Nidaros Cathedral West Front
The Nidaros Cathedral West Front (Nidarosdomens Vestfront), which includes multiple sculptures, was the final portion of the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway that was restored. This is the cathedral's main facade and one of the most beautiful and ornate portions of the church. The restoration of the west face structure took place from 1901 through 1969, and the last statue was erected in 1983. This part of the church is also the most recent of the original cathedral constructions; archbishop Sigurd Eindrideson laid the cornerstone for the west front in 1248. The construction was not yet complete when the church was burnt in 1328. The original design for the west face is not known, but one can assume that it was never built to those original plans; it is reasonable to assume that a screen front similar to that used elsewhere was planned on the west. Screen fronts were often rectangular and served as a cover to conceal the rest of the church. English cathedrals from the same period, among others Lincoln Cathedral, Wells Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral, had similar fronts. The west front had three entrances and is flanked by two smaller towers on each side of the façade.
- 1 Reconstruction
- 2 Construction
- 3 The rose window
- 4 Sculptures
- 4.1 Details of sculptures
- 4.1.1 Top row: kings and prophets of the Old Testament
- 4.1.2 Middle row: Norwegian Saints to the left side
- 4.1.3 Middle row: the three theological virtues
- 4.1.4 Middle row: Annunciation
- 4.1.5 Middle row: Expulsion from Paradise
- 4.1.6 Middle row: the four cardinal virtues
- 4.1.7 Middle row: Norwegian saints on the right side
- 4.1.8 Bottom row (left): Evangelistic Kings and Saints
- 4.1.9 Bottom row (left): Apostles
- 4.1.10 Bottom row (middle): crucifixion
- 4.1.11 Bottom row (right): Apostles
- 4.1.12 Bottom row (right): Evangelistic Kings and Saints
- 4.1 Details of sculptures
- 5 References
- 6 Literature
Of the overall Nidaros Cathedral restoration, reconstruction of the west front stirred the most debate. The Nidaros Cathedral had not been well maintained and the west front was among the most deteriorated parts of the church in 1869. The difficulty in restoration was exacerbated by the fact that it was the portion of the church which was the most complex, least well documented, and most difficult to reconstruct. The initial condition was so bad that many professionals opposed any attempt to restore without major reconstruction.
There is limited documentation of the west front, as it was rebuilt after the fire in the 1328 and later fires. The oldest known depiction of the west front is a print prepared by Jacob Mortensson Maschius (~1630–78) from 1661, which shows two full floors and part of the third floor. Evidence indicates that there was a window on the third floor, as in Lincoln Cathedral. Here it is inset a curved tip rose window in Gothic style. Written sources document that Nidaros Cathedral had such a rose window:
... therefore haffuer and King Oluff Kyrre directed construction of a stately rose window in gable at the cathedral, which haffuer faithfully gilded with the best gold.
Absalon Pederssøn Beyer (1528–75) recorded around 1560. Gunnar Danbolt (1940–) citing a different source from 1500 in his book Nidarosdomen, fra Kristkirke til nasjonalmonument (Nidarosdomen, from Christian church to national monument) published in 1997, quoted:
......in the church gable there is a large rose formed of stone, which was gold gilded, and inset within the center was a large red stone, set such that as the sun shone there, one could not fasten eyes thereupon for the glory which there shone.
There is such a "karfunkelsten" or carbuncle (an older term for any red-precious stones) in the center of the rose window today; it traditionally symbolizes Christ.
Architect Christian Christie
Since there was limited documentation on the original west front layout, there was an extensive discussion of what was appropriate for the restoration in 1903. The cathedral architect, Christian Christie was uncertain whether the Gothic style or a practical, functional structure was preferable. In his sketch of 1903 the west face did not include a rose window, for which he was subjected to criticism.
The restoration of the west front did not begin before his death in 1906.
Architect Olaf Nordhagen
After Christies death, an architectural competition was held for design of the west front, and the shared first prize went to Olaf Nordhagen and Henrik Bull. In 1909 Nordhagen was employed, and his sketch of the west front prepared in 1913, which contained the front screen, rose window and side tower, was approved by the Norwegian Parliament. However in 1915 he made radical changes in the drawings, while the historian Macody Lund proposed a completely different configuration for the west face and west gable, based on the golden ratio. This conflict of views led to significant delays in the restoration, culminating in convening an international expert commission, which rejected Macody Lunds proposed approach in 1923. In 1930, five years after Nordhagen's death, only the first three floors and the rose window completed.
Architect Helge Thiis
In 1929, a new architectural competition was held, and the proposal that won, Kongespeilet was prepared by Helge Thiis. This started the last phase in the restoration of the west front. Thiis was appointed as the cathedral architect, a position he held from 1930 until his death in 1972. He believed that the work on the west front was essentially an artistic exercise in the spirit and form of Gothic architecture and of the Church as a whole, than a reconstruction. His work has much in common with Nordhagen's approved sketch, and represents the west front as it appears today.
This concluded that the front should be built following a rhythmic proportional system: "The seated statues have the same height as the first pictorial series, the deep niches as second pictorial series, and in height from cornice band under the royal floor up to the tip of the arch is equal to twice the lower height." The rectangular screen fronts baseline dimensions are based on the principle of the golden ratio. The two columns on each side of the rose window are placed according to this principle, the same is the position of the horizontal delineations between the second and third and between the third and fourth alcove openings. These lines are most clearly visible on the side towers.
The rectangular baseline also provides the baseline of an equilateral triangle with a vertex in the west gable front, which was completed in 1963. The rose window forms a circle in the triangle. A circle in an equilateral triangle is often regarded as the symbol for "God's eye."
The rose window
None of the Nidaros Cathedral's original stained glass windows were intact when the restoration work started in 1869. The concept followed was to reconstruct the church in the Gothic style, and as a result the new stained glass windows should also have standard medieval themes. In 1907 the architect Gabriel Kielland (1871–1960) won a competition for new paintings for Nidaros Cathedral's southern gable. In addition Kielland delivered proposals to all of the church windows, and received the commission to create the stained glass windows. The paintings are iconographic imagery which were produced in collaboration with Oluf Kolsrud (1885–1945), professor of church history. The themes are from the Bible stories and Saint's legends, the windows on the north side of the church have a blue background and shows predominantly scenes from the Old Testament, the windows on the south side of the church have a red background and shows a corresponding predominance of scenes of the New Testament, while the rose window motif that faces the sunset (west), symbolizes doomsday. The rose window's structural layout followed the design by cathedral architect Olaf Nordhagen, and the diameter is built up around an eightfold symmetry with the innermost parts proportioned such that the diameter is formed of 16 sheets.
The window expresses how things move outward from Christ and converge back to him by doomsday. In the middle is a red gem, which symbolizes Christ. The rays outward represent yellow flames in a blue background. Angels are located at the end of each flame; those on the upper half are singing and playing while those on the lower half are six winged. In the outermost ring are the angels of the judgment. Between the angels of judgment are the symbols for the four Evangelists. In the upper left is the Matthew the Evangelist as an angel with a written scroll. In the upper right is John the Evangelist represented as an eagle. In the bottom right is Luke the Evangelist as an ox. In the bottom left is Mark the Evangelist as a lion. The painted glass in the window consists of over 10,000 pieces. The rose window was presented as a gift from the women of Norway for St. Olav's anniversary in 1930, it was completed the same year and is regarded as Kielland's masterpiece.
The sculptures on the west front are partially based on Maschius' drawings, on guesswork and on pure fantasy. Originally, the wall was framed with two side towers, and had a series of sculptures. The few of them that survived clearly show a French influence, particularly traceable to the cathedral in Reims. It is unknown how many rows of sculptures there originally were – only the bottom row survived the fires and decay of the late Middle Ages; the five remaining sculptures are in poor condition. These sculptures are now in the museum in Erkebispegården i Trondheim (Archbishop's Palace in Trondheim). Work on the sculptures started in 1929. The sculptures depict both biblical and historical characters.
The two lower rows of sculpture, proposed by Professor Oluf Kolsrud in 1928, are based on the engraving by Jacob Maschius. Kolsrud was an historical adviser on the church's restoration, and prepared an iconography for the sculptures. His proposal to place statues on the "royal floor" – although without evidence of historical precedent – was approved in 1935. It was assumed that the medieval sculptures were based on living models, and to a large extent, this concept is applied to the new sculptures. Thus the sculpture of Bishop Sigurd borrowed features from the poet Aasmund Olavsson Vinje, and Kristofer Leirdal's statue of the Archangel Michael on the top of the northwest tower was based, according to the sculptor, on the face of Bob Dylan – inspired by Dylan's opposition to the Vietnam War.
Above the row of kings, on top of each column that separates the niches containing sculptures of kings and prophets of the Old Testament, there are smaller sculptures that symbolize the twelve months in a year. These small sculptures, Gothic in style, were modeled by Odd Hilt in 1937-1938 and represent different tasks appropriate to the corresponding month of the year. Only one of them, the September sculpture representing the apple harvest, is female. Similar figures appropriate to the months can be found in several major European cathedrals dating from the Middle Ages, especially those in France.
The central axis of the west front is dominated by Jesus Christ, to whom the Nidaros Cathedral is dedicated. Christ comprises the stem of a tree, and the rows of sculptures represent branches of the tree. At the bottom of the middle axis lies a sculpted group of motifs from the crucifixion - the crucified Christ is based on a model by Wilhelm Rasmussen. Above the rose window is a relief with the same theme as the window's subject – doomsday – with Christ sitting in judgment; the relief was designed by Stinius Fredriksen. At the top of the west gable is a relief with Christ triumphant - the transfigured Christ, designed by Kristofer Leirdalen. Danbolt discusses these sculptures in his works about Nidarosdomen, noting that:
The crucifixion represents the possibility of salvation. In the doomsday sequence it is clear how this possibility is developed. And Christ triumphant draws our attention upward to the sky, which again represents realizing the possibility of salvation. This illustrates the second article of the Christian declaration of faith, "Christ has risen."
The sculptures spread from the center span toward each side. The top row contains the images of Christ's spiritual and physical ancestors. The middle row shows the Expulsion from Paradise and the Annunciation, on opposite sides of the rosette, as well as the Norwegian saints and their virtues. The bottom row of sculptures shows the Apostles, along with Saints and Kings who spread Christianity throughout Europe.
Additionally, the western façade is replete with lesser sculptures, masks, angels, gargoyles, and a large collection of fauna: bears, donkeys, elephants, cocks and bees. This wealth of sculpture is intended to represent the divine work of God's creation. In addition, there are reliefs, ornaments, arches and columns topped by ornate, richly carved capitals. Helge Thiis said that "no human eye can apprehend from the ground all the rich details contained in this Church".
Many of Norway's leading sculptors joined in creating the western façade, working for several decades. These include Gustav Vigeland (1869–1943), Wilhelm Rasmussen (1879–1965), Dyre Vaa (1903–1980), Stinius Fredriksen (1902–1977), Nic Schiøll (1901–1984), Arne Kvibergskaar, Odd Hilt (1915–1986), Knut Skinnarland (1909–1993), Tone Thiis Schjetne (1928-), Sivert Donali (1931-), Kristofer Leirdal (1915–2010), Arnold Haukeland (1920–1983), Anne Raknes (1914–2001), Helge Thiis and August Albertsen.
Details of sculptures
Top row: kings and prophets of the Old Testament
|The kings and prophets from the kingdom of Judah who prophesied the coming of the Christ - Christ's spiritual and physical ancestors. The series includes five prophets and three kings on each side. In addition, John the Baptist and Moses are found in the smaller niches on each side of the rose window.|
1. Patriarch Abraham
2. Prophet Samuel
3. Prophet Isaiah
4. Prophet Ezekiel
5. Prophet Jonah
6. King David
7. King Jehoshaphat
8. King Hezekiah
9. John the Baptist
11. King Josiah
12. King Azariah
13. King Solomon
15. Prophet Daniel
16. Prophet Jeremiah
17. Prophet Elijah
18. Patriarch Jacob
Middle row: Norwegian Saints to the left side
19. Archbishop Øystein
20. Saint Hallvard
21. Saint Sunniva
22. Saint Olaf
Middle row: the three theological virtues
On the right side of the rosette-shaped window sculptures are three women, representing three theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love or Charity. These virtues provide the foundation for, as well as characterizing and encouraging, Christian morality. The theological virtues are related to the four cardinal virtues located on the left side of the cathedral's rose window.
Middle row: Annunciation
The Annunciation was the moment when Mary received the news that she was to be the mother of Jesus. This represents to opposite of the expulsion from paradise, which appears on the opposite side of the rose window. The alliance with God was broken by the expulsion, but the contact was reestablished through the Annunciation. The group of sculptures is based on a model by Stinius Fredriksen.
26. Prophet Isaiah
27. Archangel Gabriel
28. Virgin Mary
Middle row: Expulsion from Paradise
The sculptural group of the expulsion from paradise, is located just to the right side of the rosette from across from the Annunciation on the left side. The error of sin and the expulsion was reversed by Jesus' birth and crucifixion. The three sculptures in this series were based on models by Nic Schiøll.
Middle row: the four cardinal virtues
On the right side of the middle row are the four cardinal virtues represented by simply dressed women. These human virtues are related to the saints who appear in the same row of sculptures. They are also mentioned in Ephesians 5, 9: …the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth. They complement the sculptures to the right side of the rosette-shaped window, who are three women representing the three theological virtues. The four sculptures are based on models developed and carved by Odd Hilt.
Middle row: Norwegian saints on the right side
36. Bishop Torlak
37. Saint Magnus
38. Bishop Erlend
Bottom row (left): Evangelistic Kings and Saints
39. Olaf Tryggvason
40. Bishop Sigurd
41. Saint Clement
Bottom row (left): Apostles
42. Saint Philip
43. Saint Thomas
44. Saint Bartholomew
45. Saint Andrew
46. Saint John
47. Saint Peter
Bottom row (middle): crucifixion
48. Crucifixion group: Mary, Jesus and John
Bottom row (right): Apostles
49. Saint Paul
50. St. James the Greater
51. Apostle Simon
52. Saint Matthew
53. St. James the Less
54. Saint Jude
Bottom row (right): Evangelistic Kings and Saints
55. Saint Nicasius
56. Saint Denis
57. Saint Francis of Assisi
- "Nidaros Cathedral: The sculptures of the West Front". Retrieved 27 March 2009.[dead link]
- Beyer, Absolon Pederssøn. "Om Norgis Rige" (in Norwegian). Dokumentasjonsprosjektet ved Universitetet i Oslo i 1991–1997. Retrieved 2009-03-24.
- Leirdal, Kristofer (Originally published 21.06.2001 - Updated 27.12.2007 - 13:07). "Nidaros-engel med Dylans ansikt - Rockelegenden Bob Dylan er modell for skulpturen St. Mikael som har tronet på toppen av nordre vestfronttårn på Nidarosdomen siden 1969. (Nidaros Angel with Dylan's Face – Rock legend Bob Dylan is the model for the St. Mikael sculpture on the top of the northwest tower of the Nidaros Cathedral since 1969)" (in Norwegian). Retrieved 27 March 2009. Check date values in:
- Helge Thiis, Nidarosdomen in photos, 1974
- 2Kings 19:35
- Exodus 19:23
- The stone with seven eyes is a reference to Zechariah 3:9 Zechariah 3:9
- The authorship of the Book of Daniel is a matter of debate among Christians. One view holds that the work was written by a prophet named Daniel who lived during the sixth century BC. Other Biblical scholars maintain that the book was redacted in the mid-second century BC and that most of the predictions of the book refer to events that had already occurred.
- Genesis 41:52
- Genesis 48:1
- Corinthians 13:13
- Isaiah 7:14
- Luke 1:30-31
- Genesis 3:24 Genesis 3:24
- Genesis 3:17 Genesis 3:17
- Genesis 3:6
- Ephesians 5:9
- Chapman, John. "Pope St. Clement I." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 6 Dec. 2008.
- This is the iconographic detail by which he may be identified on numerous sculptures including the thirteenth-century sculpture at the Musée de Cluny and in the nineteenth-century figure in the portal of Nôtre Dame de Paris.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to West front of Nidaros Cathedral.|
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