Romanesque sculpture in Alsace
Developed late in Alsace, Romanesque art manifested itself there during the last two thirds of the 12th century and continued until about 1230. Here is a discovery of the Romanesque collections of the Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, posted on Joconde, a collective catalogue of museums in France.
Credits: This content was originally posted on the Joconde website and was compiled in 2009 by Cécile Dupeux, curator at the Musée de l'Œuvre Notre-Dame in Strasbourg and Jeannette Ivain, a French museum service. Records of the cited collections are available on POP, open heritage platform. Readers are invited to consult the online collections of museums in Strasbourg.
Genesis and development of Romanesque art in Alsace
Developed late in Alsace, Romanesque art manifested itself there during the last two thirds of the 12th century and continued until about 1230.
This period coincided with the arrival in the region of the lords of Hohenstaufen, dukes of Swabia and Alsace, then kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. They brought their power and an exceptional openness to the world to this territory, founded and endowed numerous churches and abbeys, and built a multitude of castles. The remains, numerous, testify to the prosperity of the region between 1150 and 1250. It is also at this time that the great
abbeys enrich and lavishly rebuild their churches.
Sculpture rarely appears on the buildings of the first Romanesque art, called on the Rhine "Ottonian art". The eight columns from the ancient church of Mutzig are characteristic of this robust art, with capitals of great simplicity and of a unique type called "Rhine cube". The 12th century saw the flourishing of sculpture, which could not be dissociated from architecture. At the end of the 11th century, the portals of the churches were enriched and the capitals were covered with knotwork, scrolls and fabulous animals, as evidenced by the Blaesheim capitals.
This abundant production sees the evolution of flat treatment, of low relief, as on the trees of the cloister of Eschau up to the figure in round hump, which unfolds in the south transept of the cathedral after 1210.
The Romanesque collections of the Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame
The Romanesque section of the museum brings together a collection of statues (reliefs, heads, plates), architectural elements (capitals, carvings, columns, etc.) and church objects (benitiers, baptismal tanks, washbasins, sarcophagi) 11th and 12th centuries coming from different Alsatian churches, as well as vestiges of civil architecture.
These objects were largely collected by the Société pour la Conservation des Monuments historique d'Alsace between 1855 and 1916, then deposited in the Musée de l'Œuvre Notre-Dame.
The study of the museum’s Romanesque sculpture was conducted in collaboration with Suzanne Braun, PhD in art history, whose thesis focused on Romanesque art in Alsace.
The Romanesque cathedral
Around 1015 the bishop of Strasbourg Wernher laid the foundations of a basilica similar to that of the Rhineland. Completed after 1050, it was enlarged at the end of the 11th century. The choir with a single apse surmounted a crypt, while to the west stood a monumental massif. Numerous fires led to the complete reconstruction of the building in 1190. From the Romanesque period remain the foundations (cleared during excavations undertaken between 1907 and 1911), parts of the choir and the crypt.
The Romanesque remains of the Strasbourg Cathedral in the Musée de l'Œuvre Notre-Dame come from either the chorus, or of the turn of the frame, or eastern parts, either from cemetery and a few other locations.
They were excavated or deposited during restoration campaigns (especially in the 1840s).
Civil and religious remains
The town planning work in Strasbourg brought to light remains of Romanesque architecture, mostly preserved by the Société pour la Conservation des Monuments historiques d'Alsace and then deposited in the museum. Fragments, like that of a wobble, had served as a rampart and were found embedded in the walls of some buildings.
Some remains come from ancient disappeared churches such as the church Saint-Martin, the abbey church Saint-Etienne, the red church of Schiltigheim or the Romanesque parts of the church Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux. An insulated woodwork comes from the church’s Romanesque cloister Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune.
Discover the Roman remains of Strasbourg on Mona Lisa.
The remains of the Saint-Maurice de Mutzig church (20 km west of Strasbourg), demolished in 1879, bear witness to the architecture of the late 11th and mid-12th centuries. According to the readings and the drawings preserved, the building was a basilica with three vessels of five bays, of a choir of square plan, adjoined by side chapels. The ships were separated by two rows of powerful columns dating back to the mid-12th century, which have been preserved.
Despite their great similarity (massive attic base, truncated barrel of a piece, cubic capital without sculpture), each column has slight differences. The bases are of two types. The capitals belong to the type "Rhine cube", but differ: two are double-lobed, six single-lobed. On the latter, the geometric patterns placed at the corners vary.
The rejection of monumental sculpture as well as the taste for moulding and smooth cubic capitals, chiseled, are found in the crypt of the Strasbourg Cathedral (circa 1150) and the abbey of Niedermunster.
The church of Mutzig also has three door lintels, which bear witness to the evolution of the Romanesque sculpture from the flat of low relief to medium relief:
- the West portal building lintel is decorated with an Agnus Dei in savings size. For an incomplete part, the inscription running on the border seems to be transcribed as follows: (+IIT/// AD)ELBERTUS PRESPITER + CO(N)S(TR)VIT and recalls the construction by the priest Adalbert.
- a trapezoidal bas-relief depicting Christ in majesty, sitting on a throne. The slab was embedded in the exterior wall of the church apse. Dating from the mid-12th century, it marks a progress in the rendering of the volume and seems to belong to the workshop of the Sainte-Richarde d'Andlau church.
Discover the Roman remains of Mutzig on Mona Lisa.
In the 8th century, the bishops of Strasbourg founded a women’s convent on the island of Eschau 10 km south of Strasbourg. The church was placed under the double patronage of Saint Trophism, Bishop of Arles, and Saint Sophia.
Destroyed in the first third of the 10th century, it was rebuilt during the 11th century, the heyday of the convent. The cloister was demolished in 1298, marking the beginning of the convent’s decline.
The abbey was abolished in 1526 and the buildings served as a restaurant until 1822.
The church is still in place and develops on a basilical plan with three vessels with central apse and prominent transept.
Remains of the cloister
Remains of the cloister were found during excavations carried out by the Société des Monuments historiques d'Alsace in 1866 and 1916-1917. The most interesting elements are the sharpeners treated in low relief and depicting scenes from the Nativity and the life of Christ, as well as symbolic figurations of animals and plants. The inscriptions on the box springs refer to lost woodworks depicting scenes from the Multiplication of Loaves, the Resurrection of Lazarus, the Descent to Limbo and the Visit of the Three Marys to the Tomb. These trees are exceptional because the preserved Romanesque cloister trees are rarely decorated.
The sculptor of the cloister also painted the decoration of the baptismal tank, which was unfortunately mutilated during the 1870 bombing.
This decoration is not geometric as on the other vats preserved in the museum, but figurative: the episodes of Christ’s life from the Annunciation to Pentecost are represented in two registers.
All these sculptures are due to an active workshop around 1130, which is inspired by both illumination, goldsmithing and ivory work.
Discover the Roman remains of the abbey of Eschau on Mona Lisa.
Places of Romanesque art
Most of Alsatian Romanesque sculpture, intimately linked to architecture, has disappeared during successive destructions or is still in place. It is thus still visible on the main Romanesque buildings of the region, whether they are religious (Andlau, Betbur) or civil (castle of Girbaden). It refers to Eastern, Paleo-Christian and Byzantine sources, as shown by the decoration of the sarcophagus lids (Strasbourg, Mutzig, Bergholtz).