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Victorian Romanesque Revival

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Victorian Romanesque C. 1840—c. 1890 (see also Federation Romanesque)

The American architect Henry Hobson Richardson drew inspiration from the Romanesque architecture of eleventh-century France and Spain, and the influence of his buildings of the 1870s and 1880s was evident in many parts of the world. But Richardsonian Romanesque did not make itself felt in Australia until the Federation period, so we must look for other, less clear-cut sources for the relatively small amount of Romanesque-influenced architecture in this country during the Victorian period.
In the first decade of the nineteenth century, Napoleon Bonaparte established a new Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. The publications of J.-N. L Durand, its professor of architecture, introduced architects in many European countries to the author’s ideas about the need for a rational expression of masonry construction. Durand based his essentially utilitarian brand of architecture on those historical styles which used semicircular arched openings of moderate size set in substantial, plain stone walling: Florentine Renaissance, Byzantine, Early Christian, and Romanesque. Durand’s doctrines were especially influential in Germany, where the round-arched idiom, known as the Rundbogenstil, was used in Munich in the 182os by such eminent architects as Leo von Klenze and Friedrich von Gartner. In Britain there were a few minor forays into the Romanesque style for churches in the 184os, even as the Gothic Revival grew from a trickle to a torrent, and Cuthbert Brodrick’s impressive Corn Exchange of 1860—63 in Leeds has Rundbogenstil façades of rugged stonework. The United States also provides us with occasional examples of a freely interpreted Romanesque style, such as the Union Station at Providence, Rhode Island, begun in 1848 to the design of Thomas A. Teift.
In the absence of any strong and continuing commitment to a specifically Romanesque style by leading architects overseas, James Blackburn’s St Mark’s Church (1839—41) at Pontville, Tasmania, is a surprisingly original work. Unlike later architects who used the style to express rugged power, Blackburn chose Romanesque to convey a feeling of sober simplicity and restraint. Decades later we see a far less reticent use of the idiom in Joseph Reed’s striking Independent Church (1868) in Collins Street, Melbourne. Recently returned from a trip to Europe, Reed was no doubt influenced by Ruskin’s advocacy of early medieval Italian architecture, and he enthusiastically introduced polychromy and vigorous Romanesque detailing into his design for the church.
A free but restrained use of Romanesque motifs may also be seen occasionally in utilitarian buildings of various kinds erected during the Victorian period.

Quoted from:
"A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Austrlian Architecture; Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present"
Angus & Robertson Sydney 1995 ISBN 0207 18562 X
Copyright © 1989 by Richard Apperly, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds.

Queen Victoria Building, Sydney, completed 1898. "American Romanesque" glory
St Michael's Uniting Church. Melbourne, Melbourne. Completed 1866.
Old Museum Building. Brisbane, Queensland. Completed 1891
Perth Mint. Perth. Completed in 1899.
The Romanesque Revival

Between 1840 and 1900, the round-arched medieval style that preceded the Gothic appealed to religious fervor and picturesque sensibilities, becoming a popular prototype for Christian churches in America.

Beginning in the mid-1840s, the Romanesque Revival was widely adopted for churches in New York State and the nation by both architects and local builders. With round-arched openings instead of pointed Gothic arches and spires, the style was associated with the great European monasteries, churches, and fortified castles of the Middle Ages. Known to architects through books, prints, photographs, and travels, the Romanesque was also appreciated for its picturesque qualities. In the 1850s and 60s, it surpassed the Gothic Revival as the favored architectural style for Christian worship.

The mature Romanesque style developed across western Europe from 1000 to 1200 as the principles of imperial Roman vaulted architecture were revived and fused with local traditions. The groundwork was laid in the Carolingian architecture that flourished during the reign of Charlemagne (768-814). Amidst a disorganized Europe, Charlemagne created a pan-Germanic state in which he promoted Christianity, learning, and administrative order through his court and the monasteries. German culture was synthesized with traditional late Roman forms, including EarlyChristian basilicas and influences from Byzantine and Oriental lands.

The monasteries were wellsprings of architectural innovation for vast complexes and monumental churches, such as Cluny and Le Citeaux in France. Strong regional variants of the Romanesque developed in areas of western Europe and were carried forth by colonists, missionaries, and craftsmen into Spain, Palestine, middle Europe, and Scandinavia. As Kenneth Conant explains in Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture, between 800 and 1200 in Romanesque Normandy, England, and the Ile-de-France, the ribbed groin-vaulted bay with flying buttresses developed, which was later to become the foundation of Gothic architecture.

The Romanesque Revival first started in Munich, Germany around 1830, where it was called the Rundbogenstil (round-arched style). The earliest known example in New York of the Romanesque Revival is the Church of the Pilgrims (now Our Lady of Lebanon Roman Catholic Church), 113 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights (Richard Upjohn, 1844-46). The German Rundbogenstil influenced St. George's Church (Episcopal), (Blesch & Eidlitz, 1846-56), located in an appropriately Picturesque setting on Stuyvesant Square, Manhattan. Renwick's 1846 Church of the Pilgrims on Union Square in Manhattan, was a fully-developed example of the Norman (French Romanesque) style. At the same time, Renwick was designing the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. (1846-55), considered "the first great secular monument of the Romanesque Revival," in a highly Picturesque mode.

The Romanesque Revival style became ubiquitous throughout the second half of the 19th century for a wide variety of building types, such as railroad stations, civic buildings, schools, armories,commercial buildings, factories, and masonry dwellings. In reaction to the elegantly designed Gothic Revival churches that set the standard of taste in the 1840s for the Episcopal Church, Congregationalist, Methodist, Baptist, and other low-church groups found the Romanesque "less ostentatious,...more republican," according to Robert Dale Owen in his 1849 publication, Hints on Public Architecture. Evangelical congregations that emphasized preaching developed church plans to focus on the pulpit and could draw on virtually any style for the exterior.

St. Georges Church (Episcopal), Rutherford Place & East 16th Street, New York, NY (1846-56) is one of the first and most significant examples of early Romanesque Revival in America. The exterior is thought to have been designed by the Bavarian born architect Otto Blesch. The interiors were designed by Leopold Eiditz. The original gothic style stone spires were removed in 1889. Acknowledgment: Andrew Dolkart, Guide to New York City Landmarks, 1991.

Roman Catholic parishes also found the Romanesque style a suitable model. The Church of St. Stephen (now the Parish of Our Lady of the Scapular and St. Stephen), 149 East 28th Street, Manhattan (cover) is a high-style example, while more modest examples include St. Patrick's Church on Staten Island (1860-62), and Church of the Annunciation, 255 North 5th Street, Brooklyn (F.J. Berlenbach, Jr., 1870), a brick Lombardian Romanesque basilica. Buffalo has several stately Roman Catholic churches that are late but pronounced examples of the Romanesque Revival, including Holy Family (Lansing and Beierl, 1906), Corpus Christi (Schmill and Gould, 1907-1907), and St. Francis Xavier (Max G. Beierl, 1911-1913).

By the 1850s and 60s, the Romanesque Revival was more popular for new churches than the Gothic. Although called in its day "Round style" by Congregationalists, and "Norman" or "Lombard" if the style was influenced by French or Italian Romanesque architecture, its prevailing character was more often Germanic, severe, and symmetrical. Architects did not use details academically, but more as Picturesque novelties. Pointed-arch openings and spires were sometimes employed because Romanesque churches often had Gothic additions. Provincial examples sometimes had Greek Revival forms with round-arched features, notes Carole Rifkind in A Field Guide to American Architecture.

Closely related to the Romanesque Revival was the Moorish Style, adopted in the post-Civil War years for synagogues by first-generation German Jews (see American Synagogue Architecture,

Common Bond Volume 11/Number 1). Horseshoe-shaped arches and intricate geometric patterns found in Islamic architecture were used instead of round-arched motifs associated with Christianity.

A later phase of the Romanesque, originated in the 1870s by Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson, was inspired by Spain and the south of France. The Richardsonian Romanesque style reached its zenith in the late 1880s in massive, weighty buildings with round-arched motifs featuring rough-hewn stone.

Round-arched Romanesque motifs appeared in eclectic High Victorian buildings. Although interest in the Romanesque waned with the shift to academic Classicism and Gothicism at the turn ofthe century, another revival occurred in the late 1920s and 1930s.

The First United Methodist Church, Baldwinsville (Horatio Nelson White, 1869-70) illustrates emblamatic Romaneque Revival features.

The defining feature of the Romanesque Revival is the semi-circular arch used for all window and door openings and for wall enrichment. Other distinguishing motifs are beltcourses and the arcaded corbel table which is a series of miniature arches below the eaves. Belt- or stringcourses mark horizontal divisions. Column capitals and compound arches are enriched with geometric medieval ornament. Facades have gabled roofs flanked by square or polygonal towers of differing heights, with parapets or various roof shapes, and occasionally spires of Gothic origin. Pyramidal roofs often have concave slopes. The typical plan is basilican, with a long, narrow nave, vestibule, central tower or paired side towers, and self-containedmassing. Broad, smooth wall surfaces of monochromatic brick or ashlar masonry laid with thin mortar joints were favored.

Romanesque Architecture

The disintegration of Roman culture and economy, led in turn to a collapse of the framework in which skilled architects and trained artisans could flourish. Without their skills, attempts at large-scale building, which were usually restricted to churches, resulted in structures that were often crude and of relatively modest proportions. The exception to this type of architecture, which from the end of the 5th to the 8th century was generally simple, was that in the city of Ravenna, Italy, then under Byzantine rule. Buildings there are often composed of, or decorated with, elements removed from Roman structures.

In many regions the pre-Romanesque style was a continuation of Early Christian art and architecture; such, for example, were the churches of Rome, built on the plan of the basilica.

Circular or polygonal domed churches inspired by Byzantine architecture were also built during the pre-Romanesque period; later they were built in the region of Aquitaine in south-western France and in Scandinavia. The best-known and most elaborate examples of this type are San Vitale (526-548) in Ravenna, built for the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, and the octagonal palace chapel built between 792 and 805 by Charlemagne at Aix-la-Chapelle (now Aachen, Germany) and directly inspired by San Vitale. One of the creations of Carolingian architects was the westwork, a multi-storey entrance façade flanked by bell towers, attached to Christian basilicas. Westworks were prototypes of the great Romanesque and Gothic cathedral façades.

Important buildings were also constructed by the monastic orders. Monasticism, a religious and social manifestation characteristic of the period, required vast building complexes comprising chapels, cloisters, libraries, workshops, kitchens, refectories, and dormitories for the monks. New building skills were developed, particularly by the monks of the Benedictine and Cistercian orders. Elaborate pre-Romanesque monastic establishments were built at St Gall, Switzerland, on the island of Reichenau on the German side of Lake Constance (Bodensee), and at Monte Cassino, Italy, by Benedictine monks.

An outstanding achievement of Romanesque architecture was the development of stone-vaulted buildings. A major reason for the development of stone vaulting was the need to find an alternative to the highly flammable wooden roofs of pre-Romanesque structures. Attempts to solve new structural problems resulting from the use of vaults, especially barrel vaults, were endlessly varied. The dome, round and pointed vaults, and plain and ribbed groined vaulting were used. However, a masonry structure in which the thrusts, or pressures, of the vaults are perfectly contained by isolated piers and buttresses was not achieved until the Gothic period.

Stone vaulting, being much heavier than wooden roofing, needed to be supported by heavy walls and sturdy columns. In the mature Romanesque style, especially that which developed in France, the use of massive walls and piers as supports for the heavy stone vaults resulted in a typical building plan in which the entire structure was treated as a complex composed of smaller interlinked units. These units, called bays, are the square or rectangular spaces enclosed by groin vaults; in late Romanesque architecture, these bays tended to be treated as basic building units, and separate rectangular bays became a characteristic and distinguishing feature of the Romanesque style.

The massiveness of stone structures is another major characteristic of Romanesque architecture. The nave in Romanesque churches was usually made higher and narrower than in earlier structures in order to accommodate windows, called clerestory windows, in the sidewalls below the vault. Doors and windows were usually framed by round arches, or, sometimes, by slightly pointed arches. These openings were generally small and were decorated with mouldings, carvings, and sculptures that became increasingly rich and varied as the Romanesque period drew to a close.

The Picturesque: Romanesque Revival/Stick and/or Shingle Style/Queen Anne. The late nineteenth-century Romanesque Revival is a vigorous style more common in Chicago than in New York and is based on the bold arch-and-vault construction of the early medieval Romanesque. Architect H.H.Richardson was its greatest American exponent, but Brooklyn's Frank Freeman was not far behind. The wooden architecture that exploited the balloon frame's formal possibilities, and/or celebrated exposed timber as a structural-decorative exterior armature (The Stick and/or Shingle Styles), was often designed at the same time by the same architects in the 1870s through 1890s. Both are picturesque.

Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-86)

Studied at Harvard and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris (1859-62) .While in Europe he worked under henri Labrouste and Jakob Ignaz Hittorf. Trinity Church, Boston defined his unique style which became known as "Richardsonian Romanesque" because of the parallels with Romanesque principles. He was very influential in his short life; followers include Charles Follen McKim, Stanford White, Louis Sullivan, and John Wellborn Root. (WJC)

Richardsonian Romanesque (1870-1895)

Style named for Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886). It is a revival style based on French and Spanish Romanesque precedents of the 11th century. (Romanesque preceded Gothic in European architecture.) Richardson's style is characterized by massive stone walls and dramatic semicircular arches, and a new dynamism of interior space. Continuity and unity are keynotes of Richardson's style. The Richardsonian Romanesque eclipsed both the IInd Empire Baroque and the High Victorian Gothic styles; the style had a powerful effect on such Chicago architects as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, and influenced architects as far away as Scandinavia.

Style Definition

The late 19th and early 20th century style of Romanesque is a revival of an early medieval style, which was in turn a revival of Roman architecture. This was one of the most popular forms of architecture in the United States during the 1880s, and along with the Chicago School it was the first style applied to tall buildings. Many courthouses and public buildings were built in Romanesque, even in small rural towns.

Distinguishing features include turrets, rounded arches, hipped or pointed roofs, and very heavy rusticated stonework. Proportions in this style tend to run large, both in the overall building form and in the size of the details.

The founder of this style was Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and to this day it is frequently called "Richardsonian Romanesque". His successor firm Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge contributed to its development, while many smaller firms throughout the United States like Long & Kees adopted the style.

Historical Background

Romanesque Architecture of western Europe from about AD 1000 to about the late 1100s. After Rome fell in 476, Roman culture was spread by the Christian church. By the end of the pre-Romanesque period, Roman stylistic elements had fused with elements from Byzantium and the Middle East, and from the Germans, the Celts, and other northern tribes in western Europe. These various combinations created a number of local styles, called Romanesque, meaning "in the manner of the Roman." 

An outstanding achievement of Romanesque architects was the development of stone vaulted buildings. This masonry vaulting replaced the highly flammable wooden roofs of pre-Romanesque structures. Vaults posed new structural problems for architects, who created a variety of solutions, including the dome, round and pointed vaults, and plain and ribbed groined vaulting . 

To support the heavy stone vaults, architects used massive walls and piers, creating a typical building plan that treated the entire structure as a complex composed of smaller units, called bays. A distinguishing feature of Romanesque style, bays are square or rectangular spaces enclosed by groin vaults and used by architects as the basic building unit. 
The nave in Romanesque churches was usually made higher and narrower than in earlier structures to make room for windows, called clerestory windows, in the sidewalls below the vault. Doors and windows were usually capped by round arches, and sometimes by slightly pointed arches. These openings were generally small and decorated with moldings, carvings, and sculptures. 

Italian provinces developed a great diversity of Romanesque architectural styles. In Lombardy, somberly impressive buildings had groined vaulting of heavy proportions. Architects in central Italy created few structural innovations and continued to use classical decorative elements. Tuscan and Roman churches featured classical Corinthian capitals and acanthus borders, as well as colored marble in geometric patterns; open arcades, colonnades, and galleries; and facades with sculptures in relief. In southern Italy, a rich style combining Byzantine, Roman, Arabic, Lombard, and Norman elements was created, with lavish use of mosaic decorations and interlaced pointed-arch arcades. 

French Romanesque architecture is characterized by various vaulted styles. Provençal churches have pointed domes and facades decorated with tiers of wall arcades filled with sculpture. In the Auvergne region in central France, architects built churches containing a long choir with side aisles and, around the semicircular sanctuary, an arcaded ambulatory (semicircular aisle) with radiating chapels. In Burgundy the barrel-vaulted, three-aisled basilica was highly developed. Norman architects, influenced by Lombardian methods, created an original style with groined vaults supported by flying buttresses, and facades with two high, flanking towers. 

German Romanesque churches were often planned on a large scale. Many of them are very high and have an apse or sanctuary at each end. Numerous round or octagonal towers create a picturesque silhouette. 

Before the 10th century, most English buildings were wood; stone buildings were small and roughly constructed. The Norman Romanesque style replaced the Saxon style in England after the Norman Conquest in 1066, and from about 1120 to 1200, builders erected monumental Norman structures, including numerous churches and cathedrals. The long, narrow buildings were constructed with heavy walls and piers, rectangular apses, double transepts, and deeply recessed portals. Naves were covered with flat roofs, later replaced by vaults, and side aisles were usually covered with groined vaults. 

  National Hotel, Fremantle, Western Australia; built late 1800s