IMC 2004: Sessions

Session 602: Partitioning the Secular and the Religious: New Aspects on the Function of Church Facades in Northern and Central Italy

Tuesday 13 July 2004, 11.15-12.45

Organiser:Frithjof Schwartz, Kunstgeschichtliches Institut, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Mainz
Moderator/Chair:Julian Gardner, Department of the History of Art, University of Warwick
Paper 602-aCommunal Representation and Church Facades in Medieval Italy
(Language: English)
Ruth Wolff, Deutsches Kunsthistorisches Institut, Firenze
Index terms: Architecture - General, Architecture - Religious, Art History - General, Social History
Paper 602-bUnfinished or Modern Fronts: A Problem of Form or Function?
(Language: English)
Martin Gaier, Kunsthistorisches Seminar, Universität Basel
Index terms: Architecture - General, Architecture - Religious, Art History - General, Social History
Paper 602-cInside, Outside: The Facade as a Membrane between Different Cultural Spaces
(Language: English)
Frithjof Schwartz, Kunstgeschichtliches Institut, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Mainz
Index terms: Architecture - General, Architecture - Religious, Art History - General, Social History

The participants of the session have been working for years on the problem of the relationship between private donators and clerical communities, regarding primarily the financing of the fabric of a church in exchange for the possibility of private representation in a monumental tomb or a chapel.
During the 13th century in Italy a remarkable development in this relationship can be observed. It finds visual expression in new ecclesiastical archictectural designs. In most instances the facade becomes an independent part of the building to which a number of new functions is assigned. This development is inextricably linked to a vivid exchange between the needs of the secular society and of the religious community. Facades epitomize a clash of cultures which was evident in the city states in Italy of that time.
The common argument of the three papers we wish to present ist that the architectural development of the 13th century facade paralelled social change in Northern and Central Italy’s city states. The dwindling power of certain social groups, such as the “magnates” for example, gave rise to a growing need of representation in a public space. The church facade was the perfect stage for sepulchral celebration and the demonstration of family power. The new clerical groups of the 13th century, the mendicant orders, were, from the point of view of their organisation, able to adapt to this change in society and to use it to procure rich clients. They developed new architectural concepts to satisfy the demands of their donators. Nevertheless, at the onset the rigidity of the new religious orders prevented wordly benefactors from occupying the church interior; tomb monuments were only allowed outside the church. The elaborate church facades of that time were thus common ground for donators and clerics alike, with the former seeking representation and the latter new benefactors to finance their monasteries. From the mid-13th century onwards the local communal government and administrative bodies of the city states were actively participating in the financing of church fabrics, also providing new, elaborate street systems which led to these facades and displayd them to full effect. Mendicants preaching from a pulpits erected in front of the facades was the first in a row of public events which were celebrated here.
The church facade in Italy has to be reconsidered, taking into account the various political and social aspects and aspirations of both the ruling secular classes and the clerical communities.