Monreale Cathedral Blends Many Art Traditions in Medieval Sicily

Sicily was controlled or settled at various times by Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Saracens,
Normans and Spaniards.  This view is Monreale, in the north, east of Palermo.

The island of Sicily has a central location in the Mediterranean Sea which has made it the most conquered region in Italy, and perhaps the world.  Even the Normans who ruled England also went to Sicily.  Despite the violence of the Middle Ages, today we can recognize that era in Sicily as providing an example of cross-cultural cooperation which is to be admired.  Islam, Judaism, Greek Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism lived in tandem and with tolerance during most of that period.  The different religious and cultural groups poured the best work of various artistic traditions in to the building of Monreale Cathedrale, about 8 miles outside of Palermo.

Bonnano of Pisa cast the bronze doors
in 1185

A Norman ruler, William II (1154-89), built Monreale Cathedral between 1174 and 1185. When the Roman Empire first became Christian, Sicily reflected the ethnic Greeks who lived on the island.  In the 8th century, Saracens conquered Sicily and held it for two centuries, although a majority of residents were Christians of the Byzantine tradition. William the Conqueror’s brother Roger took over the island in 1085, but allowed the other groups to live peacefully and practice their religion. Normans, Lombards and other “Franks” also settled on the island, but the Norman rule between the late 11th and late 13th centuries was quite tolerant.  By the 13th century, most residents adopted the Roman Catholic faith. Germans, Angevins and finally, the Spanish took control of the island.

This pair of figural capitals in the cloister could be a biblical
story such as Daniel in the Lion’s Den or even a pagan tale

Monreale Cathedral was built on a basilican plan in the Romanesque style that dominated Western Europe in the 12th century, although the Gothic style had already taken hold in Paris at the time of this building.  It is based on the longitudinal cross plan with a rounded east end. Two towers flank the facade.  (This Cathedral ranks right up with Chartres and Notre-Dame of Paris, as one of the world’s most beautiful churches.)

Capitals feature men, beasts and beautiful
acanthus leaf designs

In the artistic and decorative details, there is great richness.  The portal has one of the few remaining sets of bronze doors from the Romanesque period.  These doors were designed and cast by a Tuscan artist, Bonanno da Pisa.  A cloister, similar to the cloisters of all abbey churches has a beautiful courtyard with figural capitals. Its pointed arches betray Islamic influence. The sculptors who carved the capitals are thought to have come from Provence in southern France, perhaps because of similarity in style to abbey churches near Arles and Nîmes, places with a strong Roman heritage.   However, on the exterior apse of the church is a surprise.   It has the rich geometry of Islamic tile patterns.  Islamic artists who lived in the vicinity of Monreale were probably called upon to do this work.

Islamic artisans decorated the eastern side of the church with rich geometric patterns 

The Greek artists who decorated the Cathedral’s interior were amongst the finest mosaic artists available. The Norman ruler may have brought these great artisans from Greece. Monreale Cathedral holds the second largest extant collection of church mosaics in the world. The golden mosaics completely cover the walls of the nave, aisles, transept and apse – amounting to 68,220 square feet in total. Only the mosaics at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, cover more area, although this cycle is better preserved.  The narrative images gleam with heavenly golden backgrounds, telling the stories of Biblical history.  The architecture is mainly western Medieval while imagery is Byzantine Greek.

Mosaics in the nave and clerestory of Monreale Cathedral

A huge Christ Pantocrator image that covers the apse is perhaps the most beautiful of all such images, appearing more calm and gentle than Christ Pantocrator (meaning “almighty” or “ruler of all”) on the dome of churches built in Greece during the Middle Ages.  The artists adopted an image used in the dome of Byzantine churches into the semicircular apse behind the altar of this western style church.  Meant to be Jesus in heaven, as described in the opening words of John’s gospel, the huge but gentle figure casts a gentle gaze and protective blessing gesture over the congregation.  He is compassionate as well as omnipotent.

Christ Pantocrator, an image in the dome of Greek churches, spans the apse
of this western Romanesque church.

Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016
Roofs, Towers and Balconies in Gaudi’s Barcelona

Roofs, Towers and Balconies in Gaudi’s Barcelona

The rich and fertile imagination of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) is seen all over the city of Barcelona.  Gaudí was a part of Modernista in Barcelona, a Romantic design movement related to Art Nouveau    His curved lines and organic shapes were probably inspirations to the Surrealist painters from Catalonia, Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí.

Two homes at the entry to Parc Güell are sometimes described as Hansel and Gretl Houses

       
                  Gaudí designed a expansive public park in Barcelona, Parc Güell, originally to be like English gardens and to include a housing development which did not sell.  His curves and points are a delight to explore, as I did in a visit several years ago.  The colorful lizard tiles adorning a huge staircase doubles as a fountain.   There are several pavilions, gates, curving walls and benches.   The Gaudí House Museum, where the architect once lived,
is also in this park. 
       Gaudí worked consistently on La Sagrada Familia from 1883 until his death, even living in a room within the building.  It has been taking more than 130 years to build and is expected to be completed by  by 2026–a hundred years after his death.  When I was there 7 years ago, much of the exterior shell was done.  In the end, it will have 18 towers and will rise 568 feet (170 meters) high. Its style combines the Gothic style with curvilinear Art Nouveau forms.
Gaudí was not only a great sculptural designer, but he was a genius of mathematical calculations.  He designed pointed arches for the Sagrada Familia, as in the Gothic style, but he figured out how to do it without the need for buttresses.   A modern computer program was able to determine that Gaudí arches are in the shape of parabolas.   
Gaudi’s apartment buildings are fascinating for their shapes.  The Casa Milà, above, is said to imitate the waves of the sea, but locals have nicknamed it “La Pedrera,”  (the quarry).  Nature is the major inspiration.   

There is no better place to explore the fertile imagination of Antonio Gaudí then by looking from the rooftops. Whimsical biomorphic shapes at Casa Milà actually hide the building’s utilities (pipes and ductwork) sculptural and cast iron designs.  The rooftop of Casa Milà becomes like a sculptured landscape to climb up, down, around and explore. Torre Agbar, the city’s newest architectural icon by Jean Nouvel, is visible in the distance from inside an arch on top of that roof.

Whimsical faces, left, are vent covers pointing into the sky from the roof Casa Milà in Barcelona, perhaps Gaudí’s most famous apartment building, left.

Gaudi’s animation continues in another apartment building, Casa Batlló, below, where the balconies form masks……..Casa Batlló has a rich surface of tiles, multicolored on the facade, but shaped like the scales of a dragon on the roof. Next door is Casa Amatller, by modernista architect Puig i Cadafalch.

            When lit at night, Casa Batlló’s roof forms the body of a dragon, while a cross-shaped tower suggests the triumph of St. George over the dragon, or a victory of the cross over death and sin.

A Beacon of Light for Ivy City

A Beacon of Light for Ivy City

There will be new light for an old building. A project is in the works for
Crummell School in Ivy City, Washington, DC.
Abandoned for about 30 years,
the 100-year old landmark will get new life soon.

A friend and former student, Christina Ditto, chose, as part of an MFA graduate project in Interior Design at the George Washington University, a proposition to redesign the 100-year-old Alexander Crummell School into a community center. This architectural gem of a building, located in Ivy City on the Northeast side of Washington, DC., closed as a school in the 60s and was eventually abandoned in 1980. It sits on 2.5 acres amongst a pothole-ridden parking lot.Crummell School was the first complete building of the city’s first municipal architect, Snowden Ashford. The decorative details of this centrally-planned building, its large windows and elements of good design are a treasure we would hope not to lose in the future. City First Enterprises, DC’s Architecture for Humanity and another foundation have committed to build a new community center within its walls. In supporting rehabilitation of the building, Jeffrey Stoiber of Stoiber and Associates in Washington, DC, has committed to work on the project. Christina’s ideas and drawings, based on the concept of connectivity, are presented here.

Designer Christina Ditto’s plan calls for a two-story Great Hall to be opened in
with a skylight in the center and extended to the east and west wings. This space
would facilitate connectivity and be used for events.


Christina talked to residents and asked them what they would like. Their answer is a community center and more green space. Her project gives residents more landscape, workable gardens, meeting space, classrooms suitable for all ages and an underground parking lot.

Living walls, also called
vertical gardens, would rise two
stories of f the east and west
sides of the skylit Great Hall. Seating
is intended to support connectivity.

Christina’s plan for the building keeps the center open as the Great Hall. This central space extends 2 stories high into the east and west wings which are covered with vertical gardens. An 8-foot circular skylight in Christina’s design sits in the center of the Great Hall and is reminiscent of a cupola that was once there. Although the existing building already features large windows, in this design the windows, skylight and vertical halls function together to keep the central area filled with natural light.

The floor plan has a radiating, open arrangement. The Great Hall would have
a tree and organic floor designs made of pennies donated
and put into place by residents of Ivy City.

The concept of this design is connectivity, connecting Ivy City residents to others, the community and the environment. Seating arrangements throughout the building support the idea of connectivity. Existing stairways remain in place, while the corners of the building on the main and second levels contain various types of classrooms, including an arts studio, fitness studio and computer lab.

The second floor would include arts and fitness studios. Both floors have a Greek cross plan
within a square, reminiscent of a Palladio design.

I am reminded of the radial design of Andrea Palladio’s Villa Capra, “La Rotonda” in Vicenza, Italy. The school itself and Christina’s design have a similar beauty in simplicity and harmonious proportions. Like many of Palladio’s designs, this plan considers vistas of light and unifying interior and exterior spaces. The school never had the grandiose quality of a Palladian house and porticos would be inappropriate to the purpose, but the floor plan is similar.

Andrea Palladio’s Villa Capra, called La Rotonda, has inspired much
architecture since the 16th century, including Jefferson’s Monticello

The ground floor, below the main level, would house two kitchens, one for the café and another as a teaching kitchen. For the most part Christina’s designs go along the building’s original plan, but she added two doors opening out to two terraces on the lower level and flow into the landscaped grounds.

As in Palladian designs, the main floor of the Crummell School is raised
A lower level, where the kitchens are located, would open up to terraces.


Consistent with residents’ wishes,
Christina’s site plan called for the parking lot’s redesign to hold two basketball courts and horseshoe pits, in addition to park and garden space. By moving the parking lot underground, more green space is created. Several garden plots would be available for community residents to grow vegetables for themselves, for the café or classes held in the building, and to learn about healthy food and cooking in the teaching kitchen, accessible from those ground-floor terraces.

There’s new hope for the future of the 2.5 acres on which Crummell School sits. Gardens
and basketball courts could replace the parking lot with broken-down buses and potholes.


In 2003, Crummell School was put on the National Register of Historic Places, thereby protecting it from being torn down. In August, 2011, the city asked developers to come up with a project for development, hoping they would see its potential as a charter school, but the 20,000- square-foot building is small by today’s standards. Crummell School was named after Alexander Crummell, an important abolitionist and African- American minister, who was the rector St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Washington from 1875 to 1894. The school itself has sentimental value to the lifelong residents Ivy City who fondly remember it. It’s a remnant of segregation in Washington DC schools, but it kept the community together and was a true neighborhood school, as long-time residents recall.



Crummell School was built in 1911, and is a remnant of

of the past period of segregation, not only by race. A lintel

above a door shows that girls and boys used separate entrances.

Snowden Ashford supervised all building in Washington between 1895 and 1921, but he was most proud of his schools, which also include Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown and Jesse Reno School. He was the architect of several fire stations and an addition to the Eastern Market, built in 1908 before Crummell School.

We don’t seem to have community schools any longer, but with a new community center Ivy City can have its neighborhood feeling once again. Crummell School is on 1900 Gallaudet Road, NE, just off New York Avenue, and near Gallaudet University.Christina is proud of her role in providing the stimulus for giving the neighborhood a community center, and new life to a significant building by Washington’s first municipal architect. Stephanie Travis, Director of the Interior Design program at the George Washington University, brought in the involvement of charitable foundations.

http://intd.gwu.edu/

http://christinaditto.com/interior_design/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Residents-Friends-of-Ivy-City-DC-Campaign-to-Save-Crummell-School/160040300722549

Archeology in Sicily: Giant Temples………..Fallen

Archeology in Sicily: Giant Temples………..Fallen

In Selinunte, Sicily, the remains of several Greek temples from the 6th- 5th century BC reveal much about temple construction, although they fell to Carthaginian invasions and earthquakes not long
after their building. Temple E has most of its outer colonnade, the peristyle, restored.Classical harmony is apparent in the rhythm of fluted columns, continuing up into the triglyphs raised to the sky.

Architect Mark Schara, with his good eye for detail, took almost all of these photos.
.
But many of the capitals have fallen. On the ground level, we can appreciate their large scale.

Temple F was badly damaged. Much of the white stucco facing for the fluted limestone column on right is still visible.

Temple G, below, was the largest of the 7 temples of Selinunte, the ancient city of Silenus.


This temple had columns about 54 feet tall. Here, we see the columns were made of individual segments called drums, each of which are 12 feet high.


The overturned capitals, echinus on top of the abacus, has an 11′ diameter. Here, the abacus and echinus were carved in one piece, unlike above at Temple E.
At the time of destruction, not all of the capitals had been fluted. Thus we
know that the temple was never completed

Nearby in Agrigento, the ancient city called Akragas, had a series of ten temples in the Valley of the Temples.
The Temple of Concord is one of the best preserved Doric temples.
It had been converted into a church in the early Christian period.

In the 8th -3rd centuries BCE, Sicily was a battleground between Greeks who settled 3/4 of the island and Carthaginians who settled the western portion; then it became the target of Roman conquest.

Though only a small portion of the peristyle remains, the
Temple of Hera was in better condition than most of these temples
which fell victim to Carthaginian destruction, then earthquakes.

But an even taller temple to Olympian Zeus would have been the largest of Doric Greek temples, the height of a 10-story building; it was incomplete when the disaster struck.

Construction began in 480 BCE and was still in progress when it was decimated in 407 BCE. The Telemon or Atlas figures whose bent arms support the architravemay in fact represent Carthaginian prisoners who had been made to build the temple.
But even these giants, who appear to have held up the building, have fallen,
struck down by the Carthaginians who conquered Akragras.
Only a replica of one of the ruined giants remains on the site.

Ancient Akragas may have had 200.000 people in the 5th century BCE.Today we witness the fallen giant as a symbol of human pride grown too large,
and, consequently, fallen.

Archeology in Sicily: Giant Temples………..Fallen

In Selinunte, Sicily, the remains of several Greek temples from the 6th- 5th century
BC can reveal much about temple construction, although they fell to Carthaginian invasions
and earthquakes not long after their building.                     Architect Mark Schara,
with his good eye for detail, took almost all of these photos. 

Temple E has most of its outer colonnade, the peristyle, restored.Classical harmony is apparent in the rhythm of fluted columns, continuing up into the triglyphs raised to the sky.

.
But many of the capitals have fallen. On the ground level, we can appreciate their large scale.
 

Temple F was badly damaged. Much of the white stucco facing for the fluted limestone column on right is still visible.

Temple G, below, was the largest of the 7 temples of Selinunte, the ancient city of Silenus.

 
This temple had columns about 54 feet tall. Here, we see the columns were made of individual segments called drums, each of which are 12 feet high.


The overturned capitals, echinus on top of the abacus, has an 11′ diameter. Here, the abacus and echinus were carved in one piece, unlike above at Temple E.
At the time of destruction, not all of the capitals had been fluted. Thus we
know that the temple was never completed

Nearby in Agrigento, the ancient city called Akragas, had a series of ten temples in the Valley of the Temples.
The Temple of Concord is one of the best preserved Doric temples.
It had been converted into a church in the early Christian period.

In the 8th -3rd centuries BCE, Sicily was a battleground between Greeks who settled 3/4 of the island and Carthaginians who settled the western portion; then it became the target of Roman conquest.

Though only a small portion of the peristyle remains, the
Temple of Hera was in better condition than most of these temples
which fell victim to Carthaginian destruction, then earthquakes.

But an even taller temple to Olympian Zeus would have been the largest of Doric Greek temples, the height of a 10-story building; it was incomplete when the disaster struck.

Construction began in 480 BCE and was still in progress when it was decimated in 407 BCE. The Telemon or Atlas figures whose bent arms support the architravemay in fact represent Carthaginian prisoners who had been made to build the temple.
But even these giants, who appear to have held up the building, have fallen,
struck down by the Carthaginians who conquered Akragras.
Only a replica of one of the ruined giants remains on the site.

Ancient Akragas may have had 200.000 people in the 5th century BCE.Today we witness the fallen giant as a symbol of human pride grown too large,
and, consequently, fallen.
Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016

Archeology in Sicily: Earliest Dome?

(Thanks to Mark Schara for the use of his photographs)
The North Baths of Morgantina, in east central Sicily, date to the 3rd century BCE and may in fact represent the earliest dome that has been excavated in the ancient Mediterranean world. Like everything in the buried settlement of Morgantina, it was built before the Roman conquest in 211 BCE. This new evidence suggests that Hellenistic Greeks, not Romans, invented the first dome. However, unlike the concrete used by Romans to make domes, the construction material would have been terra cotta tubes found on the site; the sizes and formation of these tubes suggest they were used to make a domed space.
Public baths were a staple of the ancient towns and cities. Morgantina was a small settlement and the dimension of its baths are modest. Yet the roofing of the North Baths structure appears very significant. Two oblong rooms and one circular room were found to have curved ceilings made of these interlocking tubes, held together inside and out by plaster. They would have formed perfect arches when fit together, and each arch when placed in parallel alignment with other arches forms either a barrel vault or dome. There were two barrel vaulted rooms and one with a dome.
This method was also used in
the Roman baths of North Africa in the 3rd century CE, while builders in Rome were using concrete. The Morgantina baths are at least 4 centuries earlier than the others of this technique and predate Roman concrete vaults and domes by about a century.



Interlocking cotta tubes made in the Hellenistic settlement of Morgantina were
fit into each other to form arches. Arches placed adjacent to each other could form a dome, above, or barrel vaults, with masonry reinforcement as shown on the right.


Although some excavation began in the early 1900s, archeologists identifed Morgantina as the archeological site in 1958 using coins. The place had been described by Strabo and some early Roman writers, but it was abandoned by the end of the first century CE. Originally a Sikel settlement, it was occupied by Greeks in the 5th century BCE, conquered by Rome in 211 BCE and consequently taken over by Spanish mercenaries of Rome. In addition to baths, Morgantina has an agora, a theatre, graneries, an ekklesiesterion, several sanctuaries, homes with mosaics and two kilns which have been excavated.
An overview of Morgantina reveals the Greek theatre and other excavation structures.
Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016