Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Architecture Moment: Palace Church, Meisenheim

As I’m sure you’ve recognized by now, my favorite architecture is the very late Gothic from 1350-1550, largely in German and Spanish-speaking areas. Outside of Germany and Spain, late Gothic architecture was largely influenced by the more decadent French Flamboyant style, which emphasized decorative features rather than constructional advances. Much of German late Gothic architecture lay behind the Iron Curtain, so it was largely unavailable to Western scholars until quite recently. One of the most interesting yet largely ignored examples is the Palace Church in Meisenheim (in the modern German state of Rhineland – Palatinate). Built from 1479 to 1503 for Duke Ludwig the Black of Pfalz Zweibrucken as a church near his residence, it is an example of the princely devotional / mortuary chapel that was often a highpoint of late Gothic architecture (see also the Ducal Chapel at Brou, the Lady Chapel at Westminster, the Champnol in Dijon, the Wilibrodi Church at Wesel and many others).

Designed by the prominent architect Philip von Gmund and widely admired during it’s era (study drawings by other architects and artists of the period survive to this day), the church is most notable for the extremely innovative and daring use of the flying rib vault, comparable to Our Lady in Ingolstadt. Unlike previous uses of flying rib vaults, in which the flying rib only briefly was detached from a surface, Ingolstadt, Meisenheim and Wilibrodi all have distinct layers of utterly detached flying rib vaults floating below a more traditional vault structure. Meisenheim and Wilibrodi’s flying ribs imitate the shapes of flowers, while Ingolstadt’s imitate the forms of branches – all using the widespread nature imagery of late Gothic.


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