Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Modena Archivolt

The Abduction of Guinevere Part II
Throughout Arthurian Romance Guinevere is commonly portrayed with two weaknesses; her love affairs with Arthur's best knight, and very susceptible to being abducted.

An Arthurian Sculpture
As discussed in an earlier post, the Abduction of Guinevere  is a very popular element of the Arthurian legend, first appearing in written form in Caradoc of Llancarvan's early 12th century Vita Gildae (Life of Gildas), throughout the Arthurian Romances of the late 12th century, through Ulrich von Zatzikhoven’s Lanzelet , Chrétien de Troyes’ The Knight of the Cart, up to Malory's definitive account in Morte d'Arthur.

Caradoc of Llancarvan's account, c.1130, appears to be the earliest written account of the Abduction of Guinevere, a tale he wrote for the Monks of Glastonbury Abbey and interpreted as the first to connect Arthur with the Somerset town, although, as we will see later, this is based on a false etymology of 'Ynys Witrin'. Caradoc's sources have been the cause of much debate between Arthurian scholars, however, evidence indicates there was an oral tradition of the Abduction motif current in Europe prior to Caradoc.

We find evidence of this tradition in an early 12th sculpture at a cathedral in Italy. Nestling in the Po Valley and just north of Bologna, is Modena with its famous cathedral, on which in 1099 a group of sculptors began work. The north portal of Modena Cathedral, known as the Porta della Pescheria, features a seemingly related account, a high relief carving in the marble archivolt depicts a scene from the tale of the abduction of Arthur's Queen. The Arthurian sculpture on the Modena archivolt is seen as evidence that an independent oral account of the tale of the Abduction of Guinevere was known in Europe prior to the writings of Caradoc of Llancarvan and Geoffrey of Monmouth. [1]

The Modena Archivolt
The Modena archivolt shows an assault on a castle by a number of mounted knights with names recognisable from the Arthurian mythos, albeit in a Bretonised form. At the apex of the archivolt is a stone castle surrounded by water. Within the castle are a woman, Winlogee and a man, Mardoc, who is holding her prisoner. To the right, three knights attack the castle. The unnamed knight at the front is engaged in combat with one of the castle’s inhabitants, wielding an axe. The other two are named Isdernus and Artus de Bretania (Arthur). On the left-hand side of the castle are two knights in combat, one named Galvagin (Gawain) appears to be attacking Carrado who defends the castle. On the extreme right of the archivolt are two knights approach, named Galvariun and Che (Kay) who carry their lances over their shoulders and do not seem directly engaged in the action. [2]

This sculpture was first brought to the attention of students of medieval romance by Foerster in 1898 in Zeitschrift fur Romanische Philologie, XXII. Foerster noted a curious resemblance between the Modena sculpture and the tale of Carado of the Dolorous Tower in the 13th century Vulgate Lancelot. In this tale Gawain is abducted by a gigantic knight, Carado, and imprisoned in a castle with two perilous entrances, at one stood a churl. Carado is pursued by Galeschin, Ivain, Arthur and Keu. Gawain is rescued by Lancelot who slays Carado with his own magic sword which a maiden, who had been abducted by the gigantic knight, placed within Lancelot's reach. Foerster pointed out that all the details in the Modena archivolt correspond to this tale. But he failed to identify the maiden of the sculpture, named as Winlogee, with Guinevere probably because the account of the Dolorous Tower is an abduction of Gawain, not Arthur's Queen. Yet Chretien de Troyes account of Guinevere's abduction in Lancelot, or the Knight of the Cart, incorporates many of the same elements and was no doubt a source for the Vulgate version.

Other elements of the Modena archivolt scene are found in the abduction story on the late 13th century Durmart le Gallois, in which the castle of the abductor is surrounded by a wide marsh, shields of vanquished knights are hung on the walls of the keep, the queen is found with her lover in the castle, Ydier, as with Isdernus, is not wearing any armour.

By reversing the author's accounts and making Gawain the hero of the the Dolorous Tower episode and Guinevere the victim,  Roger Loomis reconstructs the tale depicted on the Modena archivolt of the Vulgate Lancelot and Durmart le Gallois:

“Artus' queen, Winlogee, is out in the meadow, escorted only by one knight, Isdern. A giant knight, Carado, gallops out from a wood and seizes the queen, riding off with her to his castle. Isdern raises the alarm, taking spear and shield in pursuit. Fully armed Galvarium, Galvagin, Artus and Che set out after him. They arrive at a castle surrounded by a marsh and approached by two opposite barbicans. Before on of which stands the huge churl, named Burmalt, swinging a baston cornu. Burmalt appears to resist the onslaught of artus, Isdern and an unnamed knight. At the other entrance Galvarium, Galvagin and Che are met by the giant Carado. Galvagin pursues Caado into the castle. When he breaks his sword, a maiden who Carado has abducted places the giant's own sword, with which alone he could be killed, within Galvagin's reach who accordingly kills Carado with it. Galvagin then sees the shields of knights whom Carado has slain hanging on the walls of the keep. At last he finds Winlogee with Mardoc who has long loved the queen. The fate of Mardoc is uncertain, but Galvagin brings the queen back to Artus. [3]

Dating the Sculpture
Construction of the cathedral began in 1099 and the Porta della Pescheria Arthurian sculpture is generally dated 1120-1140.  However, Loomis has argued persistently for an early date for the sculpture.

Loomis recalls how in 1096 a group of Breton nobles led by the Alan IV, Duke of Brittany, known as Alan Fergant ('The Strong' in Breton) and his vassals stopped off at Bari on route to Apulia (Puglia) in southern Italy for the  first Crusade. Here they stayed for four months awaiting for a crossing to Greece. Loomis conjectures that while they passed the winter nights at Bari, a Breton conteur (minstrel) would have told them tales of Great Arthur and his knights.

Loomis argues that the existence  of the Arthurian scene on the north portal archivolt of the Modena cathedral is the story told by the  Breton conteur to the Crusaders and craftsmen gathered at Bari during the winter of 1096-97.  [4]
We can be certain that the Modena archivolt sculpture belongs to the early years of the 12th century as work on the modern Modena Cathedral began in 1099, under the direction of the master builder Lanfranco, over the site of the sepulchre of Saint Geminianus, Modena's patron saint. The cathedral  contains many masterpieces of Romanesque sculpture and notable reliefs by Wiligelmo. The architect Lanfranco and the sculptor Wiligelmus perfected a fusion of ancient culture and new Lombard art, creating a fundamental model for Romanesque civilisation.

Wiligelmo (also known as Wiligelmus or Guglielmo), said to be an Italian sculptor, is known to have been active between c.1099 and 1120. He is often considered the first great Italian sculptor. Wiligelmo's reliefs on the facade of Modena cathedral are considered an important first step in the early development of Romanesque sculpture. His identity as the creator is known from an inscription held by the figures of the prophets Enoch and Elijah. Wiligelmus’s principal work is the sculptural assemblage on the west facade of the cathedral at Modena, thought to have been completed c. 1106–1110.

The side gates at Modena are noteworthy for their work by a pupil of Wiligelmus. The Piazza Grande, the Porta Regia ("Royal Gate"), and the shorter Porta dei Principi ("Princes' Gate"), are decorated with a relief depicting episodes of the life of Saint Geminianus. On the northern side is the Porta della Pescheria ("Fish-Market Gate"), with reliefs on the doorposts inspired by the cycle of the years' twelve months and the arch features the tale from the Breton Cycle of King Arthur. The Modena archivolt is considered the earliest monumental sculpture to feature the Arthurian legend. The sculptor, a pupil of Wiligelmus, has been dubbed the "Arthur Master"; critics  tend to note that while his inspiration outshines his skill he faithfully captures realistic details in architecture and dress.

Wiligelmus directed a large workshop that trained numerous sculptors who continued his work at Modena and carried his style elsewhere. The sculptures of Modena cathedral share a close relationship with those of the church at Bari. Both churches contain many masterpieces of Romanesque sculpture and notable reliefs. The Modena archivolt was imitated in the Porta dei Leoni at the Basilica di San Nicola  in Bari, founded in 1089 to shelter the stolen relics of St. Nicolas of Myra. The St. Nicholas Basilica in Bari is a majestic edifice that became the model for later Puglian Romanesque churches. Work on the basilica was completed around 1105. On the north and south sides, deep arcades link the west towers to the transepts, giving the basilica a squarish appearance. The third arch on the north side houses the Porta dei Leoni (Lion Portal), named after the Lions supporting the columns flanking the door. Above the door the arch is decorated with chivalric scenes, although apparently not of an Arthurian context, it is of a similar style to the archivolt at Modena.

The archivolt of the cathedral of Angoulême, Charente in France, constructed between 1110 and 1128 compares favourably with the two archivolts of Bari and Modena in that it depicts warriors in combat before a walled town, but as with Bari it is not considered to be of an Arthurian context. The horses at Angoulême are essentially the same type of those Bari or Modena, but more poorly drawn and the saddles sometimes possess a tail strap as at Bari, but at Modena and Bari the saddles have only one girth, whereas at Angoulême they have two, indicating that Angoulême is the later. The harness straps at Angoulême are ornamented.

At Angoulême we find the shields are round, instead of pointed and the lances are without pennants. At Angoulême three of the knights have conical helmets, like those of Bari and Modena, but a peculiarity is that from one of these helmets and from the crown of King Arthur at Modena, there seems to flutter a sort of veil. At Angoulême the mail falls in a skirt to the knees, as at both Modena and Bari. [5]

In addition, the style of dress depicted on the Modena archivolt is correct for the period. The armour  of the warriors depicted on the Porta della Pescheria at Modena holds much similarity to the Bayeux tapestry recalling the Norman conquest of 1066; the one essential difference  being the armour  of the Modena warriors  is a skirted mail coat, while those of the tapestry are wearing trousers. As the tapestry has been dated from the years immediately after 1066, we can deduce that the armour resembles Modena more closely than depictions at Bari or Angoulême; thus, the chronological order appears to be Bayeux, Modena, Bari, and finally Angoulême.

Transmission of the Tale

Loomis has noted that the name 'Wiligelmus' signed on the Modena facade appears in a similar form on the Bayeux embroidery as 'Wilgelmus', from which he suggests that the sculptor of Modena could have been Norman. Angoulême distinctly appears to be the latest of the three archivolts, and closer to Bari than with the earlier Modena sculpture. Assuming the sculpture at Modena was started soon after work was begun on the cathedral in 1099, it is possible that it was imitated at Bari before 1105, and in turn Bari may have been copied at Angoulême c.1120, indicating transmission of the sculpture style from East to West.

It is as such that we find the influence of Lombardic architecture appearing in Normandy at precisely the time when the Normans began to pass through Lombardy on their frequent journeys to Apulia in southern Italy, the port of departure of the Crusaders. The connection between the Bayeux tapestry, the relief at Angoulême, the Porta della Pescheria at Modena, and the Porta dei Leoni at S. Niccola of Bari is compatible with this direction of transmission. The occupation of Apulia by the Normans must have caused much travelling back and forth from Normandy through Lombardy to Apulia. Journeys undertaken for many different reasons led travellers along the same routes even by those who were not pilgrims.

William of Apulia, a chronicler of the Normans, writing in the late 11th century, who's works include the Gesta Roberti Wiscardi (The Deeds of Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia, 1059–1085), is one of the principal contemporary sources for the Norman conquest of southern Italy. William tells us that in 1016 pilgrims arriving at the shrine of the Archangel Michael at Monte Gargano were met by Melus of Bari, a Lombard freedom-fighter, who persuaded them to return with more warriors to help throw off the Byzantine rule, which they did without any great resistance. Appropriately, in the Gesta Roberti Wiscardi William refers to the Normans as "the Gallic race [who] wanted to open the roads to the Holy Sepulchre" .

The evidence discussed above would appear to indicate the transmission of the 'Abduction' motif, Arthurian or not, as depicted in the sculptures on these three Romanesque Cathedrals, from east to west. However, we are forced to consider if it is possible that the tale could have passed across Europe in the opposite direction, taken to Italy by the crusader knights from northern France led by Alan IV, 'The Strong', Duke of Brittany?

Alan's father was Hoel II of Cornwall who became Duke of Brittany, by marriage, in 1066 and started the Cornwall dynasty of Brittany, which ruled the duchy for nearly a hundred years. Little is known of Hoel but it is significant that he has ancestral roots in south west Britain, the veritable home of Arthurian legends. At this point we can justifiably speculate that it is possible that Alan IV of Brittany may have took the tale of Guinevere's abduction to Italy on route to the Holy Land, perhaps a Cornish tale he had heard from his father, a precursor that developed into the tale recalled by Caradoc of Llancarvan in the 12th century.

Route of the First Crusade
Yet, from Bari, the Norman knights of the First Crusade were bound for Constantinople through Greece, just across the Strait of Otranto in the southern Adriatic Sea, the nearest port being the ancient Greek colony of Aulon (modern Vlorë, Albania) which played a central role in the conflicts between the Norman Kingdom of southern Italy and the Byzantine Empire during the 11th  and 12th centuries. It is within Greek mythology that we find the archetype of the abducted flower maiden. It is inconceivable that the Norman knights were not exposed to the myth of the abduction of Persephone.

Indeed, the Arthurian sculpture on the archivolt at Modena cathedral appears independently of any known literary source. [6] More likely the tale of Guinevere's abduction originates from a meeting of east and west; the tales of Arthur and his knights taken to Italy by the Breton contingent of the First Crusade, becoming entwined with the Greek mythology of the abduction of Persephone by the Breton story tellers stopping off in southern Italy. In turn this abduction story, presented with an Arthurian twist, spread back across Europe along the pilgrim routes to Brittany and finally to Britain and the quill of Caradoc of Llancarvan who adapted the tale for the monks of Glastonbury.

Part III: White, The Winter King

1.  Norris Lacey and Geoffrey Ashe, with Debbra Mancoff, The Arthurian Handbook, Garland, 1997, p.205.
2.  Marilyn Stokstad, "Modena Archivolt", in Norris J. Lacy, The Arthurian Encyclopedia., Garland, 1986, pp.390-91.
3.  R S Loomis, Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, 1927, Academy Chicago Publishers edition 1997, p.10.
4. Ibid. pp. 5-11.
5.  Arthur Kingsley Porter, Romanesque sculpture of the Pilgrimage Roads, 1923.
6. Norris Lacey and Geoffrey Ashe, with Debbra Mancoff, op.cit. p.199.

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