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Medieval aesthetics and the heroic age of Gothic invention (Charlton Memorial Lecture)

Paul Binski, Professor of the History of Medieval Art, Cambridge University

Date/Time: 7th February 2012

The Norman Conquest introduced Britain to an heroic scale of architecture, inaugurated in the Constantinian era. With an imperial outlook, the Normans encouraged architectural proportions evocative of the great Roman and Christian buildings. In France, exceedingly tall, narrow interiors were raised, burgeoning the period 1160–1250 in High Gothic and producing elephantine buildings with vaults stretching beyond the height of the Pantheon, attaining the symbolic measure of the heavenly Jerusalem. The supposition to be tested is that this was conscious and articulate; it affected the development of art language and attitudes to invention; it placed magnificentia at the heart of ambition; and that it was a technological movement rather than a stylistic one. This lecture suggested that theories which see in Gothic the beginnings of a form of Modernism misunderstand the nature of medieval invention and attitudes to history and authority.