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 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.
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/.