New Theories on Cistercian Architecture from Cambridge Historian

Maximilian Sternberg’s new book on Cistercian Architecture and Medieval Society (2013) is one of the most refreshing and unconventional scholarly approaches to Cistercian aesthetics to have appeared in recent years. Combined with profound knowledge of the secondary literature, he analyzes the networks around medieval monasteries and their negotiations between religiously motivated introspection „on the inside“ and quotidian relations with lay people and non-monastic institutions „on the outside“, showing that these two fields are not so easy to separate.
The first refreshing novelty is that Sternberg opens his argument by pointing to the dialogue between Cistercian architecture and Le Corbusier’s modernism. This postwar phenomenon reached a relatively wide audience through Lucien Hervé’s stunning book of photographs on Le Thoronet in 1956. Although the author is aware of the fascination and privileged aesthetic position of the Orders’s architecture, he seeks to look deeper than the „contemplative and world-renouncing“ values associated with this aesthetic. He argues „that such modern fascination has done as much to obscure as to valorise [Cistercian architecture’s] original meaning and functions.“
The unexpected conclusions are that among others, troubadours, laypeople, and Parisian university teachers all had, in differing and nuanced ways, their influence on Cistercian architecture. He makes his points by analyzing (for example) narthex, choir screen and gate house and thereby shows how permeable some of these boundaries were. In another chapter, he explains why the Collège des Bernardins is so important in redefining Cistercian identity for the 13th Century.
An excellent bibliography and qualitative binding make this book a valuable addition to any Cistercian library.

Maximilian Sternberg: Cistercian Architecture and Medieval Society (Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History. Brill’s Studies on Art, Art History, and Intellectual History, 221/5), Leiden: Brill 2013.

Der Beitrag erschien zunächst in EUCist News:
Alkuin Schachenmayr, New Theories on Cistercian Architecture from Cambridge Historian, in: EUCist News, 27. 5. 2014, http://cistercium.blogspot.cz/2014/05/new-theories-on-cistercian-architecture.html.


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