Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Book Review: Building the Great Cathedrals by Francois Icher

Translated by Anthony Zielonka

Pros: lots of large illustrations and photographs, goes over the entire process, easy to read

Cons: some extraneous information, refutes bad information by first teaching it to the reader

The book consists of six chapters: The Age of the Cathedrals; Patronage, Financing, and the Workshop Committee; The Architect; Before Reaching the Cathedral Construction-site; The Cathedral Construction-site; and The Memory of the Builders. I was hoping for a more in depth explanation of how cathedrals are built, from beginning to end. This turned out to be a very basic primer of the process. Turns out that’s all I really needed. There are over 200 colour photos, making this is a luscious book. It’s oversized so the photos are also quite large. There’s a good mix with a lot of building images and photos from various cathedrals.

The emphasis here is on French cathedrals and guilds, branching out briefly to touch on other places. I found it a bit annoying how the author kept refuting beliefs. Yes, it’s important to correct misconceptions but I’d prefer that be done by simply explaining the correct answer rather than taking up room to teach the bad information first. I also found the short chapter on whether a modern French confraternity descends from the medieval guilds unnecessary.

The last chapter includes information on a sketchbook that survives from the middle ages which reproduces many cathedral design elements. That was fantastic. I also appreciated the translations of some of the guild regulations for stonecutters.

This is a basic guide to the construction of cathedrals - from start to finish - whose illustrations really make it worth the price.

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