BUILDING FOR ETERNITY
Medieval construction business is in full swing in the foreground. Anonymous craftsmen, grey with stone dust, are hammering and chiseling away on masonry segments. A kneeling sculptor is carefully carving a statue, while others are preparing mortar to join decorative and structural parts. On the left, citizens carrying financial contributions climb the stairs of a palace. On its balcony a king, assisted by his architect, oversees the work with one hand pointing to heaven. In the middle ground, we see the purpose of these efforts. Churchgoers, both wealthy citizens and poorly clad pilgrims equipped with staff and rucksack, enter the portals of a Gothic cathedral richly ornamented with prophets, biblical kings and saints. But work goes on, for towers are still lacking. On the roof, a crane hoists up more building material.
French painter and illuminator Jean Fouquet created this miniature around 1465, closely following the cathedral architecture of his hometown Tours. But it is not what it seems. The scene illustrates a manuscript page of Jewish Antiquities, a history of the Jewish people. Written by Jewish first century historian Flavius Josephus, it remained widely read by both Christians and Jews since Roman times. Fouquet’s building site illustrates the story of King Solomon constructing the Temple of Jerusalem, but his contemporary architecture appropriates the ancient Temple in form and meaning. According to Christian theology, Ecclesia or the Catholic Church had displaced Synagoga or the Jewish Temple, and its construction was now considered a metaphor for building the Spiritual or Heavenly Temple of the New Testament. Like no other architectural style before or afterwards, Gothic cathedrals represent this notion of reaching for heaven. Emphasizing verticality, slenderness and light pouring in through stained glass windows, their sky-high design aims at Salvation and eternal life as a return on investment. The unfinished state of Fouquet’s structure expresses the ongoing character of this process, both metaphorically and in practice. The construction of Tours cathedral, for example, started in 1170 and continued at a leisurely pace until 1547.
(text: Jos Hanou)