Spiraling elegantly at Zeno - Focillon Spiraling elegantly at Zeno | Focillon Humane ClubMade in Humane Club

Spiraling elegantly at Zeno

Published May 20, 2022
Updated Oct 27, 2022

📍 🇮🇹 Spiraling elegantly at Zeno

"The most impressive loveliness in structure, wrote English novelist Henry James... you wander among primitive columns whose variedly grotesque capitals rise hardly higher than your head in the crypt or in the sub-choir... also notable: the upper choral plane reached by broad stairways that are of the bravest effect."

Columns and capitals are what most impressed us as well. Yet it is very difficult, even after careful examination, to understand their order, their logic, their meaning (which is an easier feat with Venice’s Ducal Palace for instance). This reminded us of Ruskin's irony about "the unfortunate modern love for systematizing" - a mindset rather foreign to 12-13th century architects. Certain medieval texts even equated excessive classification with human hubris, self-glory... something of a deadly sin. Bad omen.

Talking about Ruskin, one of his anti-Renaissance rants helped us in our meditations during a quiet promenade in the San Zeno nave:

"The old Romanesque builders kept their spirals slight and pure: often giving only half a turn from the base of the shaft to its head, and always observing the law that no twisted shaft shall be single, but composed of at least two distinct members, twined with each other".

Look around and you’ll find it 🙂

____ Sources ____

>> John Ruskin, "Stones of Venice", 1851
>> Henry James, "Italian Hours", 1909

Read more on our socials:
12th-13th CE