The Romanesque dwelling shows a complete understanding of how to use stone and wood. The changes in social life had an influence on the layout of the house itself, which began to open directly onto the street. As in churches, there is a large porch over the ground floor, but the upper floor is more open, especially on the sides, and on the street side it is lit by a balcony. The geminated windows take their ornament from the arcade that surrounds them and the capitals of the columns that separate them. These capitals are still only geometrically ornamented, as the strange sculptures of the time were reserved for large religious buildings.
Two centuries passed. The Crusades brought the Christian West and the Muslim East into contact with each other, and Europe was now familiar with the arts of Asia. Municipal emancipation developed, and the people of the commune lavished their money on building the huge cathedrals where they met, before having to deliberate in these town halls with their picturesque belfry, which symbolised their independence, the freedoms granted by the lord. In the 13th century, architects came up with the idea of supporting the ribbed vault on the ribbed arches, and invented the ribbed crossing: ogival or Gothic art replaced Romanesque art. And then it was not only religious architecture and military architecture that developed. Civil architecture made enough progress to form a special branch of the art of building. In the narrow, winding streets, craftsmen and burghers built elegant houses with gabled facades. Wood is used for the upper floors, but the ground floor and the basement are built of stone. A small square door gives access to the house, whose common room is lit by a wide ogival archway divided by moulded crosspieces and posts. The rooms on each floor open onto a continuous window. The gable is acute, and the projection, supported by two pieces of wood curved into an ogive, shelters the façade. The frame is the only decorative motif; the corner posts, uprights and crosspieces are carved, painted, sometimes decorated with tiles or elegant brickwork.
In the last period of the ogival art, in the 14th century, the ornamentation of the buildings became more regular, more elegant, more graceful: the statuary became more human; one feels that the ogive had given all it had. The Middle Ages, which had engraved its faith in stone, were indeed coming to an end, and a social transformation was being prepared. But new morals required a new environment, an art form suited to previously unknown requirements. The dark feudal manor house, which no longer has any reason to exist, is succeeded by the castle with its large windows, open to daylight on all sides, richly and capriciously decorated, the castle made for pleasure, instead of the bastille made to support a siege. In the private architecture, stone and brick supplant wood. The ornamentation presents an infinite variety of motifs; it emphasizes the floors, the rectangular and mullioned windows. Cartouches surmount the lintels of the doors; graceful heads and medallions break the monotony of the straight mouldings; accentuated cornices crown the building, one of the corners of which is embellished with a square corbelled turret which contains the staircase to the upper floors, but which contributes by its ornamentation and its dome surmounted by a finial to the happy effect of the whole. The roof is very high, but this height, which would overwhelm the decoration of the upper floors, is concealed by the large skylights and the beautiful chimneys. Nothing more graceful or lighter than this type of dwelling has yet been found.
© L'exposition de Paris - 1889