December 12, 2006
The cathedral in literature
D. Pedro Navascués y de Palacio.
Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando
Mr. Pedro Navascués y de Palacio, Deputy Director of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando de Madrid, and Ms. Concepción García Gainza, director of the Chair de Patrimonio y Arte Navarro.
The lecture focused on the image of the cathedral and its particular configuration during the Romantic period in relation to literature and, in particular, to the work of Goethe and Victor Hugo. The former, through his writing On German Architecture ( 1773), which was included in the compendium of texts collected by Herder graduate On German Art and Style, constituted the cornerstone of the pre-Romantic "Sturm und Drang" movement. In his text, centered on the Gothic cathedral of Strasbourg, Goethe not only evolved from his classicist taste towards the romantic spirit that would identify his thought in the following, but he came to identify the Gothic architecture of the building with the very essence of German architecture and German nationalism. This text was but a prologue to another that he dedicated at the end of his life, already in the 19th century, to the Cologne Cathedral, where the national content of his thought is evident, to the point of turning it into a symbol of all Prussia, in a spirit closer to Romanticism than to Gothic, the period in which it began.
For his part, Victor Hugo in his story Notre Dame (1831) is presented as the confirmation of the neogothic taste of the time that not only encouraged the restoration of the building to position of Violet Le Duc, but also a new current of thought that had its impact on literature and the arts. In the novel, the role of the cathedral is not that of a mere setting for the events narrated, but acts as another character, exalting the medieval period in which the story is contextualized and highlighting the capacity of cathedrals to evoke it.