1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Norman Style in English Pointed Architecture

(Part 90)

Norman Style in English Pointed Architecture

The characteristics of the Norman style are, no doubt, generally known. The works executed during this period were on so colossal a scale, and so many of them are still perfect, that every opportunity is afforded for studying them in all parts of England. It may be observed, too, that there is less variety in the character of the style in different dioceses or countries than there is in the case of subsequent works.

The earlier works, as e.g., Walkelyn’s transepts at Winschester Cathedral, are comparatively simple and rude. The arches are unmoulded, the capitals are of the simplest form of cushion capital; and grand and solemn as the work is, it cannot, for refinement and beauty of detail, be compared to the later Norman work in which, instead of minute directions being given to the workmen, they were encouraged to develop their own taste and ingenuity in the decorative sculpture with which they so elaborately covered their architectural mouldings.

But still, the principles of construction, and of the decoration of it, were identical throughout the whole period. The ground-plan of most Norman churches was cruciform, with a central tower, the east end being very frequently apsidal. The aisles were divided from the naves by columns of vast size, sometimes circular, sometimes, octagonal, and sometimes simply clustered.

The arches were for the most part semicircular, save towards the end of the period when the pointed arch was often used where much strength was required, though the round arch was still used everywhere for ornament. The windows in small buildings were mere narrow slits in the wall, probably not meant to receive glazing, and opening out with a wide splay on the inside; in larger buildings they were much more important features, being of large size and adorned with columns, with capitals and bases both inside and outside. The treatment of mouldings was accurate and scientific.

As large arches are naturally constructed with a series of orders or layers of stones, the masons wrought each of these with a separate moulding, so as to define them well, and provided capitals whose upper surface was ingeniously planned, even where it fitted a circular column below, so as to fit exactly the several orders of the arch.

This is one only out of many features which prove how skillful the Norman architects were. All their best works are in no sense haphazard works of art, but carefully ordered and arranged with almost classic attention to regularity. The masonry is at the same time unusually beautiful and well executed.

There is probably not a finer piece of masonry in England than the later Norman central tower of Winchester Cathedral, -- the stones being all uniformly wrought, close jointed, and regularly coursed.

The doorways are the great glory of many of these buildings. Sometimes the mouldings are continuous round jamb and arch (as in the well-known examples at Malmesbury Abbey and at Iffley), but more usually they are adorned with a series of columns, sometimes carved or diapered, and carrying on their capitals a grand succession of enriched arch mouldings. These doorways do not occur only in large and important churches, but are to be seen also in out-of-the-way country churches in all parts, even the most remote, of England.

The walls were often arcaded with single or intersecting arches, treated in the most elaborate manner. They were usually of so great a thickness that no buttresses were required, even where, as in the aisles of the large churches, stone vaulted roofs rested against them.

The Norman buttress, wherever introduced, is consequently only a slight development of a pilaster, used for the purpose of defining the divisions or panels of an elevation, and not introduced for the sake of giving support to the wall.

The walls are frequently enriched with moulded or carved string-cornices, and with a cornice supported on corbels under the eaves of the roof, and in the best works are entirely of wrought stone, and built in regular courses.

The roofs which surmounted the walls were usually of steep pitch, showing the whole of the cross framing of the timbers used in them; and sometimes, as in the case of Peterborough Cathedral, boarded on the under side so as to form a flat or slightly canted ceiling, which was then decorated with colour. At Adel, near Leeds, are remains of a richly-moulded Norman roof, in which every pair of rafters seems to have been furnished with a tie-beam. But it need hardly be said that not many wooden roofs of this period exist and the stone roofs which, as time wore on, were more and more often erected, were not only more permanent in their character, but, no doubt, played the most important part in the gradual development of the style and the introduction of the pointed arch.

The succession of vaults was the same here and on the Continent. First of all the plain barrel vault, then one formed by the intersection of two such vaults at right angles; and finally, this vault with well-defined arches between the bays, and mouldings or ribs under the angles of the intersecting vaults. It was impossible for men to go on long forming such vaults as these without realizing, not only that a pointed arch might be built, but, at the same time, that its form enabled a builder to overcome many practical difficulties in the formation of vaults, which could only be got over otherwise, and then badly, by the expedient of stilting the round arch.

The Norman vaults were seldom applied to any but the aisles of churches art no great height from the ground. They were very heavy, and exerted more thrust on the wall than the later Gothic vaults, and the Norman masons shrank consequently from venturing to put them on their lofty clerestories.

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