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The city is south of Poitiers, in Cognac country. In the event you have not noticed, much of France describes itself by the beverage produced in the immediate vicinity; my own observations in traveling are that it is best to eat and drink local products, thereby expanding the palate and having nothing but the freshest food or beverage.

In the ongoing (at the time) effort to fireproof large churches, St. Pierre is almost an anomaly, in that its builders utilized something very basic, structurally, yet defeated its aesthetic purpose completely.

Begun in about 1105, with major construction to 1130, the simple cruciform shape has no side aisles, just a very powerful nave roofed by three individual domes, with a fourth dome at the crossing of the nave and transepts. Masonry domes certainly protect the structure, but each dome creates a most obvious and very deep pocket of space. Refer back to Saint-Hilaire-Le-Grand in Poitiers for a rather similar condition. These very distinct and specific spaces capture the eye’s attention, as you enter the Cathedral. The hoped for sweeping view from entrance to altar is totally disrupted by these pockets of space. A good object lesson here, in that negative space can create feeling in a very strong way, absolutely as intense as positive structure.

An aside: to illustrate the concept/principle of positive/negative space, look at your hand, with fingers held together. You would probably describe what you see as your “hand.” Now open your fingers wide, and your reaction would be to exclaim “fingers.” The fingers have been there all along, but the negative space between them – when opened – created the positive “fingers” with the “hand” now forgotten. Negatives can and do create the positives in architecture; except, of course, when domes impede the eye in a nave-like construction.

And so it is at Angoulème. Officially described as a Romanesque church, this and a number of other structures in this Chapter are positioned to reveal an unfolding development in both structure and aesthetics. A definition of aesthetics can go beyond the overly simplistic “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Aesthetics can be defined as a branch of philosophy dealing with values such as the beautiful and the sublime. It is but a small step to go from the sublime to the spiritual, in which a definition of sublime leads us to something so awe-inspiringly beautiful as to seem almost heavenly. You have to be patient as we take these small steps, all of which will lead to a consummate religious crescendo orchestrated by architectural forms.

At Angoulème the masonry structure is there, but the aesthetics are lacking.

© Architecture Past Present & Future - Edward D. Levinson, 2009

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