Universe of Stone: A Biography of Chartres Cathedral by Philip Ball

By Philip Ball

Chartres Cathedral, south of Paris, is respected as some of the most attractive and profound artworks within the Western canon. yet what did it suggest to people who built it within the 12th and 13th centuries—and why was once it equipped at such significant peak and with such wonderful play of sunshine, within the hovering demeanour we now name Gothic?

In this eminently interesting paintings, writer Philip Ball is sensible of the visible and emotional strength of Chartres and brilliantly explores how its construction—and the construction of alternative Gothic cathedrals—represented a profound and dramatic shift within the means medieval thinkers perceived their courting with their international. fantastically illustrated and written, jam-packed with wonderful perception, Universe of Stone embeds the terrific cathedral within the tradition of the 12th century—its colleges of philosophy and technology, its trades and applied sciences, its politics and spiritual debates—enabling us to view this historic architectural wonder with clean eyes.

From the recent Yorker
In this full of life biography of Chartres Cathedral, Ball explores the configuration of cultural and technological components that enabled Europe to accomplish a "liberation from gravity" within the 12th century, together with the increase of scholasticism, Platonic obsessions with gentle and share, and heroic masons who "turned geometry into stone." The accomplishments of Gothic structure have been all of the extra amazing on condition that stonework used to be nearly forgotten within the West within the centuries after Rome fell. even though a lot of the heritage of Chartres Cathedral continues to be opaque, Ball’s account of its building finds interesting info (such because the origins of its blue glass, most likely scavenged from Roman or Byzantine websites) and inspires its raison d’être: in an period whilst structure "existed to bare the deep layout of God’s creation," Chartres "encoded a collection of symbols and relationships that mapped out the universe itself."
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Review
“A full of life biography of Chartres Cathedral. . . . Ball’s account of its building unearths attention-grabbing info . . . and conjures up its raison d’être.” (The New Yorker)

“There isn't any greater common advent to the subject... [Ball’s] account is daring and plausible.” (Wall road Journal)

“Lively...Ball places the joys again in medieval scholasticism...seems as a lot relaxed at the medieval development web site as in an abbey library.” (Los Angeles Times)

“A tremendous book…A lucid, considerate travel de force…A interesting publication with vital insights and observations on each page.” (Christian technology Monitor)

“Anyone who has been extremely joyful by means of the nice Gothic cathedrals will enjoy this research of either the non secular and architectural features of these medieval wonders.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Ball leaves no stone unturned . . . A revelatory examine a seminal interval in artwork history.” (Kirkus studies)

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Extra info for Universe of Stone: A Biography of Chartres Cathedral

Sample text

This, says the English historian Peter Kidson, ‘betrays the complacency of the great patron who knows exactly what he wants and does not care how it is done’. It is tempting to wonder whether Suger did not wish to share the credit for the work. His silence on the matter has served him well in posterity, for some have spoken implausibly of Suger himself as the inventor of the Gothic style. Kidson puts that notion firmly in its place: the rebuilding of Saint-Denis, he says, shows ‘a powerful mind at work, thinking imaginatively about architectural problems and working out subtle and effective solutions.

In the former, the stones are there simply to hold the building up. The architecture expresses nothing in itself: it is merely functional. That is how men had always built since antiquity. For all its elegance of proportion and its refined ornamentation, Greek architecture leaves you in no doubt that those massive pillars support immense loads. Gravity dictates the form. That is what the Gothic style changed. It is in this liberation from gravity, this apparent transformation of stone into something light and airy, that we find the essence of Gothic – and we should let no one obscure that fact with talk of rib vaults, pointed arches and flying buttresses.

Ever a man of the world, Suger recognized that such spectacle and display would captivate the common people, leaving them suitably awestruck by God’s palace. This was architecture with an agenda, as much political as spiritual. Even the apparently straightforward representation of Old Testament kings, queens and prophets as column statues flanking the main entrance* * The statues are no longer there – they were removed in 1771, and only a few fragments survive. But drawings of them in Dom Bernard de Montfaucon’s Monuments of the French Monarchy (1729) show us what the visitor to Saint-Denis saw on the threshold of the abbey in the Middle Ages.

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