome of eclectic patronage,the emperor Hadrian-is a model
historicism, crucial a factor as it was, but rather eclecticism, of the eclectic method with its temple front and rotunda and,
which I believe was the core of its architectural outlook and within the rotunda,its great cofferedvault hovering over almost
method. This eclectic approachwas one of accommodation and miniature trabeatedzones, not to mention its extreme range of
diversity, of the tolerance of complexity and contradiction in building materials and structural techniques (Fig. 19). If one
architecture, and the encouragement of-indeed the demand wanted to be clever, one might suggest that the reappearance
for-purposeful originality in design, be it in structure, ico- of the eclectic method in the Italian Middle Ages was also a
nography, or style, rather than conformity to any preordained kind of historicism, of method rather than substance; but of
architecturalmodel or morphological system. The source ma- course this would not adequately explain why the practice was
terial of its monumental works was open to virtually all direc- revived. To imitate the methodological implications of surviv-
tions: the classical past, the wider Mediterraneanworld of By- ing Roman buildings was, to be sure, a thing of value in itself,
zantium and Islam, and vernaculartypes, as well as the inventions but it is important to realize that many of the factors that first
of northern medieval architecture. In other words, Italian ar- led the Romans to eclecticism seem to have led the Italian
chitecture in the Gothic period was in method the very antithesis Middle Ages back to it. These factors surely involved more than
of purist, idealizing French modernism. such imponderables as a perennially accommodating and per-
The eclectic method of medieval Italy, self-evident in most missive Italiancharacter.Nor can the more determinativefactors
monuments to some degree and strongest in the most important of climate and geography fully explain Italian eclecticism, al-
32 JSAH, L:1, MARCH1991

Fig. 18. Lorenzkirche,


thoughcertainlythe exposureof the peninsulato all the varied,

powerfulculturesof the Mediterranean and the concomitant
Alpinedistancing Italy from the architecturalatmosphereof
northernEuropewere important.But I suggestthatthe crucial
determinants were, first,the predominantly urbanlife-styleof
both periodsand, second,the politicalandsocialdiversityand
fluiditythat in differentways characterized Italy in both an-
tiquityandthe laterMiddleAges.In ancientRomethisdynamic Fig. 19. Pantheon,Rome (author).
complexityflourishedwithin a single, immensesociopolitical
structure;in the politicallyfragmentedMiddleAges, it flour- original.To the extentthatsuchsociopoliticaldiversityexisted
ishedwithin the collectivecomplexityof the dozensof signif- also in the north (to a far lesserextent, to be sure,with the
icanturbancentersand,withinthosecenters,in anurbansociety glaringexceptionof the Low Countries,as precociouslyad-
thatwasrapidlyevolvingandincreasinglymultilayered. Inboth vancedurbanistically andsociallyaswasItaly),it is all the more
cases,what was demanded of was
architects not conformityto telling that the architecturalstyle there remainedwithin the
some absolutearchitectural modelor style, as tendedto be the confinesof modernism,demonstratingits hold over societyat
case in the north,where typicallya single, relativelyuniform large(even in the Low Countries,the sociopoliticalexception
classof patronsdemandedrelativelyuniformmonumentsfor that proves the aestheticrule). But for the south, it may, I
relativelyuniformpurposes;rather,the oppositewas required. believe, be fairly statedthat a free-wheelingeclecticismwas
In medievalItaly,each majorcity tendedto demandarchitec- adoptedasthe perfectarchitectural methodforthe eclecticurban
turalmonumentsunlike those of other centers,while within societiesof both Romanantiquityandthe ItalianMiddleAges.
them each evolvinginstitutiongenerallysoughtsome manner At this level of discourse,I find no basicdifferencebetween
of architecturaldifferentiation(asbetween,for example,three Romanesqueand Gothic Italy. Both were essentially,if not
Florentineloggia-buildings: Orsanmichele, the Bigallo,andthe equally,eclectic in architecturaloutlook and method, and in
LoggiadellaSignoria).12 Thesepurposesrequiredanarchitecture manyareasit is difficultto drawany hardline betweenthem.
of diversesolutionsthatwerebothfunctionallyandsymbolically Neverthelesstherearesomecrucialpointsto be madeaboutthe
relationshipof Italy to the north in the two periods.In the
12. A strikingexampleof eclectic
variationaccordingto institution ItalianRomanesque,eclecticismgenerallymeant the coexis-
occursin threehighlydiverse builtin Todiaround 1300:the tenceof variouscurrentsratherthanthe stateof conflictof the
puristGothichallchurchof S. Fortunato; the virtuallyRomanesque
Duomo(witha Gothiccrypt);anda townhallcomplexof vernacular north. The paradigmatic buildinghere is surelyModenaCa-
designwith Gothic window detailinganda rib-vaulted
loggia. thedral, whose brick interiorcloselycopiesthat of Jumiegesin

Fig. 20. PisaCathedral(author).

a state of happy coexistence with a stone exterior that relates The Gothic did make a powerful contribution to late medieval
closely to Imperialworks like the apse of Speyer. Pisa Cathedral Italy, in essence becoming partof that ever-fluid eclectic melting
is equally instructive (Fig. 20). Its eclecticism is more compli- pot of the peninsula, to which it added considerable substance
cated and interwoven than Modena's, embodying a scheme that as well as spice. But since French modernism, with its inherent
appearsto combine the great five-aisled basilicas of Rome, the antihistoricism, was so antithetical to the prevailing Italian out-
continuous side aisles of the French pilgrimage churches, the look, the critical questions are, How and why did the Italians
centralized scheme of Qalat Siman, Byzantine screened effects take it up? I believe that they adopted the Gothic at various
seen at Salonika and Hagia Sophia, Islamic pointed arches, a levels for varied purposes. Gothic had become the prestige ar-
north Italian-Imperial crossing tower, and other forms. At Pisa chitecture of the rest of Europe, emblematic of haut mondemo-
the burning scholarly issue has always been not the sources as dernity, and the Italians, great international presence that they
such, problematic as that topic is, but whether the complexity were, could hardly be expected to ignore it, if only for the sake
resulted from a single, grand initial scheme or from a process of fashion. Thus throughout Italy appear the stigmata of mo-
of accretion. From my point of view it makes little difference, dernity in the form of traceriedwindows, gables, pinnacles, and
for the eclectic method is much the same whether working other Gothic forms attached to otherwise traditionalbuildings.
synchronically or diachronically-a fact that helps us to deal But the Italians evidently also appreciated the intense visual
critically with the numerous important Italian buildings that complexity and energy of the Gothic and found ways to in-
took shape slowly and in changing form, in responseto changing corporate these effects, this modernistfrisson, into their build-
contextual and cultural pressures. ings. Finally, at a deeper level, they perceived what can only
As for the Gothic period, although Italian architects rejected be called the inherent spirituality of the Gothic as it took form
French modernism as a system-and for good sociopolitical in the great French cathedrals-that is, the spiritual content
reasons,as we have seen-they nevertheless respondedto it with created by the medieval modernist method (coextensive with
deep interest, energy, and intelligence, and not, as often is imag- the connotations of sheer modernity, from which it was not
ined, with uncomprehending, naive, and resistantprovincialism. easily separated).Being in its culture as spiritualas it was secular,
34 JSAH, L:1, MARCH 1991

I 1 I" I i -~ I

Fig. 21. Papal Palace, Viterbo (author).

Fig. 22. S. Maria Novella, Florence (author).

Italy sought to use Gothic also to convey spiritual meaning

(along with other, typically historicizing, iconographic means
to that end), whether by using it as a semiotic system of signs Fig. 23. FlorenceDuomo (author).
whose essential referent was "spirituality"or through the more
creative formal expression of that idea. In practice, often these
categories of reuse and reinterpretationblurred and overlapped;

Fig. 24. LuccaCathedral(author).

and the referential thrust of Gothic forms (fashion? modernity?

spirituality?)is not always entirely clear, being in many cases
Fig. 25. LoggiadellaSignoria,Florence(author).
evidently largely determined by context (for example, as when
Gothic elements appearon town halls as opposed to churches).
Yet what particularly manifests the self-possessed intelligence energy. But in general it may, I believe, be said that the Gothic
of the Italians in their treatment of the Gothic is the telling tended by and large to be strongest and purest (in both form
manner in which the three levels of their reception of the style and meaning) in Mendicant buildings, less so in cathedrals,and
tended to be distributedamong various building types. As seen, least intrinsically and most superficiallymanifest in overtly civic
for example, in the Papal Palace at Viterbo (Fig. 21), secular buildings. In other words, there tended to be a direct correlation
architecture (and, papal or not, the palace was essentially a sec- between the degree of spirituality inherent in an Italian project
ular power structure) tended to imitate Gothic in the most and the degree to which Gothic was used.
superficialmanner. Conversely, as seen, for example, in S. For- Most of my observationshave concentratedon differentiating
tunato in Todi or S. MariaNovella (Fig. 22), the "deep" spiritual the Italian architecturalscene from that of the north, especially
mode was taken up most widely and intensely by the spiritual France, and there is one further difference to be discussed. In
leaders of Italy, the Mendicants, who, moreover, were part of the history of art-largely to have something coherent to add
an internationalmovement that was a majorforce in late Gothic to it, that is, to make historical narrativepossible-we tend to
architecture in general (despite their initial antagonism toward privilege works that form part of a developmental series, works
monumental construction). The architecture of cathedrals and with clear sources and, above all, strong influence. A building
important non-Mendicant churches-that is, monuments that like Chartres,amazing as it is intrinsically, would be seen as far
were spiritualas well as civic and local, such as Florence Duomo less important did it not have a string of imposing followers.
(Fig. 23)-was prone to occupy the middle ground, incorpo- Italian buildings of the period, particularlythe most important
rating Gothic complexity, energy, and meaning in integrated ones, for the most part cannot be understood as parts of such
and inventive as well as flashy ways. These correspondences linear series and thus cannot be readily woven into narrative
were not fixed or universal: the Palazzo Vecchio, for example, structure;and this, I believe, is another major reason for their
manages to endow its rough masonry walls with intense Gothic devalorization. True enough, serial developments do exist in
36 JSAH, L:1, MARCH1991

Fig. 26. S. Petronio,Bologna(author).

medieval Italy-such as the Lombardscreen facade,the Modena

school, the central Italian timber-roofed Mendicant church, and Fig. 27. Old Sacristy,S. Lorenzo,Florence.Detailof chancelentrance
so forth. Mainly, however, where important developmental se-
ries exist, they take the form of complex chains of eclecticism.
For example, the Florentine Cathedral nave of the 1350s com- tended to realize a singular, ad hoc, eclectic program that was
bines elements of Orsanmichele (the pier), S. Croce (the ballatoio highly site- and context-specific. Given our narratologicalpriv-
and the tripartite proportions of the elevation), and S. Maria ileging of linear developments over others, the Italian medieval
Novella (structure,vaulting, bay proportions, and oculi); then scene, even if understood on its own terms of eclecticism, would
Lucca Cathedral of the 1370s combines the pier of Florence thus seem forever doomed to marginalization.
Cathedral with the galleried elevation of Pisa (Fig. 24); and There are,however, other kinds of history. One is the Annales
later S. Petronio in Bologna of the 1390s recombines the Flor- school centered on phenomena of longueduree,which has to
entine pier as developed in the Loggia de Lanzi (Fig. 25) with some extent inspired this paper in its reassessmentof the long
the elevation of S. Maria Novella, the plan of the Duomo, and centuries of medieval Italiein terms of a massive, glacially evolv-
north Italian detailing (Fig. 26). While such eclectic chains ing system. Perhaps more relevant as a solution to the dilemma
conceivably could be collected into a single account, such a text just posed is a historical approachthat concerns not horizontal,
would not form a history, except at a very schematic level (it diachronic movement (however slow), but vertical, synchronic
might best appearin the form of a diagram),and it would grossly relationships between highly particular,individuated phenom-
underplay the critical reconstruction of the individual event of ena and their context. A form of microhistory, this approach,
eclectic reinterpretationand recombination, which formed the in the present case, would stressmajorarchitecturalevents rather
core of the creative process at the buildings in question. If one than the fate of ordinary individuals that is the main subject of
accepts my theory of eclecticism as being the basic architectural the microhistorical school, our common ground being the side-
method of the Italians,it follows that any linear history of Italian stepping of the narratologicaldemands of the historical "grand
medieval architectureis theoretically impossible, except by forc- manner." Such an adaptation of the microhistorical method, I
ing it into some kind of procrustean bed that would mutilate believe, applied within a framework of critical analysis of the
each monument in turn, especially each important one, which eclectic design process, would result not only in a much higher,

and fairer, revalorization of the Italian monuments but also in appear to force a much-needed redefinition. Quite simply, in
a far clearer understanding of what they are all about. (Con- the terms of this paper, the shift to the Renaissance should not
versely, it would be difficult to apply this approachto the French be viewed as a replacement of "Gothic" by "classical,"but rather
cathedrals, hard to link the differences among Chartres, Reims, as the opposition of a newly purified historicist taste (Fig. 27),
Amiens, and Beauvais with contextual factors in any massive admitting only the classical, to a long medieval era in Italy of
and convincing way.) voracious eclecticism that omnivorously had consumed every-
I have emphasized the Roman origins of Italian medieval thing needed by its complex metabolism, Gothic and classical
architecture, and for symmetry's sake I would like to offer one alike (Fig. 2).
sentence on the Renaissance, for which my argument would