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Norman architecture

Norman architecture, term applied to the buildings erected by the Normans in all lands that fell under their dominion. It is used not only in England and N France, but also in S Italy (Apulia) and in Sicily. The Norman buildings in England and France were largely Romanesque, chiefly based upon the Romanesque architecture of Lombardy in Italy. Churches, abbeys, and castles, the principal works, showed massive proportions, sparsely adorned masonry, and a frequent use of the round arch. The development of the style was confined chiefly to the period from 1066 to 1154, a period of tremendous building activity. Arising in Normandy, the style was quickly introduced into England, superseding the Saxon. It first appeared at Westminster Abbey, where only the foundations remain. In England and Normandy there was a closely parallel development. The great French works include the ruined abbey of Jumièges, near Rouen, the beginnings of the great fortified abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, and the two abbeys at Caen that were founded by William the Conqueror, all belonging to the middle and late 11th cent. The greatest activity, however, was in England, where after 1070 the Normans built hundreds of parish churches and commenced most of the great cathedrals. All underwent later restorations; the only intact early Norman design is the small St. John's Chapel (c.1087), built by William the Conqueror, in the Tower of London. In both England and Normandy church plans were cruciform. Over the crossing of nave and transepts was a prominent square tower, one of the most effective Norman features. Blind arcades, sometimes with interlacing arches, were the common adornment for walls. Moldings carved with the beakhead, zigzag, or chevron, or alternating lozenges are especially identified with the style. Increased skill and the adoption of the chisel resulted in grotesque sculptured animal forms and in the sculptured reliefs of the tympanums over doorways. Certain elements of Anglo-Norman construction pointed toward the development of Gothic architecture. Whereas in early Norman buildings wooden roofs prevailed, the cathedral at Durham (commenced 1093) was the first to employ a ribbed vault system with pointed arches (the nave was finished c.1133). Other great English cathedrals tended away from the early massiveness of wall construction and showed an increasing verticality, including those at Winchester (begun 1079), Ely (1083–1109), and Peterborough (begun 1118). The austere grandeur of the English and French Norman style was modified in S Italy and especially in Sicily by the mingling of Byzantine and Arabic elements.

See A. W. Clapham, English Romanesque Architecture after the Conquest (Vol. II, 1934); D. F. Renn, Norman Castles in Britain (1970).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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