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Ottonian Architecture in the Early European Middle Ages
Ottonian architecture flourished in the 10th and 11th centuries and drew inspiration from Carolingian and Byzantine architecture.
Compare and contrast Ottonian architecture with its Carolingian predecessor
Ottonian architecture first developed during the reign of Otto the Great (936-975) and lasted until the mid-11th century. Surviving examples of this style of architecture are found in Germany and Belgium.
Ottonian architecture was inspired by Carolingian and Byzantine architecture and foreshadows Romanesque architecture in some features, including alternating columns and piers in regular patterns.
Ottonian religious architecture diverges from the model of the central-plan church, drawing inspiration instead from the longitudinally oriented Roman basilica.
The Ottonians adopted the Carolingian double-ended variation on the Roman basilica, featuring apses at both ends of the nave rather than just one. Churches make generous use of the round arch, have flat ceilings, and display the Ottonian appreciation of mathematical harmony by using modular planning.
Originally a ducal family from Saxony, the Ottonians (named after their first king Otto I the Great) seized power after the collapse of Carolingian rule in Europe and re-established the Holy Roman Empire. Ottonian architecture first developed during the reign of Otto the Great (936 - 975 CE) and lasted until the mid-11th century. Surviving examples of this style of architecture are found today in Germany and Belgium.
Ottonian architecture chiefly drew its inspiration from Carolingian and Byzantine architecture and represents the absorption of classical Mediterranean and Christian architectural forms with Germanic styles. Some features foreshadow the development of Romanesque architecture, which emerged in the mid-11th century. Its balance and harmony are a remarkable reflection of the high regard in which the Ottonians held the mathematical sciences. This is evident in the modular planning, which bases the measurements of each component of the interior on a single square unit multiplied or divided accordingly.
Barring a few examples influenced by the octagonal Palatine Chapel built by Charlemagne in Aachen, Ottonian religious architecture tends to diverge from the model of the central-plan church, drawing inspiration instead from the Roman (Western) basilica. This typically consisted of a long central nave with an aisle at each side and an apse at one end. When adopted by early Christians, the basilica plan assumed a transept perpendicular to the nave, forming a cruciform shape to commemorate the Crucifixion.
The Ottonians adopted the Carolingian double-ended variation on the Roman basilica, featuring apses at the east and west ends of the church rather than just the east. Most Ottonian churches make generous use of the round arch, have flat ceilings, and insert massive rectangular piers between columns in regular patterns, as seen in St. Cyriakus at Gernrode and St. Michael's at Hildesheim.
One of the finest surviving examples of Ottonian architecture is St. Cyriakus Church (960-965) in Gernrode, Germany. The central body of the church has a nave with two aisles flanked by two towers, characteristic of Carolingian architecture. However, it also displays novelties anticipating Romanesque architecture, including the alternation of pillars and columns (a common feature in later Saxon churches), semi-blind arcades in galleries on the nave, and column capitals decorated with stylizedacanthus leaves and human heads.
St. Michael's at Hildesheim (1010-1031) is one of the most important Ottonian churches, a double-choir basilica with two transepts and a square tower at each crossing. This layout can be seen from the exterior of the building. The west choir is emphasized by an ambulatory and a crypt. Adhering to the Ottonian appreciation for mathematics, the ground plan of the building follows a geometric concept in which the square of the transept crossing in the ground plan constitutes the key measuring unit for the entire church. The square units are defined by the alternation of columns and piers. Unlike St. Cyriakus, St. Michael's lacks a second-story gallery. However, ample light enters through a row of clerestory windows placed above the arcades dividing the name from the aisles.
“Ottonian Architecture in the Early European Middle Ages.”
Boundless Art History
Boundless, 28 Nov. 2016.
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