Bells of the Old Mission

The Artistic Guide to the Campanario

Bells of the Old Mission is a striking black and white photograph depicting a dilapidated yet still working campanario, or bell wall. These bell walls are found in almost every Spanish mission in the Southwestern United States and Mexico.

Artistically this work is a study in lines, contrast, and eye movement. The bricks in this work relay a linear structure and keep the eye moving in a horizontal pattern on the page. The darkest and most definite line is the one that intersects the photograph directly across the middle.

The bell arches are a classic artistic creation in architecture to force the use of eye movement to organize and control the observer’s attention to detail. Notice how the architects chose to use archways to hold the bells in place. They could have used simple square structures to hold the bells, but the effect would not be the same.

Indeed, this was a conscience artistic decision; because when an observer views an archway the empty middle and the lines surrounding the shape to the keystone at the top naturally guide the eye. This develops movement of the eye from the bottom of the picture to the top.  The eye’s field of view is constantly narrowed from the two bells on the bottom to the one bell at the top and finally forced to rest on the main goal, the viewing of the ornate cross at the very top.

The upper section is a beautiful short brick wall with a large arched opening to support the bell. An item of importance to note is the use of the bricks as the foundation for the arch and keystone. The bricks, in contrast to the large stone, offer a series of lines that promote a quickening and energy to move towards the top.

Meanwhile, the line of the roof between the lower two arches and the upper arch effectively divide the tower in two. The bricks above the center line are in definite contrast to the large slabs of chiseled stone works in the lower sections of the photo even though they appear to have a brick shaped look to the wall face.   Possibly, the builders of the mission faced the necessity to use the larger stones in the lower archways to support the weight of the upper brick archway and it’s heavy bell.Bells of the Old Mission

Notice too that the larger bell in the upper archway is not suspended from a cross beam as those in the lower arches.   This is more than likely a result of the upper bell being the largest of the three. Yet, this bell mounted on a stand and not being suspended creates a large open space in the center of the upper archway. This in turn provides even more reason for the eye to naturally set upon the archway on its inevitable rise to the top.

It is unclear whether the builders had a primary understanding of the artistic nature of what they were building. It is, however, of no doubt the Spanish architects whom designed these magnificent structures understood all to well the power of the line and contrasting stonework to make an artistic statement.

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