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Suger's Miracles, Branner's Bourges: Reflections on "Gothic Architecture" as Medieval Modernism

Marvin Trachtenberg
Gesta
Vol. 39, No. 2, Robert Branner and the Gothic (2000), pp. 183-205
DOI: 10.2307/767145
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/767145
Page Count: 23
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Suger's Miracles, Branner's Bourges: Reflections on "Gothic Architecture" as Medieval Modernism
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Abstract

When it becomes clear that a given interpretative model (or set of criteria) contains irreducible contradictions and is incapable of resolving certain stubborn problems, it is time for a new paradigm. Recognizing that scholarship on Gothic architecture has long since reached this impasse, this study identifies new terms of understanding in the oppositional pair "modernism" and "historicism." These two transhistorical concepts are found to offer numerous interpretative advantages over such traditional categories as "skeletal form," "diaphaneity," "linearity," "diagonality," "square schematism," and the like, all of which are severely burdened by the well known constrictive problematics of "style," among other difficulties. Properly defined and understood, the modernism/historicism paradigm is shown to offer numerous advantages in studying medieval architecture across a wide range of concerns, from descriptive, componential, and formal analysis to social, intellectual, and contextual integration. The entire apparatus of the great cathedrals is seen in a radically new, comprehensive way, and such intractable historical problems as that of the seemingly oxymoronic "Gothic column" are resolved. The proposed paradigm is further explored and tested regarding both word and image in medieval architecture, in a new reading of the controversial texts of Abbot Suger on Saint-Denis, and in a revised solution to the Bourges "problem."

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