Plan

Elevation

History

Chronology

Sculptural Program

The porch attached to the south flank of the nave at Lausanne cathedral illustrates the panoramic potential of this type of architectural space, and a recent restoration has revived a portion of the polychromy, which has reanimated the players in the dramas enacted in this cubic zone. In light of the panoramic quality of this space, let us begin our examination of the sculpture facing the doorway and proceeding in a clockwise fashion from there.


Above the doorway is a tympanum with a depiction of Christ in a sharply pointed mandorla, which appears to be supported by two angels. Standing on a shallow pedestal to the right of Christ is a female figure, presumably the Virgin, whose hands are clasped in a gesture of prayer. On the opposite side of the tympanum, an angel presents a crown to Christ, which the latter takes between his fingers. Two standing angels holding censers frame this scene.


The lintel consists of two panels: on the left is the Dormition of the Virgin; on the right is the Assumption of the Virgin. An entourage surrounds the Virgin in both panels. These scenes appear as pendant pieces, mirroring one another compositionally. Differences emerge in the details, however. In the Assumption panel, angels with brightly colored wings, shown rousing the Virgin, substitute for the earthly figures of the Dormition.


In the tympanum is the Coronation of the Virgin, but here this theme is taken up differently than it is elsewhere. The Virgin does not appear already crowned (as at Senlis, Mantes, Laon, Braine, Chartres, and Amiens), nor is she crowned by a descending angel (as at Notre-Dame of Paris, Longpont), nor is Christ shown placing the crown on her head (as at Strasbourg and Dijon). Instead, at Lausanne the Virgin stands off to the side, awaiting her Coronation, as an angel offers the crown to Christ. This is the prelude to the Coronation, and this composition is unique among extant depictions of this theme. In his description of the sculpture at Lausanne, Claude Lapaire envisioned the ymagier of this tympanum at Lausanne as a metteur-en-scène, who heightened the drama of the Coronation by freezing in time a moment of exchange that led up to the climactic moment. This sense of freedom with the iconography in the tympanum contrasts sharply with the Dormition and Assumption in the lintel below, which have numerous iconographic cognates in sculpture elsewhere. Lapaire believed this porch owed a great deal to the trail blazed by the Coronation portal at Chartres, and yet the former takes liberties with the theme. The iconography of the column figures (the prophets, for example) and the tympanum are unique among extant sculptural programs.


The bottom edge of the lintel bisects the nimbus of the round-faced angel in the trumeau. Scholars have identified this figure as Michael the Archangel and suggested that he originally held the characteristic scales for weighing souls.


Triads of column figures from the Old and New Testaments adorn the embrasures and piers of the porch. In the right jamb, from left to right, are Saint Peter, with a key in each hand; Saint Paul, with a closed book in his left hand; and John the Evangelist. Continuing our panoramic sweep clockwise, in the pier mirroring the right jamb, left to right, are the remaining three Evangelists: Matthew, with an open book inscribed "Liber generationis Jesu Christi"; Luke, with a beard in loose snail curls; and Mark, shown unfurling a scroll. Continuing clockwise on to the next pier we find, left to right, a triad of prophets: Isaiah, holding a disc with seven doves; David, who is crowned and carrying an open book; and Jeremiah, with a flaming cauldron. Finally, returning to the doorway, in the left jamb we find Moses with the tablets of the Law; John the Baptist holding a disc emblazoned with the Agnus Dei; and Simeon with an infant tugging at his beard. These columns are further enlivened with hybrid creatures and vegetal motifs that appear at the feet of these twelve figures.


The archivolt comprises two arches whose voussoirs feature a variety of figures seated on trilobed bases. The archivolts of the surrounding three bays of the porch also feature similar figures, some holding scrolls, some bearded, some crowned, and others nimbed. Claude Lapaire identified these as Elders of the Apocalypse. Although this is a reasonable interpretation (many of them sport beards; some are crowned; and several are depicted with musical instruments), we cannot rule out alternatives.


The style of this portal corresponds to the north arm of the transept at Chartres, and it also shares some stylistic markers with Strasbourg and Besançon. As Paul Williamson has pointed out, the handling of the polychromy mirrors contemporary ivory painting, where polychromy was used selectively. On stylistic grounds and based on knowledge of the building campaign to which it belonged, this sculptural ensemble can be dated to the 1220s.

Significance

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The Floorplan: Images & Panoramas
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  • Begun around 1170
  • Destroyed in
  • Latitude 46.5225982666016
  • Longitude 6.63560009002686
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