I always loved the Romanesque architecture and that kind of austere simplicity that can communicate. Nevertheless, I realize how much my feelings are influenced by the prejudices of a man of this century towards an era of which we know so few. We are used to envisage “Middle-Age” as a “Dark Period”, where men lived as barbarians, culture and knowledge were lost and happiness and beauty just a far memory. But Middle-Age was many things and it was such a long period.
We watch today Romanesque chatedrals or castles, so naked, so empty, without realising that once they were full of colors!! Outside and inside we could have admired such amazing frescos and statues also colored. May be also tapestry was an explosion of colors. Visually now the perspective is different, isn’t it? Middle-Age perhaps was not so dark as expected.
I could see this with my eyes visiting two beautiful churches in Auvergne, two excellent example of the Romanesque architecture in France, l’Église de Saint-Nectaire in the homonymous village (and homonymous famous cheese) and l’Église Saint-Austremoine d’Issoire. In St. Nectaire there are still preserved the colored capitals of corinthian style on the several columns of the Apse. Astonishingly beautiful!
From the visual impact point of view the interior of St. Austremoine in Issoire is even more stunning. Colors are everywhere and even though it’s clear that the painting comes from a relatively recent restoration, it gives an immediate sensation of what could have been in the past. It’s interestinng to observe the Pantocratic Christ under the Dome. Like in many other represenations He helds a Globe! Another prejudice we have, based on an false historical misconception: People in the middle-age, perfectly knew that Earth was not Flat, but it’s a globe! And it was not a knowledge reserved to scholars, but was continously under the eyes of everybody.
Comparing the two churches, a prickly question, that probably is discussed often among experts, is if it’s better to preserve the actual condition of arts or try to massively intervene to preserve what “we think” was the original. St. Austremoine was re-painted in 1850 circa, and it’s beautiful. Great visual impact, and probably was the same visual impact of the original… however there is a clamorous mistake! In the columns of the Apse are painted two plants that encircle the central body, symbols of prosperity. A Grapevine and a Mais plant… Mais??? Mais was brought in Europe only after the discovery of America, much later!
It’s difficult to give an opinion on this. The artist that re-painted the church in 1850, probably studied the romanesque style, the symbolic meaning of the painting is still there and also the original colors; however there is a poor historical mistake… Now, on the light of the century that passed since the restoration, also this mistake represent an historical value, but an interesting doubt regarding how to preserve arts remain.
Should we preserve the object as it is, or should we preserve the original symbol that this object represented?