Ely, mark two, or, In Which We Are Not Gothic

Today I sat a series of complicated French tests, for which I was drastically underprepared but also pretty blasé. For some reason, despite having an Actualfax Anxiety Disorder and everything, exams don’t phase me. Today’s marks are probably not a credit to my language-retention skills, but on the other hand, I think I scared the oral examiner with the force of my enthusiasm. Not my fault they gave me a prompt about the usefulness of student evaluations for assessing university teaching, is it?

After something like four hours of French testing on subjects that I mostly don’t care about, though, I am not succeeding at focusing on work this afternoon. So here, have some more photos from Ely!

View of the nave of Ely Cathedral, looking toward the main entrance/exit

Large nave is large. Not the oldest part of the building – that’s the trancepts – but still, as I understand it, part of the Norman construction project. Look at the lovely lines – tall, yes, but simple and rounded. No fan-vaulting, either. Compare to the – later, showier, French – Gothic finery of St Gatien de Tours. Who’s on Team Norman Architecture? Anyone?

I’m also pretty fond of the colouring on the ceiling – it’s from the 1839 restoration.

Aisle - Ely CathedralThis is, I think, the North aisle – although if it’s actually the South, no matter, they look the same. The roof here intrigues me – it’s like they were thinking of fan-vaulting but couldn’t quite be having with this strange new continental idea. The surfaces of the arches are rough, and aside from along the spines it’s hard to see the individual bricks. I’m not sure what’s going on there – perhaps they were plastered over at one point? Note the continued lack of Gothic fripperies on the columns, too.

Fun fact from Wikipedia: the stone to build Ely Cathedral was bought from Peterborough Abbey (which owned quarries) for a price of 8000 eels a year.  That’s what I call putting your local economy to work.

Long view of the Prior's Door: dense 12th-century scuplture on columns and lintelI love love love this style of carving/decoration. Look at it! It’s so… definitive. This is the Prior’s Door, which dates to the 12th c. Enlarge it and look closely at the columns: I’m finding a lot in those floral shapes, the solid curves, and the knotwork on the capitals, that reminds me of earlier Hiberno-Saxon art styles. On the other hand, look up to the top left of the arch. What’s with the break in the curvy leaf pattern to give us that spiky, line-drawn leaf?

Lintel and arch of Prior's DoorHere’s a close up of the lintel. At least I think it’s the lintel. Is that a lintel, folks? OK.  So. Let’s talk about the human figures here. Humanoid figures, rather. That’s God up there, or possibly Jesus, chillin’ in his oddly vulvar-shaped heaven.* He reminds me of this God here (warning, huge file) in MS Junius 11. Vulvar Oval shaped heaven? CHECK. Special Godly version of the Boy Scout salute? Check. Except our God, or possibly Jesus, is carrying a cross, whereas Junius 11’s has a book: and our chappy fills up his whole border. He’s a little bit better proportioned, but not much.  I’m thinking, and correct me, O Art Historians of the internet, if I am making this up, that some Gothic influence is showing through in the proportions of the Angels; in the sheer detail of the clothes and facial features; and in the fact that God, or possibly Jesus, is looking right out at us instead of down at something else in the picture.

Oddly, he’s breaking the bounds of his border. I’m pretty sure I remember my supervisor saying that border-breaking is one thing you’d use to tell if a picture (French) was late 13th or 14th century – as opposed to the twelfth, where people stay within the borders they’re given. Not sure what’s going on here.

Let’s call that a day! I have more pictures of Ely, though, so expect to hear more on this topic soon. 🙂


* Heaven shaped like a… ok, possibly not so odd then.


10 Responses to “Ely, mark two, or, In Which We Are Not Gothic”

  1. historienerrant Says:

    “… O Art Historians of the internet…”

    That would be me then… Well, apparently, not *all* of them…

    So, since you asked, I’m not sure whether there really is a Gothic influence discernible in the sculpture oft he Prior’s Door, but this is just a gut feeling – I’m not an expert on anything that went on before c. 1200, so I may not be the most competent judge here. Personally, though, I’d say that Christ isn’t actually looking out at *us* – because in order to do so he’d have to look *downwards* – but rather just staring hieratically in the distance which is definitely more Romanesque than Gothic.

    On a different note, when you speak of fan-vaulting, could it be that what you actually mean is simply ribbed vaulting? Fan-vaulting is a rather peculiar technique developed only c. 1350 and found exclusively in Great Britain, and judging from the context of your post I’m not sure that that’s what you had in mind…

    Anyway, great post – it’s always nice to see the odd piece of medieval art here 🙂
    And I have to say that Ely Cathedral does look impressive even though I’m not exactly on Team Norman Architecture myself…

    • highlyeccentric Says:

      Ribbed vaulting! Awesome. I shall correct when I get a chance.

      Also thank you for your wisdoms on the matter of Romanesque art. 🙂

  2. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    I’m on Team Romanesque if I’m taking a team at all, and the Normans can come along and play too if they like (and as a post currently three away from being put up at mine will demonstrate, sometimes they did). I don’t know whether the vaulting you point out is edging towards ribbed vaulting (I now know to say!) but what it is as it is, I think, is groin vaulting, which seems to be something that belongs in this post given the range of other allusions!

    • highlyeccentric Says:

      … groin vaulting. What characterised groin vaulting, pray tell?

      • Jonathan Jarrett Says:

        It’s that junction in the middle of the bay where the supporting arcs cross. It’s usually four-‘legged’ but I think there are some weird bits of Canterbury that do it with three. (I may now have hit the bottom of this barrel. But then barrel vaulting is something else again…)

        • historienerrant Says:

          “But then barrel vaulting is something else again…”

          Well, *technically* a groin vault is two barrel vaults stuck into each other at a right angle…
          Anyway, to put it casually, I guess you could say that groin vaulting is simply ribbed vaulting without the ribs. Both techniques may be subsumed under the wider term “cross vaulting”, but I’m not going to go further into detail because architecture really isn’t my strong suit and architectural terminology *is* slippery ground – best not to enter if you can avoid it 😉

  3. Go, Team Norman Architecture « L'Historien Errant Says:

    […] With a tip of the hat to The Naked Philologist, today’s post is all about Norman architecture – which, ironically, gives me the opportunity to move the blog’s focus back from Great Britain to Austria. I say “ironically” because Norman architecture is first and foremost associated with England; indeed, ever since the first quarter of the 19th century, the term is frequently used as a synonym for Romanesque architecture in England. In a wider sense, though, the term is also used the describe the architectural style prevalent from c. 1000-1250 in countries/regions under Norman rule, i.e. Normandy itself, Southern Italy (which the Normans conquered in the first half of the 11th century) and England (which they famously conquered in 1066). […]

  4. Leeds 2011 Report 0(ii): back via Lastingham « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe Says:

    […] church is not what is now here, but what is here is almost as interesting if, like myself, you are a paid-up member of Team Romanesque. But for the dismal-looking sky, you could be forgiven for thinking I’d slipped a Catalan […]

  5. Bram Says:

    The lintel would just be the load bearing part on the bottom, the archway-filler decoration as an entire unit is a tympanum.

  6. Leeds 2011 report 3: Catalans, coins, churches and computers « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe Says:

    […] had wanted to go to this session partly just to see beautiful things and get my Team Romanesque badge metaphorically stamped, but also because Micky Abel whom I met a long time back was supposed […]

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