Universe of Stone: A Biography of Chartres Cathedral

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9780061154294: Universe of Stone: A Biography of Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral, south of Paris, is revered as one of the most beautiful and profound works of art in the Western canon. But what did it mean to those who constructed it in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries? And why, during this time, did Europeans begin to build churches in a new style, at such immense height and with such glorious play of light, in the soaring manner we now call Gothic?


Universe of Stone shows that the Gothic cathedrals encode a far-reaching shift in the way medieval thinkers perceived their relationship with their world. For the first time, they began to believe in an orderly, rational world that could be investigated and understood. This change marked the beginning of Western science and also the start of a long and, indeed, unfinished struggle to reconcile faith and reason.


By embedding the cathedral in the culture of the twelfth centuryits schools of philosophy and science, its trades and technologies, its politics and religious debatesPhilip Ball makes sense of the visual and emotional power of Chartres. Beautifully illustrated and written, filled with astonishing insight, Universe of Stone argues that Chartres is a sublime expression of the originality and vitality of a true "first renaissance," one that occurred long before the birth of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, or Francis Bacon.

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About the Author:

Philip Ball's book Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; his Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another won the UK's Aventis Prize. He is a consulting editor for Nature magazine, and he lives in London.

From The New Yorker:

In this lively biography of Chartres Cathedral, Ball explores the configuration of cultural and technological factors that enabled Europe to achieve a "liberation from gravity" in the twelfth century, including the rise of scholasticism, Platonic obsessions with light and proportion, and heroic masons who "turned geometry into stone." The accomplishments of Gothic architecture were all the more remarkable given that stonework was virtually forgotten in the West in the centuries after Rome fell. Though much of the history of Chartres Cathedral remains opaque, Ball’s account of its construction reveals fascinating details (such as the origins of its blue glass, likely scavenged from Roman or Byzantine sites) and evokes its raison d’être: in an era when architecture "existed to reveal the deep design of God’s creation," Chartres "encoded a set of symbols and relationships that mapped out the universe itself."
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