North and South of the Loire: The Culture of Copying and the Rebirth of Sculpture
by Professor Deborah Kahn
Tuesday 25th April 2017 at 5.30pm at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
From his thesis of 1950 on “Regional Schools of English Sculpture” to his later writings, Professor George Zarnecki, deputy director of the Courtauld Institute of Art from 1961 – 74, showed himself to be a master of visual comparison. In one of his last articles (written in 1992), he surveyed the iconographic kinship between the earliest Romanesque sculptures at Saint-Benoit-sur-Loîre, Bayeux and Toulouse. These far-flung similarities revealed a culture of copying that led to what may be regarded as a rebirth of architectural sculpture in these regions. The article still serves as the basis for further exploration of the visual relationships between the earliest monumental architectural sculpture and the role of copybooks and loose sketches in the transmission of motifs and iconography. George speculated that the likely source of all these relationships was the monastery and library at Saint-Benoit-sur-Loîre — as indeed has turned out to be the case. Moreover, the emergent taste for monumental architectural sculpture on the great new ashlar buildings of the first half of the 11th century appears to reflect not only the preoccupations of the abbot of Saint-Benoit, Gauzlin (1004-1030), but also those of his half brother Robert II (972-1031), whose foundations at Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Saint-Aignan at Orléans were richly carved in the 1020s as well. The rebirth of monumental architectural sculpture in the early eleventh century thus turns out to have been given impetus by the ascendant Capetian dynasty. These connections amplify the links set forth by George and confirm not only his extraordinary ability to trace previously unnoticed formal lineages but also his role in laying the ground for future studies in the field of Romanesque art.
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