American Perspective of Romanesque Art

Andrea Zaumseil (1957-), Fauces, 2010. Photo: Romanik Zentrum Merseburg.

Romanesque art is not an American creation. The first American acquaintance with Romanesque art was belated, indirect and very partial, first through the work of architects of the Romanesque revival in Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, then through reports of travelers, diffusion of specialized literature, and  activities of collectors. Thinking about Romanesque art was not, as was the case in Europe in the nineteenth century, deeply connected with issues of national history, self-definition, self-representation, national or regional identity. Nor did religious Catholic and Protestant polemics played a prominent role. The American interest in Romanesque art could have many determinants, but nationalism, religion or other doctrinal apologetics are not among them. The American way paved the way for a treatment of the subject along pan-European instead of pure national lines. They realized that the parochial distinctions between Romanesque art in general en preceding styles of a more local and regional character often had a nationalistic bias, typical for the nineteenth-first half twentieth centuries European scholar in this field.

Scholarship and teaching by European refugees, escaping two world wars, profoundly affected the American study of the history of art and Romanesque art in particular. Outstanding German and French scholars introduced new methodology, experience and knowledge. One of the excellent American scholars on the history of art and Romanesque art was Meyer Shapiro (1904-1996). He was able to oversee European tendencies and to combine medieval and modern art by his helicopter view. He made the case for a semiotic reading of medieval images. Shapiro made a connection between Romanesque art and modern art. Shapiro stated that by the eleventh and twelfth centuries there had emerged a new sphere of artistic creativity and a secular art without religious content, imbued with values of spontaneity, individual fantasy, delight in colour and movement and the expression of feeling that anticipate modern art.

Another American scholar, Robert Bartlett focused on the process of expansion of Romanesque art from the centre (Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany) to the periphery, Scandinavia and Ireland, England and Ireland in particular, and the integration of indigenous cultures into the realm of Latin Christendom. This interest followed the change of the centres of Romanesque art.

The European Centre of Romanesque Art (Europäisches Romanik Zentrum in Merseburg (Germany) organizes from this perspective  the exhibition ‘Entgrenzung. Stahlplastik trifft Romanik’, Unboundedness. Steel Sculpture meets Romanesque Art. (Source: W. Cahn, Romanesque Art, Then and Now, in C. Hourihane (Ed.), ‘ Romanesque Art and Thought in the Twelfth Century’, p. 31-40, (Princeton 2008).