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Abstract

A few extraordinary examples of vaults with asymmetrical arrangements of ribs appeared in 1370s Silesia. They were used in fairly regularly planned spaces, which allowed the use of vaults with a symmetrical composition. The most interesting example in this group is the vault in the rectangular council meeting hall in Namysłów’s City Hall. Namysłów’s City Hall was built from 1374–1378 by an unknown builder, the so-called Master Peter. His identification with Wrocław’s (Breslau) master builder Peter, called Rote, from Halle, as suggested by Kurt Bimler, remains hypothetical thus far. In 1378 Master Peter erected in the City Hall one of the most beautiful and probably the oldest preserved irregular vaults, ingeniously constructed from three-rayed ribs, with an added single rib in the south-western corner. This rib and the adjoining triangular vault cell completely disrupt the regularity of the vault’s arrangement. This example from Namysłów was soon to be recreated with minor variations around 1400 (before 1413) in the council chamber of the City Hall of another Silesian town – Środa Śląska. It is not known who the maker of this vault was. Some researchers, in particular Danuta Hanulanka and Małgorzata Niemczyk, have also dated another asymmetrical vault in the rectangular chapel of St. Anne in the parish church of Namysłów to the last quarter of the fourteenth century. Hanulanka also hypothesises that this vault is linked with the activity of Master Peter. Yet the construction of the church in Namysłów started only after 1405, and the chapel of St. Anne was established even later, at the earliest c. 1425, and so the vault cannot be considered one of the oldest asymmetric vaults dating from the late fourteenth century. Between the years 1391–1393, an anonymous architect developed a project to rebuild a merchant house and the town hall in Toruń, Prussia. In the latter, we have two rectangular rooms with vaulted ceilings showing an irregular pattern of ribs. Except for the asymmetry, the vaults in Toruń show no close similarities with the vaults in Namysłów or Środa Śląska. They were considered very unusual in late fourteenth century Baltic countries, and it is impossible to find any local archetypes for them. The concept of the vault in Namysłów by Master Peter bears some similarities to vaults in the side aisles of Corpus Christi Church in Wrocław, dated to 1360–1367. The vaults in the church in Wrocław cannot, however, be considered completely asymmetrical – an axis of symmetry from north to south can be traced across each of the aisles. During the next phase of the church’s construction, after 1390, the side aisles of the choir were erected with vaults which were given a completely irregular composition. The oldest known vault with an irregular pattern of ribs, which unfortunately has not survived, seems to be the vault that was destroyed in the mid-fifteenth century in the former chapel of St. Lawrence, St. Agnes and St. Margaret (now St. Anne) in the parish church of Our Lady in Opawa. The chapel was built from 1372–1373; it was endowed in 1373–1374 by a rich merchant from Opawa called Reynczko, who was later a councillor in that town. Intentionally irregular vaults in relatively regular spaces were a rarity in the fourteenth century. Their unusualness stands out even more if we realize that the most important Central European architectural centres were dominated at the time by a completely opposite trend. The architects working at the court of the King of Bohemia and Germany, Wenceslas IV of Luxembourg, strove to achieve maximum geometric harmony in their vaults. In the Column Hall of Prague Castle in the early 1380s, the symmetrical vault was meant to disguise the irregular floor plan. In the Czech castle Krakovec, built in 1381–1384 by George of Rostock, King Wenceslas’s adviser and courtier, vaults of regular and harmonious composition dominate the irregular projection of the chapel and other rooms. This striving for geometric perfection led to the use of a completely regular composition of the stellar vault in the irregular nave of the royal chapel in the Italian Court in Kutna Hora, built from 1386–1389. The same principles influenced the vault in the so-called Hall of Jadwiga and Jagiello, in the Danish Tower of the royal c astle on Wawel Hill in Kraków, built from 1386–1399. Therefore, Silesian irregular vaults from the 1370s go against the common at that time trend of using perfectly harmonious vaults in order to correct the imperfections of floor plans. The reason for this particular disparity has not yet been elucidated. One can only conclude that the appearance of these specific quirks, these ancient Silesian asymmetric vaults, predated by almost a hundred years the development of similar vaults in other parts of continental Europe.
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