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Judson Memorial Church
Architecture


Judson Memorial Church is the largest church built in New York during what is known as the American Renaissance, a period of time that saw a flowering of classically-inspired architecture in the major cities of the United States. The architects of McKim, Mead and White characterized their Italianate, or Renaissance revival, design as "Romanesque, strongly influenced by an early basilica" (Sloan 300-309). Stanford White’s final design incorporated many aspects of Romanesque and early Italian Renaissance styles.

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From A Monograph of the Works of McKim, Mead and White, 1879-1915. Paul Gallagher, intro. De Capo Press, New York: 1985. Stanford White’s design of the main entrance to Judson Memorial Church, one of four churches in his career.

 

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Italianate

The mid-Victorian era in the United States witnessed the first community attempt at urban renewal. Until the late 1870’s, American cities were nondescript, wooden collections without age or dignity. The American Renaissance refers to a dependence on art and architectural styles, especially that characteristic of the Italian countryside, at the end of the nineteenth century. Our cities today are filled with classical structures that have lasted many generations. Stanford White was famous for alluding to Romanesque and early Renaissance architecture in his structures. Illustrated in Judson Memorial is the ability of the Renaissance style to mask the complexity of the structure and its unified design. Built to be compact and square, the Church maintains a completely uniform exterior inspired by the quattocento churches of Florence (Roth 157), a city known for its intentionally compact buildings.

The hood over the entrance to Judson Memorial Church is said to be inspired by a Renaissance Italian church, San Alessandro, built in Lucca in 1480. The crisp movements and detail work suggest Renaissance sculptors.

Overall, the exterior and shape of Judson Memorial is said to resemble Santa Maria, a basilica in Cosmedin, Rome (Roth, 157). Different elements of the church are borrowed from a variety of structures dating from the fifth to the fifteenth century in the area surrounding Rome. Judson’s light exterior and subtle detailing is characteristic of Romanesque architecture. Stanford White prided his work to maintain a serene complete aesthetic look, since art of the early Renaissance exemplifies clean lines and avoidance of over-ornamentation. While Judson Memorial Church clearly illustrates the artistry of the American Renaissance, few American churches in the mid-Victorian era revived Italian styles and the Gothic style prevailed.

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The Interior

The Church itself is a rectangular, auditorium-like room. Aspects of it’s appearance cannot be considered very Medieval in nature. Besides a modern kitchenette in the northeast corner, the congregation’s contemporary arts programming is responsible for very modern stage lighting along the walls and ceiling. Theatrical light fixtures, including a large brass chandelier, point toward the baptistery and the large rose window nestled in the arch forming the south wall. Four arches crest along the length of the east and west interior walls. One main arch accent both the south wall and the facade wall. Romanesque-style columns support the arches below a slightly vaulted ceiling. Judson’s interior is light and bare, with minimal ornamentation and no permanent seating.

White designed four arches along both the east and west walls which house five oblong stained glass windows. Rows of gold flower bursts line the underside of all the arches supported by Romanesque columns. The window is this location is currently being restored.

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Ten carved columns topped with an intricately-carved Romanesque design line the perimeter of the church.

 

Saint-Gaudens’ Baptistery

The marble baptistery is certainly the focal point of the church’s interior. Raised like a small stage in the south wall, the marble walls are highlighted by a relief sculpture designed by White’s close friend and famous American Renaissance sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and carved by Herbert Adams. The sculpture received a $5,000 donation to Judson’s building and memorializes Joseph Blachley Hoyt, who sold belts and shoes. Saint-Gaudens’ design of angels further illustrates classically-influenced Italianate style.

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