The Abbey of Casamari: Gothic comes back to Italy

An article published in October 1949 in the prestigious Touring Club Italiano magazine “Le Vie d’Italia” provides a perfect introduction to the Gothic beauty of the Cistercian Abbey of Casamari, in Veroli (Frosinone):

“Beside the street that at some point abates its declivity and flattens, on the right, a series of beautiful Roman arches – remains of an ancient aqueduct – here and there show through their openings the imposing, huge, varied complex of the abbey’s buildings.”

“You finally turn and go under the second-last arch, and there you are, in front of the abbey’s first edifice. The marble millions laugh a beautiful, candid laughter on the guest quarters’ loggia – looking at them evokes a sense of moving admiration. You go on. Under the atrium’s vault ceiling, your steps echo on the floor’s hard stone, and admiration gives way to wonder as you go past the great round arch and near the exit. There is a solemn air that envelops this work of art, moving like a young athlete at the height of his strength and health in search of space, solidity, and elegance.”

“Did this particular Gothic architectural style reach us, from Burgundy and Provence, with the Fossanova Abbey first and the Abbey of San Galgano, near Siena, later? That is French historian Camille Enlart’s thesis, in a famous work of his that continues to inspire us today.”

“At the top of a tall staircase, from a hill, I can see the church’s façade clearly: its outer portico opens up into a sequence of three arches, with a rose and two windows above, the beautiful portal between two minor, lancet-arch doors, molded and decorated with faint red-ochre stone […].”

“One could see the fact that the abbeys of Fossanova, Casamari and San Galgano mark the beginning of Gothic art in Italy – brought by the Cistercian monks and the Cîteaux order after the 12th century – like a return or restitution: indeed, we should remember that Burgundy and Provence (near the Italian regions of Lombardy and Piedmont) received from Italian craftsmen the Lombard traits featured in their architecture.”

“After construction began in 1187, the Abbey of Fossanova was consecrated in 1208, on June 8th; the one in Casamari, according to chroniclers, followed nine years later, in 1217; finally, San Galgano dates back to 1218.”

“These are relevant dates in the history of Italian art, as they belong to a memorable period of thirty years in which, having synthetized past architectural elements, Lazio and Tuscany, Abruzzo, Apulia and Sicily blossomed with the germs and flowers of the Gothic-Burgundian style, which was generally monastic but also pervaded with laic spirits, French but originally Lombard and re-made in Italy, like an ancestor and brother at the same time of the ‘new Gothic school that had flourished in better climates, among more cultured people; more serene, beautiful, religious but healthy’ – in the exact words of Ippolito Taine” (translated from L. Alonzi, “Ritorno a Casamari, in “Le Vie d’Italia”, no. 10, October1949).

©www.atlantedellarteitaliana.it, ©tanovas, ©Giovanni Vastano, ©Franco Carnevale

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The Abbey of Casamari: Gothic comes back to Italy

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