The Poitou region of France is one of the most fertile for Romanesque churches and features a distinctive architectural and sculptural style. Such is the profusion of sculpture that I am never sure how much of the content is part of an iconographic program and how much is decoration, and nowhere is this question more apparent than in the Église Saint Pierre des Tours in Aulnay-de-Saintonge.
We’ve photographed the famed Église Saint Pierre before, but this year when we went back, my job was to document the sculpture that is one of the wonders of the Romanesque world. From the magnificent western and south portals to the interior capitals, the church is a riot of sacred and profane art. This post is not to argue for an interpretation of some of the grotesque sculptures, but just an opportunity to share in their creative vigor.
This first shot is of chevet and the south wall of the church at the end of the day. We were still shooting when they came to close the church and when I went outside, this was the view. You can clearly see the location of the portal in the south transept.
That south portal is a magnificent array of four orders of densely carved archivolts. In the third archivolt you can see the Elders of the Apocalypse, but interestingly enough, there are thirty-one figures instead of the traditional twenty-four. I’m not an expert, but this indicates to me that the demands of ornamentation were more important that the strict demands of iconography.
In this photo of the nave by PJ, you can see the the elegant interior of the church with the capitals.
Here you can see the lines of the columns topped with the capitals, drawing the eye inexorably upwards.
The inside of the church is a riot of figurative capitals with elephants and other creatures, scenes from the Bible, and what we call grotesques. The next three photos are black and white treatments of three of the grotesque capitals that I absolutely adore.
This shot is a wonderful contorted sinner surrounded by snakes.
This final shot of the first capital on the south side of the nave features a pair of demons tormenting a bearded man. I am sure that there is some religious signification to these three sculptures, but there is no question that they have great decorative value.
Location: Click this link to see the location on our custom Google Map.