THE TALLEST TOWER IN THE WORLD THAT NEVER WAS...
We are back again in France to my old school days there, first at the American College and then the Sorbonne.
A 21-yr-old Claude as Gurney Campbell talks with the actress at the cast party.
I had already acquired an interest in theater before arriving in Paris, and shortly thereafter I joined the Paris Theater Workshop as director of the apprentices.This was a theater group intent on presenting plays of American and British origin to Parisians in English.It was headed by wealthy American expatriate Gurney Campbell and was at that moment in production with Leroy Jones' 'Dutchman and The Slave.'This was to open at the Th atre de Poche Montparnasse simultaneously with the French production of the same play on different nights in the same theater.I would later form my own English-language theater group when the Paris Theater Workshop disbanded two years later with my mod-adaptation of 'Alice in Wonderland' entitled 'Alice,' set during the Beatles era and with 'Yellow Submarine' as its musical theme. That production played brilliantly, of course, at the Th atre de l'Alliance Fran aise on Boulevard Raspail.
Beauvais Airport today
During this period, I took a part-time job as tour guide with a British company providing one-day tours of Paris for groups arriving from all over Great Britain.These groups came by plane to the airport in Beauvais sixty miles north of Paris as that airport was far less congested, of course, than Charles De Gaulle or Orly.Beauvais is a sleepy little town famous for being the site where Joan of Arc was tried by the English in the Middle Ages.It was my first day as a guide and I felt quite confident as I already knew Paris like the palm of my hand, as they say.I was determined to hide the fact I was a mere novice, as well.And as my bus was leaving the airport complex on that first day with me and my sixty eager Brits on board, the tour director flagged us down at the exit gate.I stepped off the bus and he then told me I needed to kill fifteen minutes as he did not like the busses bunched up on the autoroute.
"What am I going to do for fifteen minutes?" I asked quite perplexed."Take them by the Cathedral of Beauvais."
"But I don't know anything about the Cathedral of Beauvais!"
"Here... read this."
Cathedral's original design
He shoved a brochure into my hand then turned and hurried away.I scanned the brochure as quickly as I could but all I remembered from it was something about the cathedral being the tallest in Europe and something about the tower.Yes, the tower!I hurriedly hopped back on and announced:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I have a special surprise for you today.We are going to pass by the Cathedral of Beauvais.It is the last of the great cathedrals and the most spectacular of them all.At the time of its construction, its tower was the tallest in the world.Today, that tower rises into the sky piercing the clouds themselves soaring into the Heavens to the very foot of God himself.Nothing like it had ever been achieved before.It is an architectural phenomenon!A splendorous wonder in stone!"
I had my group so excited they were speechless.Each one was sitting in the windows with his or her instamatic in hand waiting breathlessly for this structural masterpiece to appear.As we descended into the town and to cathedral square itself, the bus driver nudged me with his arm.
"What?" I turned, clueless."That's it," he whispered in French.
"That's what?"I was glancing out the front windows looking for a tower but no tower was in sight.
"That's it!That's the cathedral!"
Appearing right before us was a monster of a Gothic edifice but without a tower anywhere. That's when I realized to my horror the mistake I had made.Tallest cathedral, no tower.But it was too late.I turned around and grandly announced:
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Cathedral of Beauvais!"
And all sixty of them called out 'in unison,' "Where's the tower?!"
My mouth parted."I don't know!It was here yesterday!"
This was followed by reticent laughter throughout and I hastily changed the subject to a joke about De Gaulle that was going around Paris at the time.Such was my infamous first day as a guide and my embarrassing encounter with the tower-less cathedral.
NOW TO THE TALLEST TOWER IN THE WORLD THAT NEVER WAS...
In the year 1225, construction began on what was to be the last great cathedral in Europe at Beauvais.After a period of multiple starts and stops, the choir, that circular configuration at the far end of a nave, was completed in 1272.Under the direction of Bishop Guillaume de Grez, an additional 4.9m was added to the height making it the highest-vaulted cathedral in Europe at 48m or 157.48 feet, far surpassing the concurrently constructed cathedral in Amiens.
All appeared to be going as planned until tragedy struck in 1284 with the collapse of some of the vaulting signaling dire structural problems.The choir was eventually repaired with additional buttress bracing, and work on the cathedral was on again.By 1548, the transept was completed and work continued then on the planned 153m or 502 foot central tower directly above the transept which would have made the cathedral the tallest structure in the entire world at that time.But in 1753, the partially-completed tower itself collapsed.After that, all construction virtually ground to a halt.
What was to be the panicle of Gothic aspirations became but a dream.Non-reinforced stone had reached its structural limits and the world around was changing, as well.Gone was the era of intense religious devotion of the masses, so critical for the undertaking and completion of such monumental efforts.Turmoil such as the Hundred Years War and waning funding for massive religious projects brought to a close the glorious era of Gothic Christendom.The Cathedral of Beauvais would remain a memory unfulfilled.
Over the centuries that followed, the choir has often been wholeheartedly admired by many as 'the Parthenon of French Gothic.' The cathedral's facades, especially that on the south, exhibit all the richness of late Gothic style.The carved wooden doors of both the north and south portals are masterpieces in themselves in Gothic and Renaissance workmanship respectively.
Today, historians and architects alike marvel at the unfathomable accomplishments of this single endeavor.No church structure has ever equaled it in its vaulting and some would say in sheer conceptual beauty.Its stain glass windows reaching to unheard-of heights astound the mind.If only it had been realized in its entirety, what a world-wonder it would have been.Perhaps its architects were merely ahead of their time technologically speaking.But they are to be commended, most definitely, for their sheer passionate vision.
In later times, to keep this lofty masterpiece standing, additional flying buttresses, steel rods and more recently lateral wooden-beam trusses in the interior have been added for structural solidity.Cracks, though, have begun to appear at critical corners and a team of modern-day structural scientists are studying the fissures with laser scanning on an ongoing basis in an attempt to determine the corrective measures that will save one of civilization's greatest architectural undertakings.So, on your next trip to Paris, treat yourself to one masterpiece you have yet to see.Take a drive up the autoroute to Beauvais and experience for yourself a bit of awe-inspiring magnificence.View what many believe to be the definitive epitome in Gothic splendor however unrealized in total.You will be astonished at its breathtaking height and mesmerized by the masterful craftsmanship throughout that is in itself a sculptural phenomenon. You will thank me for the experience, I promise.
QUOI DE NEUF? CONTINUED
In addition to talking about my 'fabulous' art world experiencesha, hajust kiddingI also enjoy bringing to your attention friends, acquaintances and individuals I have encountered who are making important statements in the world of art and music today.
One painter who happens to be from the 19th century, however, I would like to bring to your attention, as well.That is Jasper Francis Cropsey, an important landscape artist of the Hudson River School.I know Cropsey's work well.I resided all of last year in Hastings-on-Hudson where the artist lived and painted when he wasn't traveling in Europe.Just a block from my former building is the Newington Cropsey Foundation, a museum dedicated to his work.
Cropsey was best known for his lavish use of color.As a first-generation member from the Hudson River School, he painted breathtaking landscapes that startled viewers with their boldness and brilliance, many monumental in size. As an artist, he believed landscapes were the highest art form and that nature was a direct manifestation of God. He also felt a patriotic affiliation with nature and saw his paintings as depicting the rugged and unspoiled qualities of America.
His painting of the Palisades was the same view from my window.
To see more photos of Cropsey's works, go to:And to view Cropsey's works in person, take the Metro North Hudson Line from Grand Central Terminal.After 20 minutes, it stops at the station in Hastings-on-Hudson and from there it's a mere two minute walk to the museum.You may need a reservation so call first.
49 Washington Avenue
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706
THE JEWEL TRILOGYby author Claude Brickell
An art history adventure mystery series which introduces readers to likable and accomplished art historian Michael Bennington as he searches the world for rare and missing art and artifacts.And more often than not, these tend to land him in thrilling and provocative and even erotic encounters of a pan-sexual nature as only Bennington's quirky escapades can do.
If you love mysteries, art and art history or just a good art history mystery, you're sure to find The Jewel Trilogy more than entertaining in the tradition of authors such as Dan Brown and the likes.The three titles are:
THE NAPOLEON CONNECTIONCARLOTA'S LEGACYTHE BROTHERHOOD WARS
The books' official website is:
E-BOOKS from Amazon.com, Smashwords.com and BarnsandNoble.com ($4.99)PAPERBACKS from Amazon.com and Lulu.com ($17.95)
CLAUDE BRICKELL is a New York-based screen and fiction writer. He attended New York University, the American College and the Sorbonne in Paris and Oxford University in England. Following this, he worked in the Hollywood film industry developing projects for, among others, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand and Paul Newman and producers Jay Weston ('Lady Sings the Blues'), Arnold Kopelson (Oliver Stone's 'Platoon'), John Daly (Bernardo Bertolucci's 'The Last Emperor') and studio head Steven Bach at United Artists. In France, he represented their 3rd largest film studio located on the Riviera in Nice where he helped bring 20th Century Fox's 'The Jewel of the Nile' with Michael Douglas, Warner Bros.''Under the Cherry Moon' with Prince and John Frankenheimer's mini-series 'Riviera' to the South of France lot. Born to an ancient baronial family, he is also a Vietnam-era veteran (served with NATO), a former ice hockey league skater and an avid equestrian enthusiast. Today, he is a screenwriting instructor at New York University and conducts a therapeutic writing workshop at the Bronx VA for returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan where they write about their traumatic battlefield experiences.
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