“The Romanesque on Lake Como“
In a territory that is rediscovering its own identity, in terms of culture and forms of civilization, the institutions have carried out, in coordination with various bodies, an action to recover and safeguard numerous assets of historical, artistic and cultural value, bringing at term various restorations.
The Romanesque style developed between the X and the XIII century and was defined with this term because the construction techniques are based, in a simplified way, on the classical Roman tradition and to establish the analogy with the birth of the Romance languages, which date back to the same era. At that time Europe experienced a period of great modernization: the refinement of agricultural techniques (the plow with metal parts, called “carruca”, the three-year rotation, the use of water and wind mills, etc.) allowed to increase food production, relieving the population of endemic food shortages and allowing a population increase; trade resumed and villages and cities developed as markets; the urban areas grew and gradually the affirmation of a new social class was possible, the “bourgeois” one dedicated to manufacturing and commercial activities, intermediate between the mass of peasants and aristocrats or ecclesiastics.
There was also a resumption of construction activity, the demand for culture and artistic investments, especially in more advanced areas such as the Po Valley, the Kingdom of Sicily, Tuscany and the Netherlands. The decline of imperial authority was gradually eclipsed by feudalism and the development of city autonomies, the free communes. In these areas it is no longer the Emperor or the bishop to commission new building works, but the local lords, through conspicuous donations that had a function of prestige but also “expiatory” of the sense of guilt that was redeemed through “homage” in money or in works of art towards religious institutions as a testimony of one’s religious devotion and repentance.
The figurative arts had a new impulse, which materialized with the construction of new churches, with carved or painted decorative apparatuses.
The Romanesque has a unitary character, with a general tendency to clarity, organicity and relief and with reference to the construction techniques of Roman antiquity. Cruciform pillars, crypts, women’s galleries are often used … but, at the same time, it offers a great variety of execution, according to the different local realities. The Romanesque building system does not repeat itself, in fact, in forms that are always the same, but progresses towards more complex and different forms depending on the local context in which it is inserted.
The shape and structure of the churches are very different from those built up to this time, rediscovering techniques used by the Romans and then forgotten, such as those for building stone vaults. All the technical solutions arise from direct experience in the construction site, in trying and trying out different systems to solve the problems that presented themselves.
Thus was born a different architecture depending on the availability of the material, the capacity of the workers, the context and local needs.
Romanesque ecclesiastical architecture is characterized by the supporting function of the walls (alternating full and empty spaces), due to the presence of stone decorations (pilasters, semi-columns, arches …) and to the greater importance of architecture on other artistic forms, such as sculpture and painting. A symbol of Romanesque architecture is the Cathedral, which stands in the city center, surrounded by houses.
The cathedral represents the center of community life and religion, where the most important religious and civil ceremonies take place. The plan of the Romanesque churches is normally a Latin cross, with three naves, but there are also churches with a single nave, simple longitudinal, and a circular plan. For the construction simple materials were used, mostly local stone, bricks or recycled materials: columns, capitals or decorated stone ashlars.
Externally there are stone decorations, starting with the portal, generally splayed and decorated with sculptures depicting religious scenes, symbolic animals or decorative bands of geometric or floral type. Inside are architectural elements with a decorative function, such as capitals with bas-reliefs made up of fantastic animals or plant motifs, on which the arches rest. Sometimes the interior can be plastered and then painted in fresco and often the image of Christ is placed in the basin of the central apse, the Virgin in the lateral ones, while in the western part the Last Judgment is represented. The fresco in Romanesque churches replaces the mosaic of early Christian churches, because it is cheaper and easier to make.
A regional variation of European Romanesque is characterized by the use of stone as a building material (sometimes river pebbles, more often local stone extracted from the numerous quarries in the area), which strongly differentiates it from the plain areas (where brick is prevalent) ; this led to a simplification of the roof structures (in most cases the Larian buildings are covered by simple wooden roofs and does not give vaults) and also of the sculptural decorations (the local stone is rather difficult to carve).