Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
13.03.16, Gallet, ed., Ex Quadris Lapidibus

13.03.16, Gallet, ed., Ex Quadris Lapidibus

This volume, a tribute to the extraordinarily rich life and scholarship of Eliane Vergnolle, contains a total of forty-two essays loosely organized under nine categories or chapters. Some essays present the reader with a real break though in the understanding of major monuments and critical art historical problems, while others (still well worth reading) provide a reflection upon a stony conundrum of some kind. The themes of the collection reflect Vergnolle's own interests, focusing upon the procurement of stone; its deployment in the edifice and the human role in construction and in interpretation; the meaning of cut stone and of the great church; the significance of multiple types of stone (polylithisme) in the same edifice. Some authors treat specific buildings in a monographic fashion; others architectural forms: capitals, vaults, columns, piers, sculpture. We are shown the processes of building and of unscrambling the signs (archéologie du bâti); workshops, construction and control; masonic professionalism; failure in design and choice of material; the play of polychromy and of light; the significance of spolia and the role of story-telling.

Having outlined the broad themes, I believe that my most useful role as reviewer is to provide the reader with the briefest sketch of each essay in the nine chapters.


Christian Heck introduces us to the religious significance of dressed stone. The rock erected at Bethel, the place of Jacob's ladder, was uncut. The use of cut stone, on the other hand, may be associated with Christian notion that the holiness of a church does not necessarily result from the site, but from the power of the Church which places relics of the Saints in the altar.

Alexandra Gajewski rehearses the dialectic between condemnation of expense and ostentation of stone structures (Bernard; Peter the Chanter) and praise for those who erected stone churches (Raoul Glaber and account of Abbot Gauzlin's porch at S-Benoit)


Christian Gensbeitel explores the range of variations in the mixture of ashlar and rubble in churches in Charente, asking whether the variety of effects achieved resulted from the limited availability of materials or from aesthetic choice, perhaps to create a hierarchy of form and space.

Anna Segagni Malacart explores use of semi-shaped rubble masonry combined with slender monolithic columns in the quinqunx-type Capella del Castello (10th-11thc.) where the interior is characterized by the convex forms of groin vaults, squinches and deep niches hollowed into the wall thickness.

Claude Andrault-Schmitt shows us the continuing use of multiple varieties of granite in twelfth-century Limousin. We meet some of the masons involved in the practice and are shown a case study in the church of Etricor (Charente).

Alain Villes presents a wide-ranging study of the transition from wooden-roofed churches to vaulting in northern Champagne, a land of chalk where limestone had to be brought in. We begin with the interaction of two great monuments in Châlons-en-Champagne--Notre-Dame en Vaux and the cathedral. Then comes a survey of late Romanesque and Gothic in the area, dealing with features like pointed arches (transition in 1120s-1130s), towers, porches, early rib vaults and the disposition of such vaults over main vessels. The author calls for more intense studies of individual buildings and the establishment of systematic databases.

Caroline Bruzelius reflects upon the alleged romantic yearning of scholars like Otto von Simson and Erwin Panofsky to find order in their buildings. Such desires, she affirms, tend to obscure the real muddles that tended to characterize medieval construction. A series of case studies focuses particularly upon Italian mendicant churches.

Peter Kurmann shows us a succession of buildings where the use of "antique" columns (Notre-Dame of Paris, for example) gives way to a compound pier with multiple colonnettes unifying the interior elevation and creating clearly defined vertical bay units (Clermont- Ferrand and Strasbourg). The pilier canton of Chartres Cathedral provides a transition.

Nelly Pousthomis-Dalle argues for the potential to reach a much deeper understanding of architectural production through the intense study of building accounts. The construction of the château of Bassoues (Gers, 1370-1371) left a sequence of such documents that allow us to fix chronology, to determine what kind of building material is used (in this case no less than ten types of stone) and the role of the masons. The author tabulates the data in a very useful chart.

Sandrine Roser employs quarry documents as well as legal documents to illustrate the reconstruction of the abbey church of Baume-les- Messieurs (Jura) under Abbot Amé de Chalon (d. 1432). She provides a very useful map of the area showing the disposition of the varieties of stone and the location of the principal quarries. Two types of stone are deployed, grey and white--the latter used for statues. The stone was transported through forced labor (corvées), leading to decades of protest and revolt.

Philippe Plagnieux, in one of richest essays, takes us to the Parisian chapel of S-Yves demolished 1855 for the construction of the Boulevard S-Germain. Looking at the graphic evidence and accounts of the confraternity the author focuses upon construction of the west façade and portal in the first decade of the fifteenth century and the contract, made with Jehan James and Simon le Noir during a meal at the Auberge de Saumon, for the tracery of the great west window. He tells an exciting story of subsequent disagreements and new plans presented by Pierre Robin. The project involved the appearance of the new forms of flamboyant window tracery--Robin was the designer of the most famous church of French Late Gothic church S-Maclou of Rouen (begun 1431).

Etienne Hamon also invokes written sources coupled with style analysis to document the career of one of the greatest master masons of Parisian Late Gothic, Jean Poireau, macon et tailleur de pierre, with work at S-Martin-des-Champs (the lost façade), the church of the Quinze-Vingts (portal), S-Jacques de la Boucherie (vaults). Hamon makes a convincing case that Poireau was the master of the nave of S-Germain l'Auxerrois.


Andreas Hartmann-Virnich, in our age of CAD drafting, laser scanning and data overload pleads for the continuing use of manual methods-- careful stone-by-stone measurement and documentation coupled with the application of archaeological methods to standing masonry. He provides a convincing demonstration of the efficacy of such methods in the abbey church of Lagrasse (Aude) and the gates of the citadel of Damascus (Syria).

Yves Gallet undertakes a survey of the multiple types of stone ("un festin de pierres") employed in the thirteenth-century abbey church of Beauport (Côtes-d'Armor) dealing with the quality of each stone type and its provenance. Can this variety be explained in terms of structural rationalism--some stones being valued for their lightness and others for their ability to resist compression? Was there a hierarchy of value? Does the different quality of the stone provide spatial markers allowing the user to understand the hierarchy of spaces? The author finally favors the notion of spatial marking.

Thomas Coomans follows up with the notion of building stone as a "produit du terroir," almost like a characteristic wine or cheese, providing a sign of the identity of a particular region. He is interested in the remarkable range of building material in Belgium ranging from marble de Flandre to pierre blanche de belge, to brick. His work bears testimony to the gains to be made from collaboration between architectural historians and geologists. We are given a welcome reminder that the nature of the stone was not necessarily discernible in the Middle Ages since interior surfaces would generally be painted (an issue otherwise somewhat neglected in this volume).


Pierre Sesmat provides an account of an eighteenth-century description of the lost Premonstratensian church of Mureau (Vosges). The description is precise enough to allow reconstruction of the bay system, yet it includes terminology not at all in accord with modern usage.

Fang-Cheng Wu offers an excellent piece of detective work to allow us to understand the original twelfth-century façade of Langres Cathedral (replaced in the eighteenth), suggesting the presence of twin towers and a narthex with an upstairs space.

Arnaud Timbert considers the chevet of S-Sulpice of Chars, here dated c.1190 as a piece of deliberate archaism, challenging the idea of Gothic as a straight-line linear progression.


Victor Lasalle introduces us to the fourteenth-century church of S- Maurice of Caromb (Vaucluse), with its curious sculptured images of the four evangelists in the squinches under the crossing dome, suggesting deliberate archaism.

Laurence Cabrero-Ravel shows us some very curious aniconic capitals in the western frontispieces of several churches in the Auvergne.


Jacques le Maho provides one of the "breakthrough" pieces, demonstrating convincingly that a "Romanesque" capital from the church of S-Samson-de-la-Roque, Eure, in the museum at Evreux was probably from the Carolingian church on the site, possibly going back to the seventh century.

Jacques Lacoste explores the links between the fragmentary sculpture of the portal of the little-known church of Marcillac (Gironde) and S- Eutrope at Saintes, famous for its sculpture with scenes of struggle between animals and man.

Deborah Kahn, following a lead from Eliane Vernolle, looks at the intriguing theme of the engoulant--the head of a beast swallowing a shaft or column--sometimes suggesting the act of devouring the very edifice in which it is located. The image is related to the Mouth of Hell, first known to have been depicted in the Utrecht Psalter, and ubiquitous in subsequent centuries.

Piotr Skubiszewski locates a recently-discovered fragmentary tympanum with two griffons flanking, and turning away from, a central cross within the context (archaeological and historical) of the twelfth- century castle chapel at Wislica, then a great ecclesiastical center in southern Poland. He stresses the apotropaic power of the cross.

Marie-Thérèse Camus provides a commentary on recent archaeological finds from the twelfth-century cloister of Daoulas.

Claudine Lautier suggests that the image of King David, placed in the kings gallery surmounting the west side of the south transept of Chartres, of much higher quality than the other kings, was originally carved as a statue column, probably intended for one of the northern buttresses.

Yves Christe finds local meaning in the stripped down program of the Last Judgment in the west façade of Strasbourg Cathedral.

Pierre Garrigou Grandchamp shows us a corpus of façades of urban houses from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, illustrating the ways that these facades might provide signs of social relationships and urban identity.


Jean Cabanot relates the tympanum of the north portal of the abbey church of S-Sever to the image in the famous eleventh-century Beatus manuscript of S-Sever, suggesting that the brightly-painted pages of the manuscript provided inspiration for monumental mural painting.

Marie Pasquine-Subes extends this notion to include the Moissac tympanum and sculptural production in Toulouse.

Jean-Philippe Meyer also finds close links between manuscript painting and monumental sculpture, linking the scriptorium of Marbach with sculptured decoration of Eschau and Andlau.

Brigitte Kurmann-Schwarz provides a commentary on Louis Grodecki's famous dictum concerning the relationship between light and architecture in Gothic: namely, that as the windows became larger the saturation of the glass became deeper. She provides some excellent illustrations (Bourges, the Ste-Chapelle, Tours, Beauvais) of the way that figurative programs in the windows enhance the meaning of sacred space. She notes that the darkness of Chartres cathedral results partly from an overlay of smoky varnish, and anticipates the extraordinary effects expected from the current program of cleaning and restoration.


James Morganstern, engaging in an analysis of tool marks on the stones of the abbey church of Jumièges, suggests that certain reused stones found in the south nave aisle were originally carved in the Carolingian period, probably for the old basilica of Notre-Dame. Their presence in the eleventh-century church attested to ancient origins and continuity of the site.

Henri Pradalier documents the possible origin of a re-used twelfth- century tympanum mounted over the main portal of the fourteenth- century church of S-Georges of Camboulas (Aveyron), showing its dependence upon the famous tympanum of Conques and suggesting that it belonged to the Romanesque church that preceded the present one.

Patrick Ponsot, the architect in charge of restoration work at Bourges Cathedral, explores the re-use of elements of older portals in the lateral porches of that cathedral, showing that the portals must have been put in place at the same time the aisles (by around 1208) were constructed and the porches were added soon afterwards. He relates the original manufacture of the portals to the patronage of Archbishop Pierre de la Châtre (1144-71). The reinstallation of the portals under Archbishop William matched the similar decision at Notre-Dame of Paris to re-use the older elements embedded in the Portail Ste- Anne.

Stephan Gasser et al. locate a number of devotional statues including images of Anne, Peter and Barbara in the context of a burgeoning pilgrimage cult at Bissemberg, the sacred hill just outside Freiburg.


Catherine Chédeau, with a close reading of a set of statutes from Dijon, provides a fascinating glimpse of the masonic community of that city. Masons took care to distinguish themselves from other artisans through reference to their dependence upon the Seven Liberal Arts.

Frédérique Baehr relates the sad story of the very short life of a public monument in Dijon. In 1774 the minister of war authorized demolition of triumphal arch on the pont Battant which had been built for Louis XIV after victory over Habsburgs and annexation of county of Burgundy. The monument, designed by the local painter Mouchet and completed in 1698, began to fail several decades later, victim of badly constructed foundations, poor quality stone and design faults, mainly the inadequate size of the columns applied to the surfaces of the three-arched monument.

Christiane Roussel, with an intense study of the written sources-- accounts, receipts and shipping bills--documents the extraordinary range of different types of stone employed in the Pieta chapel (1785–1791) in the church of S-Pierre of Besançon. Luc Breton (1731– 1800), the best sculptor in town, employed dark red marble flecked with brown and veined with white for the altar--the material was procured from Vevey in Switzerland. Marble for the architectural elements was imported rom Italy while the figurative sculpture was made of fine-grained white limestone from Tonnerre, Burgundy.

Daniel Rabreau, in studying Claude-Nicolas Ledoux's Saline royale of Arc-et-Senans eloquently deals with the power of stone to make the building speak to the user.

Françoise Hamon, using an 1867 article in Le monde illustré on M. Jutteau's "restoration" of ancient edifices, illustrates the use of a ceramic skin applied to the decaying surfaces of an old château--a method that countered Viollet-le-Duc's insistence on the use of true materials, yet which actually left more of the old masonry intact.

Jean-Michel Leniaud finds in the 1945 story of Le maître d'oeuvre by the now little-known author Guy de Cars, an allegory for the project to reconstruct France after World War II. The master mason, Claude Serval, a Christ-like figure with a team of followers like apostles, sets out to build a great cathedral that would be formed in the old tradition yet modern. The outcome is disastrous.

These essays, bearing witness to the continuing activity of a group of industrious and creative researchers, form a fitting tribute to a great scholar. My warm congratulations go to Yves Gallet who assembled this remarkable collection of essays.