Two graceful vaults (Dennis Aubrey)


It seems to me that I’ve spent a lot of time talking very seriously about these Romanesque and Gothic churches, so much so that perhaps it may appear that my view of them is pretentious and self-important. I haven’t spent much time talking about how simply beautiful they are.

The graceful vaulting of the Basilique Saint Hilaire, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Trying to figure out a modern counterpart to these churches that evoke the same feeling, I reflected; what about the photography of Julius Shulman, who chronicled (and perhaps helped define) the rise of modernism? His work is extraordinary and it allows us to enter into and understand the works of the modernist architects.

Maybe it was an extraordinary exhibit of a group of Claude Monet’s series of paintings of the cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen in Normandy. He painted the western portal of the cathedral more than twenty times, the exact same scene under different light conditions. More than anything else in my life, that series of pictures distilled how light completely changes the image that we perceive, indeed that light is the only thing that allows us to see at all. PJ and I witness this ourselves when we shoot in Vézelay – the Basilique Sainte Madeleine changes with both the time of the day and the time of the year, always revealing new and more dramatic moments.

But the prize has to go to something much more populist, and less erudite. It is the sheer beauty of watching Zinedine Yazid Zidane play soccer.

The graceful vaulting of Zinedine Zidane

What Zidane evokes in me is a powerful sensation of beauty; a sense of physical grace, serenity, and elegance, something almost otherworldly. These are the exact same sensations I get in one of the great Romanesque or Gothic churches, and like Monet’s images of Rouen, the passing moments reveal new and deeper beauties. Perhaps the fact that today is a rainy day in August, a bit colder and rawer than I would have expected after a week of warmth and sun, but until today’s meditation, I never would have guessed that the closest approximation to my enjoyment of the Romanesque comes to me from this great French athlete.

4 responses to “Two graceful vaults (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Reblogged this on Life is a Camino and commented:
    I stumbled across this while ogling the beautiful photographs on this brilliant website, Via Lucis. The comparison between the athleticism of a footballer like Zidane and Romanesque/Gothic architecture is so true: power, grace, beauty. No coincidence I love them both.

    • Thanks for this, Nathan. Zidane and medieval vaults – quite a pair! I see from your site that you live nearby (we are in Cape Cod) and that you leave in August for the Camino. PJ and I both wish you the best on your journey and will watch your progress as you post.

  2. Hey Dennis! I lived and worked in Boston up until 10 days ago, and finally moved back home to San Diego for the next several weeks so I could actually see my family for a little while. Otherwise I would definitely pay you and PJ a visit (although who’s to say we won’t bump into each other in some faraway church)! On a side note, I’ve known about the Via Lucis project for quite some time. I studied Art History at Brandeis with a focus on Medieval and Renaissance art, and used ArtStor as much whenever I had to create a visual index to accompany my papers. I didn’t know about your blog until last night though! Thanks for helping augment my research with your excellent photos, and also for giving me something to dream about.

    I’m only 23 but I have felt a burning, reverent passion to see places like Chartres, Vezelay, and Arles ever since I was in 11th grade and took an Art History survey that briefly touched on Medieval art & architecture. I was hooked.

    When did you have that moment?

    • Nathan, so nice to hear from you like this. My moment was when I was 12 years old and my family moved to Poitiers. I walked from the Abbeville Caserne on top of the hill opposite the town down into the center of Poitiers where I first saw Notre Dame la Grande. And then I lived in Chauvigny for a year soon after. You can imagine the effect on an impressionable 12 year old!

      When you have your itinerary planned, feel free to contact us with requests for churches in the area where you will visit. Or you can use the Featured Churches section at the top of the blog to look for yourself.

      Good luck to you and we look forward to following your travels.

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