On Wednesday 30th March we travelled to Devon to collect more survey data from two sites; Exeter Cathedral and Ottery St Mary Church. We spent two days at Exeter and will spend a final day at Ottery.
Surprisingly, we were joined by a team at Exeter Cathedral who were also there to create a model of it. Whereas we were using digital scanning techniques to produce a highly accurate model of the vaults at Exeter, they were using Lego to create a scale model within the cathedral. You can follow their progress here. We were able to scan the uninterrupted length of high vaults along the nave and choir, the central porch of the screen facade, the crossing, the miniature vaults in the pulpitum and those of the sedilia. These miniature vaults are particularly interesting to us, being documented designs by Thomas of Witney, a mason who also worked at Wells Cathedral, a site we’ve already scanned. At both Exeter and Wells, Witney experimented with the use of liernes, additional decorative ribs, of which Exeter’s are some of the earliest surviving examples. With help from the cathedral archaeologist, John Allan, we were able to identify additional sites to survey, such as the site of the former North walk of the cloister, which was situated between the external buttressing to the south of the nave.
The trip to Exeter was funded by the University of Liverpool’s Interdisciplinary Network Fund.
Through the Lambarde Fund, we have received a grant from the Society of Antiquaries to scan the lierne vaults at Ely Cathedral, which we intend to carry out towards the end of the summer. The main vaults we will scan and analyse are:
- Retrochoir (tierceron vaults built under Hugh of Northwold 1234 and 1252, thus, like the Chapter House at Chester, immediately after and influenced by the nave at Lincoln).
- Octagon (tierceron vaults constructed in timber after the collapse of the Norman crossing in 1322 and showing a similar interest in centralised space as the Wells Lady Chapel).
- First three bays of presbytery (dated c. 1330 and described by Pevsner as the earliest lierne vault in East Anglia) which also includes an aisle vault in first 3 bays of the north aisle.
- Lady Chapel – lierne vault of a stellate pattern, built after the Octagon and choir so c.1335-50.
- Prior Crauden’s Chapel – a vault reconstructed by Willis from the evidence of the springing blocks.
We hope to investigate the decisions taken by Willis when reconstructing the vaults of St Catherine’s Chapel and Prior Crauden’s Chapel in the 1840s.
In addition to forming a case study in its own right, we also hope the data collected will also allow us to explore differences in vaulting methods between the West Country and South Eastern Decorated styles.
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
On Saturday 20 March, Alex went to London to attend a study day at the Courtauld Institute, organised by the British Archaeological Association and the Ancient Monuments Society to commemorate Richard K. Morris (1943- 2015), whose work on Decorated architecture in England is very relevant to our project. Richard specialised in the detailed archaeological analysis which is an essential counterpart to our own research and specialised in the study of West Country buildings. His methodology involved the use of mouldings to reconstruct both building chronologies and the careers of individual masons and offered readings of such buildings as Wells Cathedral, Exeter Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey at Bristol, Tewkesbury Abbey and Sherborne Abbey, all of which have significant vaults.
The study day offered a varied programme including both new and established scholars. Of particular interest for our project were papers by James Cameron and Peter Draper which discussed medieval architectural drawings: both those which survive (a huge archive of drawings cut on the rocks around an 11th-century temple in Bhojpur, India) and those whose one-time existence might be suggested by the evidence of buildings whose detailed similarities are hard to explain.
Another relevant paper by James Hillson discussed the lierne vault of St Stephen’s Chapel Westminster, which he identifies as a design of the 1340s, rather than the 1290s as most previous interpretations have suggested. The problem is compounded by the loss of the original vaults after the fire at the Palace of Westminster in 1834, although detailed drawings were made and measurements taken by architect Charles Barry and communicated to Robert Willis for his research. If Hillson is right, this redating would mean that the Westminster designs can no longer be identified as the earliest true lierne vault and its relationship with other lierne vaults, such as those at Exeter, Bristol and Wells could be reversed, for the lierne vaults at Wells date from around 1330 and those at Exeter are earlier. The dating of the Bristol vaults remains a matter of controversy, into which Hillson opted not to wade.
Finally, vaults made a virtuoso appearance in a paper by Andrew Budge, who spoke on the chancel at St Mary’s Warwick, which has a tierceron vault with additional ‘skeleton’ ribs. Although Budge drew attention to a number of English examples of such vaulting, at St Augustine’s Bristol, the pulpita (screens) of St David’s Cathedral and Southwell Minster, the Easter Sepulchre of Lincoln Cathedral, stairway vaults at Thornton Abbey and Wells Cathedral and around the apse of Peterborough Cathedral, he also pointed out their existence in the so-called ‘tonsura’ at Magdeburg Cathedral. It was suggested that Thomas Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick (1313-1369), who was buried in the chancel, might have visited Magdeburg en route to or from crusading activities and that the inclusion of skeleton vaults above his tomb might therefore represent an aspect of a ‘biography’ in stone. This of course offers some of the same problems about knowledge transfer as had already been addressed by James Cameron in relation to near-duplicate designs for sedilia. Whatever their meaning, these vaults amply demonstrate the exuberant inventiveness of architects of the Decorated period, whose methods we are seeking to explore.
Overall the day offered a wonderful opportunity to pay tribute to the work and influence of a kind and generous scholar with exemplary commitment both to his subject and to future scholarship.
On the vaults page we have started a map which locates significant Medieval vaults in the British Isles. So far we have included sites already visited and scanned as well as sites we intend to visit. We have also located some initial vaults of interest which may be documented as the project progresses. Please contact us with suggestions of sites to add!
Modelling Medieval Vaults symposium at the University of Liverpool in London, 14 July 2016.
Through the University of Liverpool’s Interdisciplinary Network Fund we are organising a symposium primarily exploring the use of digital techniques to analyse medieval vaults. The synopsis can be found below and on our events page.
The use of digital surveying and analysis techniques, such as laser scanning, photogrammetry, 3D reconstructions or reverse engineering offers the opportunity to re-examine historic works of architecture. In the context of medieval vaults, this has enabled new research into three-dimensional design processes, construction methods, structural engineering, building archaeology and relationships between buildings.
Recent research on Continental European and Central American vaults has established the significance of these techniques, however, as yet there has been little exploitation of digital technologies in the context of medieval vaults in the British Isles. This is despite international recognition of the importance of thirteenth and fourteenth-century English vault design to the history of Gothic architecture in an international context.
The aims of the present symposium are to present new research in this emerging field in order to establish appropriate methodologies using digital tools and identify significant questions for future research in the area.
Abstracts (500 words maximum) are invited for 20 minute papers on the following subjects:
- Representation and analysis of medieval vaults using digital technologies.
- Investigations of British tierceron, lierne or fan vaults.
- Digital techniques used for the analysis of historic works of architecture applicable to gothic vaulted buildings.
Our intention is that proceedings will be published in a suitable journal.
Deadline for abstracts: Friday 13th May 2016
Enquiries and abstracts to be addressed to Nick Webb email.
Symposium date: Thursday 14th July 2016
Location: The University of Liverpool in London, Finsbury Square.
2016 marks the 700th anniversary of the birth of Charles IV, eldest son and heir of King John of Bohemia, who died at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. Charles succeeded his father as King of Bohemia, was later elected King of the Romans and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1355.
Under John and, especially, Charles, the city of Prague was transformed into a capital worthy of the most powerful ruler in Europe. Architectural additions including a new cathedral within the royal castle, a new university and a bridge across the river Vltava, linking the castle with the old city. Both the symbolism and the structural forms of these buildings have long been of fascination to architectural historians and have most recently been studied by Dr. Jana Gajdošová, currently based in the History of Art Department at the University of Cambridge.
Peter Parler was the architect responsible for the most innovatory aspects of Charles IV’s buildings. Since the mid-20th century, the work associated with William Joy at Wells Cathedral has been identified as one of Peter Parler’s sources. This makes Wells a key site in the development of European Late Gothic. We were therefore very interested in a recent lecture by Dr. Gajdošová to the British Archaeological Association, which (amongst other things) discussed the architectural parallels between the vaulting of the Charles IV Bridge and that at Ottery St Mary Church in Devon, another building linked with Wells Cathedral and William Joy. In particular, she drew attention to the ‘triradials’, ribs which form a ‘Y’ shape and criss-cross the bays, emphasizing the tunnel shape of the vault. The vault in the Old Town Tower of the Charles IV Bridge is the earliest example of these intersecting triradials in Parler’s work, which make it the region’s earliest ‘net vault’, a form which was to dominate Central European Gothic for the next 150 years. Dr. Gajdošová also discussed the distinctively elegant form of the springing of the Prague vault, which was also to prove influential, reoccurring in buildings such as the church of Kutná Hora in Bohemia.
We hope that our research will support future research into such parallels, moving beyond two-dimensional and visual analysis into further investigation of such vaults’ three-dimensional forms.
On 10th and 11th February 2016 Nick attended Digital Past 2016, an annual conference organised by the Royal Commission on the Ancient Monuments of Wales focussing on the use of digital tools and techniques in the context of heritage assets.
Projects linked closely to the vaults research were particularly informative, for example Dr Maurice Murphy’s use of laser scan data in conjunction with Historic Building Information Modelling (HBIM) to serve as conservation and analysis documents. In the context of the vaults project, we are keen to investigate the use of HBIM to assist in our continuing analysis of the geometry of medieval vaults, which is very complex in terms of the amount of geometric data gathered. An Irish government funded project 3D-Icons was very revealing in terms of the processes required to create accessible digital models of significant monuments and buildings. For example, converting laser scan data to mesh models with rendered textures, and finally making these easily viewable to the public.
The conference presented a number of other intriguing projects, for example Professor Bob Stone’s use of drones and immersive virtual reality to inspire communities to engage with local histories, as well as the use of Gigapixel photography to document Welsh chapels and make available the interactive views online. The Cynefin project to digitise Tithe maps showed how Gigapixel photography can be used to copy large and delicate maps without damaging the original, and their consequent overlay with modern digital maps to provide a free resource for the public and researchers to use.
The conference was a great success and we look forward to returning next year, where we hope to present an update of the vaults project.
On Monday 1 Feb Nick and Alex went to the University of York to an event organised by Professor Tim Ayers, which brought together three leading experts on European late Gothic to discuss issues of vaulting, specifically international transfer of ideas and the design processes involved. The opening seminar was led by Paul Crossley, Professor Emeritus of the Courtauld Institute and Dr Zoë Opačić of Birkbeck College, offering a reflection on Professor Crossley’s work on late Gothic in Eastern Europe. It was encouraging to hear one of our case studies, Wells Cathedral, described as a clear influence on the work of Peter Parler in Prague Cathedral and discussion of Lincoln Cathedral’s tierceron vaults as an apparent influence on Polish examples of a similar form, for example the Cistercian church of Pelplin. We’ve already identified Lincoln’s nave as an influence on the vaults we’ve scanned at Chester, which share the feature of a ridge rib which does not extend to the side walls. Stuart Harrison was also in the audience and keen to share with us his discoveries about the plan of the now-lost east end of Lincoln Cathedral, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of the British Archaeological Association. We can’t wait!
Next, Professor Norbert Nußbaum from the University of Cologne gave a lecture entitled ‘Benedikt Ried’s Vaults in Prague Castle and the question of Formative Inventiveness’. Professor Nußbaum is co-author with Sabine Lepsky of Das Gotische Gewölbe (Darmstadt, 1999), a foundational text for the study of Gothic vaulting. Using a series of digital models, Professor Nußbaum showed how the seemingly chaotic designs of the Rider Staircase and the Chancery involved a series of geometrical manipulations based on a two-dimensional plan which could be shifted sideways across a grid or rotated to deconstruct its original logic. He argued that these feats of architectural ingenuity could be compared with the contemporary phenomenon of the ‘Wunderkammer’ (cabinet of curiosities) and were intended to provoke the question ‘How did they do that?’ These were highly sophisticated designs demonstrating the learning of an architect sufficiently confident in his knowledge of the rules to be able to break them – but in contrast to the architects of the Italian Renaissance, the ideas were presented in built form rather than in a textual treatise.
We came away very excited by both the presentation and by the ideas involved, particularly the methodology used to discover the results and the use of colour in the digital models to make clear the hypothetical process enabling the vault design to be accomplished. We saw some clear parallels between the geometries discussed and the vaults we have scanned, but also some significant differences which we look forward to exploring further.
Further information about the event is available here: https://www.york.ac.uk/history-of-art/news-and-events/events/2016/modelling-vaults/.
On Friday 13th November 2015 we visited Nantwich St Mary’s to scan the medieval vaults in the choir, as well as the intriguing reconstructed vaults in the crossing by George Gilbert Scott. Below is a timelapse video showing the laser scanner in action in the choir operated by Nick, whilst J.R. records the vaults for photogrammetry purposes, and Alex provides a short guided tour of the sculpture on the misericords in the medieval choir stalls.
Even with the timelapse speed, the rotation of the scanner seems slow. The individual scan provides a point cloud model of the architecture immediately around it, which when combined with other scans, gives a highly detailed and accurate point cloud of the entire vaults in the choir. The next stage of the process will be to interpret the data using a number of digital modelling techniques in order to provide a better understanding of the underlying vault geometry.