Stones & Paint & Stucco

At some point this summer, I seriously considered writing a post that simply read: “Don’t expect to hear from me again until Christmas”. This was based on an assessment of my autumn workload which may have been slightly exaggerated but, as it turns out, not too far from the truth. As a matter of fact, while I do have a handful of new post that exist as drafts, I doubt whether I can carve out the time to actually write them up and finish them properly before the beginning of December. So for now, I’ll just pretend this is something like a photoblog and let you indulge in some pictures of medieval buildings which I’ve taken these past few months.

To begin in a loosely chronological order, first up is the small church of St. Johann [St. John’s] in Taufers, high up in the mountains of the South Tyrol, just across the Swiss border. The building is first mentioned in the 9th century, and some parts of it are said to actually date from that time. What we see today, however, is by and large the result of a remodelling campaign of the early 13th century, undertaken when the church became part of a pilgrims’ hospital administered by the Knights of the Order of St. John.

Taufers, St. Johann

Next in line is the Cathedral of San Giusto in Trieste, Italy, one of the most intriguing pieces of architecture I’ve seen in a long time. The thing is, this is actually something of a two-for-one-package: At first, there were two 11th century churches lying parallel in close proximity to one another. In the 14th century it was decided to connect the two buildings to create one large, five-aisled basilica, a measure which resulted in a rather unique and incredibly beautiful space.

Trieste, Cathedral of San Giusto

Another fine Romanesque structure is the Cathedral Cloister at Brixen (Bressanone in Italian), again in the South Tyrol. It features some fine arcades from c. 1200. But this space, too, was transformed in the 14th century by the addition of Gothic vaulting.

Brixen, Cathedral Cloister

Today, the Cathedral Cloister is most famous for the amazing 15th century murals adorning its walls and vaults. But some parts of the cloister have received no such decoration, and it’s fascinating to realise that, while the architecture itself is exactly the same, the overall impression of the architectural space in these parts is entirely different.

Brixen, Cathedral Cloister

Another example of the transformative power of decoration is found in the vault of the Abbey Church at Seitenstetten, Lower Austria. In terms of architectural structure, this is your standard Gothic ribbed vault from around 1300. But through the generous application of stucco and paint in the 18th century it has been made into something that screams Baroque rather than Middle Ages.

Seitenstetten Abbey, Vault

After so much Baroque opulence, let me end this post on a more sober note with the Abbey Church at Königsfelden in Switzerland. Built in the first half of the 14th century, it still preserves its original (carefully restored) colour scheme of white, grey and red.

Königsfelden Abbey

Here, in Königsfelden, even the cenotaph placed over the crypt with the burials of the Habsburg dynasty is characterised by stark simplicity rather ornamental extravaganza – and for once one gets the impression that this is due to an aesthetic choice rather than to the Habsburgs’ proverbial lack of money…

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