The monochrome style, representative of the thought and Cistercian art

The aesthetic conceptions of Bernard de Clairvaux, symbolic of the Cistercian ideal, were decisive in the definition of the artistic identity of the order. He was the author of the rules concerning the ornamentation of manuscripts and made Clairvaux a centre of artistic influence.

In this way, the monochrome style was born in Clairvaux, and appeared in the 1140s. It is characterized by the exclusive use of letters painted in a single color in cameo, only decorated with geometrical or plant motives.
CThis ornamental style was then adopted by the whole Cistercian order and normalized by the general Chapter during the "second" Cistercian codification, approved by pope Eugène III in 1152. The article LXXX of these Statutes is so formulated: « Litterae unius coloris fiant et non depictae » ; The most possible translation of this article is the following one: "letters will be of a single color and will not be illuminated." Using gold was also banned.

The monochrome style, so established, prevailed in the Cistercian manuscripts for two generations.

Beyond these decorative rules, Bernard de Clairvaux passed on to the Cistercian Order some artistic and architectural conceptions which even today leave a mark on the scene. Georges Duby - the famous historian of the Middle Ages - understood all the importance of this:
« What Saint Bernard had built was a working drawing, the model of the cathedral, the model of the workshop of a domesticated territory. »