The eleventh and twelfth centuries were arguably the critical centuries of the middle ages. They witnessed the birth of the papal curia, the invention of canon law, the rise of the civic commune, the emergence of a civil service, and the creation of a myriad of new and alternative religious orders. Architectural sculpture came of age, and with it new and dramatic forms of iconographical expression. Population growth, increased contact with the eastern Mediterranean, the lessening of petty local warfare, a huge increase in monastic foundations, all fostered an extraordinary building boom. The result is that not only does a lot of ecclesiastical building survive from the period, but there is often enough evidence to piece together the circumstances that brought particular churches into being.
This series of six lectures is intended to take advantage of the phenomenon to examine six major churches, and to do so from the perspective of their origin, history and aesthetic character. The emphasis will be on the architecture, but the potential of buildings as repositories of imagery will not be neglected, nor the spectacular growth of architectural sculpture as a medium for both decorative and didactic programmes. In art-historical terms the lectures run from Gauzlin’s famous ‘tower that should serve as an example to all Gaul’ at St-Benoît-sur-Loire, begun around 1020, to the spectacular Arabic-inspired muqarnas ceiling of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo of c. 1150-60.