St. Lazare, Autun: A Conundrum in Stone
The Cathedral of St. Lazare (Autun, France), with work by the celebrated sculptor Gislebertus, is one of the most scrutinized and misunderstood Romanesque cathedrals in Europe. Since the last century, art historians have almost unilaterally come to similar conclusions about the church, and their theories have garnered little, if any, debate. Gislebertus is considered to be the artist responsible for the superlative figurative sculpture on the exterior and interior of the Romanesque church. This essay challenges these conclusions, and suggests an unconventional interpretation of the cryptic statement carved on the tympanum, “Gislebertus hoc fecit” or “Gislebertus made this,” and questions the veracity of the iconic signature. The sculpture in the cathedral is renowned for its artistry and for the moral and enigmatic messages imparted. Rational alternatives are given for deciphering the implications of three of the most studied column capitals. New findings with scientific measurements can now link the artist’s knowledge to a precise and intelligent understanding of advanced astronomy.
Past scholars have been unable to formulate a precise rationale for the building of a new church constructed only a stone’s throw away from a viable cathedral. The building’s atypical orientation and axis further complicate its purpose and demand further explanation. New information and research suggest alternative explanations for its unusual positioning and the identity of its famed sculptor. By examining the design, the patrons, and the politics of the twelfth-century church, the author challenges accepted hypotheses and applies unorthodox processes to help solve the mysteries of the 900-year-old cathedral.
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