The windows for example would depict a large image of a saint, with smaller images from his or her life at the bottom. In this way, the windows could be seen as a conduit of the divine light bathing the congregation within. More complex themes were incorporated for rose windows, including prophets, apostles saints and angels.
Another interesting component of the divine light brought to the citizenry in this way is that the society of the time was largely illiterate. Hence stained glass windows illuminated, so to speak, the message of the bible in visual terms. Not only scholars, therefore, but also children, the simple and the illiterate could access the various legends depicted in this way. The "divine light" takes on a more literal significance in this way, with the windows not only symbolizing, but literally illuminating the bible for those who could not access it by reading. Later, the colors themselves were also attached to symbolic meanings, further specifying the message of each window. The inside of these Gothic Cathedrals then became a type of sermon in itself.
So impressed was all who took part in this worship, that businesspeople and kings alike competed to donate the finest window. The human and divine truly connected in this way, in that the poor, simple and uneducated could appreciate the beauty of the biblical message more fully, and that the powerful and the rich were urged to part with large amounts of money for the prestige of donating such windows. It was therefore both a symbolic and literal interaction between the divine light and human cognition.
On a more aesthetic level, Suger further developed his theory of God to include the ideal of the stained glass window. God was seen as supernatural light itself. As such, he transformed everything on earth, both material and mortal, into its immaterial, immortal counterpart. This theory was the basis of all further Gothic church architecture. AS inspired by Romanesque architecture, ribbed vaulting and pointed arches were included in Gothic architecture particularly to emphasize and enhance the effect of the beautiful stained glass windows.
An example of Gothic architecture is the cathedral at Chartres. This cathedras is considered to be the first in the "High Gothic" style. Construction lasted from 1194 to 1224. Other examples include the Reims, Beauvais and Amiens cathedrals, each outdoing the other in the beauty of its divine light effects.
The Rayonnant style initially characterizing the Gothic style developed to become the Flamboyant style, in which decoration took precedence over all other effects, in the form of pinnacles and other decorative structures. This movement lasted from the end of the 13th century until the end of the middle ages. The style was also later used for more secular buildings.
In the Gothic style, the early Christian tradition of divine light is perpetuated to the ultimate in beauty. The addition of color to light, enhanced by architectural style makes this a period of great beauty and intricate meaning within the walls of the most glorious churches.
Baroque churches once again made more use of symbolic than literal light. The symbolism of light as such was focused on ceiling decorations and art. The ideal behind this is to, like the basilicas of early Christian architecture, depict heaven and its glory in the space above the congregation, which represents the earth and its imperfection. Ceilings were therefore illuminated to display to best advantage the elaborate paintings depicting biblical and Christian scenes. As such, ceilings in effect replaced stained glass windows as the focus of beauty and illumination within the church building.
Like the later Gothic period, baroque architecture extended not only to churches, but also to living spaces. The homes of aristocratics and the ecclesiastical elite were for example also elaborately painted. The purpose behind this was therefore not only education and wealth. Paintings in homes and palaces then often included scenes from Greek and Roman literature and myth.
In churches of course, ceiling art was aimed at displaying a glorious heavenly environment. This served not only an inspiring, but also a humbling purpose. The society of the time was very hierarchical not only in secular, but also in religious life. Church leaders therefore saw it as their duty to educate their parishes not only in biblical truth, but also in the importance of adhering to church hierarchy.
As such, the church ceiling was of a highly spiritual nature in both the visual and practical sense: it was the upward path to heaven, and while forcing the worshiper to look up, also depicted the importance of humility and the recognition of power and its importance. The use of light and color therefore occurred more through the painting art than through windows, although the ideal of divine light remains intact.
The document entitled, "Baroque ceilings in Italy"8, provides examples of three different ceilings decorated during the baroque period in Italy to show how color and divine light are depicted by this art. The first is a decoration by Giovanni Lanfranco, who used a technique referred to as di sotto in su, which means "from below up." The painting is created in such a way that it appears as if the flat surface of the ceiling is rising into heaven. Lanfranco's work is characterized by a greater immediacy than others of its kind, and he achieves a luminescent effect at the height of the decoration.
In the baroque style, the artist also uses a large amount of figures, including many angels helping the Virgin ascend to heaven within a wild swirl of clouds. Lanfranco however rejects the typical balanced group settings of the style for more naturalistic scenery.
Secondly, the Gran Salone, commissioned by Pope Urban VIIII, is typical of the way in which the secular and divine integrated during the Baroque period. Piety was effortless combined with pomp and self-importance. As such, the ceiling painted for the pope at his family home depicted both the importance of his family in society and the family's piety. In this way, once could also say that the heavenly and earthly met in the divine light portrayed by decorative ceiling paintings. Specifically, the Pope's ceiling depicts the family's crest at the center, with "divine Providence" gesturing towards it. The Pope's piety and virtue, along with his very important connections with the church, are depicted by figures of fate and time. Saving divine intervention and immortality is reflected by a crown of stars.
The third example is the 1684 creation of the ceiling fresco at the church of san Ignazio. Andrea Pozzo was commissioned for this task by the Jesuit order, of which he was a member. This is specifically interesting work in terms of divine light, as Pozzo uses the real windows to portray passageways into heaven itself. He does this by means of painted arches for each window, which gives the impression of the windows opening into heaven. In this way heavenly light is shed upon the earth, and earth is connected to heaven by means of the windows.
A further interesting aspect is the central figure, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the order. Pozzo uses divine light directly around the Saint's head in order to depict his importance to the Jesuits. This signifies not only his sainthood, but also the fact that he reflects the divine light of illumination to the worshipers below. The four corners of the earth, Asia, Africa, America and Europe, are depicted on scrolled tablets and personified by four figures. This is intended to show the universal nature of Jesuit teaching.
Like the stained glass windows, each ceiling mentioned above has an educational and illuminating purpose, in itself manifesting and representing the divine light of knowledge. Like all the architectural representations through time, the ceilings also represent the concerns and ideals of the society during the era when they were created. The same is true for the architecture of modern churches.
Modern architecture is particularly interesting because of the recognized quality of diversity in the social world. Like the previous eras, the ideals and paradigms of general society is reflected not only in secular buildings, but also in churches. This is particularly clear in the work of Tadao Ando, as will be seen. Le Corbusier, a predecessor of the ultramodern Ando, focused his religious buildings upon using the qualities of natural light in order to create a divine interior atmosphere. One such example is his "Chapel of our Lady of the Height," situated on a hill above the village of Ronchamp.
According to Simon Glynn, Le Corbusier's building, the "Chapel of our Lady of the Height," is meant to be a pilgrimage chapel, where the faithful could enter for religious comfort and fortification. The use of light, combined with…
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