Airfare Daily Deals eCigarettes Eyeglasses Hotels Jewelry Online Backup Online Dating Online Printing Online Tickets Skin Care Textbook Rentals Vitamins Web Hosting Weddings
Find coupons, reviews and similar sites for any retailer
SEARCH

Did Cathedral Builders Sign Their Masterpieces ?

From the 13th century, the organisation of cathedral builders became rather more precise, and names have come down to us of masters able to calculate the elevations and draw up blueprints. There is even a unique document, 33 sheets of parchment sewn into a thick skin, which belonged to Villard de Honnecourt, the architect of Cambrésis. In it, he put all the notes and sketches that he made on his travels in France and Hungary.

Medieval cathedrals are indeed magnificient. Who built them and did the artists sign their work?  Though it was usually the bishop (or sometimes the commons of the town) who took the initiative in beginning to build, it was the canons of the chapter who would take on responsibility for the works: they hired the workers and supervised the building. No one knows who drew up the plans, and perhaps they simply emerged without any originator. Sometimes they were the result of accidents, and often they show signs of a study of the architecture which had survived locally.

Nevertheless, from the 13th century, the organisation became rather more precise, and names have come down to us of masters able to calculate the elevations and draw up blueprints. There is even a unique document, 33 sheets of parchment sewn into a thick skin, which belonged to Villard de Honnecourt, the architect of Cambrésis.  In it, he put all the notes and sketches that he made on his travels in France and Hungary - contemporary methods of construction, lifting devices, wood-working tools, records of the hours kept by the workers. It is to Honnecourt that we owe the outstanding collegiate church of Saint-Quentin, in the north of France. 

The fame of such builders often reached beyond the borders of their own province; they were enticed from one building site to the next, commanding good salaries often supplemented by a present - gloves or furs, perhaps - from the king. Often their name, or their face is found alongside that of the bishop, on the flagstone place centrally at the crossing of the nave, or even at the heart of the symbolic labyrinth that represented the journey to Jerusalem. Only two examples of such labyrinth still survive, one at Chartres and the other at Guingamp, but even their central stones have gone. Amiens has a labyrinth too, placed by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. The name of one of the architects of Notre-Dame de Paris is inscribed on the portal of the south transept. And at Laon and Bayonne cathedrals, Emile Boeswillwald who restored both edifices in the 19th century, had his face sculpted on both edifices. On occasions, the builders were given the notable privilege of being buried inside their cathedral, like at Clermont-Ferrand. 

In the same way, the sculptors came to sign their work. Gislebertus signed the tympanum of Autun cathedral, Umbertus a capital of the porch at Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire. The masons, and the glaziers, also left their marks - not so much a signature as a distinctive sign, such as a cross, a pickaxe or a letter, engraved on one side of a dressed block of stone. This mark helped the supervisor of the works to check on the quality of the work, and it was often passed down from father to son. With these marks we can follow a mason from one site  to the next. Such marks should not be confused with the countless little marks also carved in the stones which helped in placing them; without these, the sculptors of Notre-Dame de Paris might have placed the months in the wrong order and they would have had to be taken down! 

The labyrinth at Saint-Quentin Collegiate Church.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f5/St_quentin_Basilica_003.JPG?uselang=fr

Page of the sketchbook (1230) of Villard de Honnecourt.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Villard_de_Honnecourt_-_Sketchbook_-_31.jpg?uselang=fr

Sketch by Villard de Honnecourt (around 1230).

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Villard_de_Honnecourt_-_Sketchbook_-_61.jpg?uselang=fr

Face of Emile Boeswillwald at Laon Cathedral. he restored the edifice in the 19th century.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d1/Laon_cathedral_notre_dame_012.JPG?uselang=fr

Need an answer?
Get insightful answers from community-recommended
experts
in Art & Art History on Knoji.
Would you recommend this author as an expert in Art & Art History?
You have 0 recommendations remaining to grant today.
Comments (1)

very educational dear Francois, great work and well done.

ARTICLE DETAILS
RELATED ARTICLES
ARTICLE KEYWORDS