Palimpsest (Notre Dame de Chartres)

Palimpsest-1-Mary-Griep

The first drawing of the Anastylosis Project was a study of Notre Dame de Chartres and as such is the foundation of all subsequent drawings. The building’s clarity and coherence captured my imagination from the first and propelled me down the road of working to understand how a building is experienced and each building contains traces of all that has happened during its lifetime. So, when I had the opportunity to revisit Chartres in 2018 (20 years after I first drawn it) I was anxious to see recently completed restorations – the latest layer added. Over the years I had said I would like to do a similarly sized drawing of all four sides to be placed on the four sides of a rectangular room for a true “inside/outside” experience. I am still intrigued by the idea, but also realize how far my thinking and methods of working have advanced in the past 20 years. I find I have little appetite for recreating the methods that worked so well in the initial drawing.

Researching the 16 previous drawings has deepened my understanding of the Global Middle Ages and I now have expanded my points of view and appreciation for the great diversity seen in monuments from the period. Various authors have given me insight into the era which have helped me understand each site as a unique product of its time and place which requires unique drawing solutions.

In Art and Theological Argument in the Middle Ages, Mary Carruthers discusses the medieval concept of imaginative description – ekphrasis (a literary description of, or commentary on a visual work of art). She writes,

“Ekphrasis works only as a description of a fictive object – but not a modern-style ‘objective’ description. Mental descriptions, in contrast to the objective, often leave gaps and inconsistencies in the ‘object’ depicted, but their narrative articulates an experiential whole.”

This medieval notion fits my large drawings, which are not objective description. They are a mental reconstruction based on library research, including historical and contemporary descriptions, architectural surveys, drawings, and photos synthesized through personal experience and observations on site.

A drawing based on an imaginative reconstruction might claim kinship with Theophanes the Greek, a 14th century CE Byzantine artist and philosopher who was commissioned to draw the architectural complex of Hagia Sophia in Russia. In response he replied that, “It was [an] impossible [task] and agreed to sketch only a miniscule part, on the basis of which [the patron] could ‘represent all the rest through his mind and imagination.’ Thus, the artist created a sort of synoptic view, open to the personal imagination [of both creator and viewer.”

Returning to the studio I found myself thinking about creating a synoptic view that even more explicitly combines both exterior and interior, as well as the “snapshot” nature of how we perceive and experience a site. Using individual sheets of duralar I took advantage of its translucent qualities, making 53 individual drawings using both sides of the sheets. Exterior views on one side and interiors on the obverse. The flickering nature of the resulting image more fully represents my current thinking about the site. As each drawing can be viewed from either side, the drawing can be displayed in multiple ways.