Making medieval art modern Review of
Journal of Art Historiography Number
The Pennsylvania State University Press 2015, 202 pp. and 86 illustrations (70 b&w and 16 colour), ISBN 978-0-271-06506-9 Hardcover edition $74.95. Elizabeth den Hartog Janet T. Marquardt's Zodiaque. Making Medieval Art Modern is best regarded as the belated closing volume of the La Nuit des Temps series, the best-known of the Zodiaque publications issued by the monks from the abbey of Ste-Marie de la Pierre-qui-Vire in Burgundy between 1951 and 2001. The series' subject was Romanesque
... Romanesque sculpture in the different regions of Europe, with each book trying to captivate 'the artistic spirit of a given locale'. The Zodiaque La Nuit des Temps books were not intended as scholarly books, nor were they coffee table books, but they were to be used as travel guides, for 'en route' and, above all, in the home, where the pictures would serve as aids for contemplation and an uplifting of the spirit. This is why the photographs in the books differed from those in ordinary travel guides and art books; they were more intense, evocative and mysterious, and above all, they had an abstract quality to them. Preference was given to art over iconography, close-ups brought out tool marks and isolated details. Quite often, unusual viewpoints were selected. Sometimes, in order to achieve the desired simplicity, churches were emptied of everything that was removable, prior to taking the photograph. In the books themselves, no distracting white borders or on-page captions would distract from the purity of the image. As the project advanced, the accompanying texts became more informed and accurate. As volume after volume appeared, the series of publications gradually turned into a sort of pan-European survey of pre-Gothic medieval art. Although the initial prejudice was for France, gradually other countries entered the ranks: Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, England and the Holy Land. Not until 1993 was a first volume devoted to the Romanesque in Germany; in 1994 the Netherlands were dealt with. No volume was ever dedicated to the Romanesque in the countries of eastern Europe. Marquardt's extensively illustrated volume takes its format, typography and layout from the La Nuit du Temps volumes, from which most of the plates were also taken. There is but one difference: the images are ordinary photographs and no longer the photogravures on copper plates printed in contrasting white and saturated grey and black tones on heavy matte paper that made the series famous. These original photogravures are no less than avant-garde works of art in their own right, as Marquardt convincingly argues. She even draws a comparison between the sequence of photographs in the books and André Malraux's 'Museum without walls'. Leafing through the pages of a Zodiaque book was and is an aesthetic experience. In the early years of the enterprise, the photographs were made by professional photographers, but having learnt from them, the monks took over in the 1960s. Unlike the Zodiaque photogravures, some of the images in Marquardt's book show people. The pictures featuring monks in the process of photographing images for the Zodiaque books are among the real treats of the book.