Plotting Gothic

Plotting Gothic

Stephen Murray

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780226191805

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book about the eloquence of Gothic architecture is facilitated by the intervention of the interlocutor: the one who, interposing self between monument and audience, points and talks. A critical rhetorical mechanism is found in the interaction between the three dimensions of the notion of “plot:” as spatial matrix, conspiracy and compelling storyline. In Part I three medieval witnesses testify to their engagement with Gothic architectural production. Villard de Honnecourt created a little book with explanatory texts and images of some of the great early-thirteenth-century cathedrals. Gervase, choir monk and sacristan of Canterbury, wrote the fullest account of cathedral construction in the archives of the Middle Ages, and Suger, Abbot of S-Denis, documented the creation of the western frontispiece and chevet of his abbey church, generally considered the “first” Gothic monument. Part II, Staking out the Plot, focuses upon the spatial matrix--the building plot. This mnemonic space, initially resulting from the interaction between interlocutor and monument, links the present with the past, and the materiality of the cathedral with its spiritual and other meanings. In Part III our three witnesses assume their roles as representatives of the builders of a Gothic cathedral: clerical patron, master mason and budget provider. These three agents, representing social groups historically in conflict, might entertain different agendas, yet they are conspiratorially united in their pursuit of their shared object of desire--the construction of the new church. This enterprise, with all its attendant difficulties and struggles, provides the exciting story line of our plot.