Framing the Church

The Social and Artistic Power of Buttresses in French Gothic Architecture

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Maile S. Hutterer
  • State College: 
    Pennsylvania State University Press
    , January
     224 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Framing the Church takes a nontraditional approach to the study of the hallmark of French Gothic architecture: the buttress. In a series of case studies spanning approximately five hundred years and incorporating some of Gothic France’s most significant monuments, Maile S. Hutterer examines the aesthetics, social processes, and iconography of flying buttresses and buttress piers to explain how they supported the church both symbolically and structurally.

Surrounding all or part of a building with periodically spaced massive piers, the buttressing frame defines an edge that simultaneously maintains permeability, creating an intermediary space around the structure. Making extensive use of archival sources, Hutterer argues that the areas between the buttresses distinguished the consecrated, sacred ground of the church interior from its unconsecrated, nonsacred surroundings, a division that was of increasing concern to theologians in the High Middle Ages. She traces how, over the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, artists and patrons increasingly associated buttressing frames with sacred places through the incorporation of sculptural programs related to theology, processions, and protection. In this way, buttressing frames mediated the interaction between visitor and building and participated in the liturgical and ritual purpose of the church’s structure.

Original and persuasive, this book illuminates the buttresses’ social and religious meaning for medieval viewers by introducing architectural iconography to a form that is primarily understood in terms of its structural utility. It will be welcomed by students and scholars of medieval architecture and medieval French history.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Maile S. Hutterer is assistant professor of history of art and architecture at the University of Oregon.


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