Sunday, October 08, 2006

I've mentioned the interest expressed by Gothicists-in-chief Ralph Adams Cram and Betram Grosvenor Goodhue expressed at various points in their careers in Mexican and Sicilian baroque architecture, in spite of the attitude taken towards those styles in the ecclesiological and art-historical worlds of the time. This particular interior, which I've been promising to post a photo of for some time now, belongs to the church of SS. Peter and Paul in Fall River, Massachusetts, since destroyed by fire some decades ago. I can't be sure of the date off the top of my head, but I believe it was begun in 1895.

Cram was extremely excited by the project, and hoped, with the pastor of the place, one Fr. McCahill, to revolutionize Catholic architecture with it--if in the quality of the design if not necessarily the style. Cram must have had some hand in the selection of the style, and he himself had enjoyed the regional baroque of Sicily on a trip there in the previous decade, while his business partner Goodhue had written and illustrated a book on his travels in Mexico around the same time. Goodhue would later go on to essentially define the Californian neo-Baroque movement exemplified by his exhibition ensemble in San Diego's Balboa Park.

It's a very interesting take on a style not particularly well-understood at the time. Indeed, while undeniably Baroque and Latin American in inspiration, portions of it resemble more the quirky if somewhat mass-produced Romanesque-Baroque amalgam so common to Polish and Italian emigrant parishes in the Midwest that is so ubiquitous in Chicago, and Cram himself described the broad flat dome so common in Hispanic Baroque revival as inspired by San Marco in Venice! Cram was always rather eclectic. Indeed, towards the end of his life he became fascinated with Art Deco and, by way of a 1920 trip to Spain, with the vividly colored Romanesque and Renaissance architecture of the Mediterranean basin.

This last Spanish-inspired phase is worthy of consideration, given the distinctly Anglo-Catholic and starchy Anglo-Saxon aura which clings to Cram's persona in the public eye. Cram had to be dragged to Spain by his wife, Bess, but once he was there he went nuts. Much of his later work is heavily colored by Spain, both in terms of Romanesque and Gothic--indeed, he even fantasized about putting in a gigantic golden reredos inspired by Seville Cathedral at St. John the Divine, which doubtlessly would have been an improvement over the weird clutter of nick-nacks that now crowd the abandoned and rather denuded high altar. (Though I like the menorahs; after all, Brompton Oratory has a couple, too). He deigned to do some work in the much-abused Renaissance manner--albeit the Spanish Plateresque, not Italian--in his Rollins Chapel at Winter Park, Florida (above), as well as a number of residential and public buildings.

In the end, it is somewhat pointless to pin down his inspiration, but this all proves the master of Gothic was not nearly as relentlessly stylistic in practice as he was in his preaching.

This post was originally published on The Shrine of the Holy Whapping.

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