The Year 1300 and the Creation of a New European Architecture

Cologne Cathedral, Choir Stall

What art historical subject has been deprived of a conference in Britain in its honour for over half a century? A subject that counts among the most inventive and the most universally admired in western art? The ‘1300 Conference’ held at the Courtauld from 12th – 14th May with the financial support of the Courtauld Research Forum and the British Academy, was the first international conference on Gothic architecture to be held in the British Isles for over fifty years. It had started its life two years ago as a café conversation in a little town in Swabia between Paul Crossley and Peter Kurmann of University of Fribourg on the peculiarly international and ‘European’ qualities of Gothic architecture at the turn of the 13th century. Peter Kurmann was preparing an ambitious book on the subject, and it seemed the obvious thing to give the topic the international attention it deserves. So Paul Crossley, and the conference organizers, Alexandra Gajewski and Zoe Opacic invited specialist scholars from the United States, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and the Czech Republic to pool their ideas, exchange knowledge, and delight a large audience over two days of intensive lectures, discussions and sociability. Given the range of speakers it was easy to get what we wanted: an informed concentration on a given period, coupled with diversity of approach and variety of outlook. The issues were unashamedly architectural. Questions of patronage loomed large. Tomasz Weclawowicz (Jagiellonian University in Cracow) concentrated on the Polish bishops, Thomas Coomans (Catholic University of Leuven) on civic authorities in the Low Countries, Alexandra Gajewski on the shift from monastic to civic at S. Benigne in Dijon, Klara Benesovska (Czech Academy of Science, Prague) on the Cistercians in Bohemia, Zoe Opacic (Birkbeck College) on Charles IV of Luxembourg in the New Town in Prague. But the conference paid as much attention to masons and their creative processes as to benefactors. A central preoccupation was the transmission of ideas via travel and the new art of architectural drawing. Peter Kurmann and Richard Morris (Warwick University) plotted this process in terms of architectural detail, Christopher Wilson (University College) followed a diaspora of ideas from Troyes to Germany and England. Marc Schurr (University of Fribourg) did the same for Strasbourg, and Christoph Brachmann (Technical University, Berlin) for Lorraine. Christian Freigang (Frankfurt am Main University) demonstrated how architectural drawing brought a new optical and painterly sensitivity to the masonic imagination. A third, more functional, line of enquiry tackled liturgical and devotional practices and their relations to architecture. Achim Timmermann (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) outlined the history of early micro-architectural sacrament houses in northern Europe, while Yves Gallet (University of Quimper) drew parallels between contemporary musical elaboration (particularly the motet) and debates about simplicity in French architecture. Caroline Bruzelius (Duke University) analyzed friars’ architecture in southern Italy in terms of site, resources and family burials. All the speakers recognized that churches were seen by their users as more or less integrated experiences of space, sculpture, and stained glass, with Tim Ayers (Courtauld Institute) exemplifying these ‘totalities’ at Merton College Oxford chapel, and Michael T. Davis (Mount Holyoke College) at Clermont Ferrand.

The conference attracted a full house, which stayed – attentive and questioning – to the last lecture of the last day. A literal high point of the proceedings was a visit for the speakers, chairs, and our director, to the Muniment Room, the galleries and the roofs of Westminster Abbey. Unseasonal icy winds and driving rain on the exposed buttresses failed to dampen the Entente Cordial between continental Europe, America and the Courtauld which this conference helped to promote.

Prof. Paul Crossley

Gabriele Münter. The Search for Expression 1906-1917

Gabriele Munter in Kochel graveyard, 1909

The Gabriele Münter exhibition, 23 June -11 September, met with public and critical acclaim. In the International Herald Tribune, Souren Melikian was unequivocal on Münter’s relationship to tradition, viewing her early Still Life with Brushes of 1906 as a picture both ‘steeped in the legacy of the past’ and a ‘gem of avant-garde painting’. Andrew Lambirth, in the Spectator, was equally taken with the painting, (of Jawlensky and Werefkin of 1909,) regarding it less as a portrait than a beguiling ‘jewel-like composition … captured in luminous colours’. His superlatives for this ‘superb exhibition [where] we are able to see just how good a painter she is’ extended to his description of the two rooms hung with the works of Münter’s contemporaries. The Gallery’s Senior Curator Ernst Vegelin must be congratulated for organising focused exhibitions around the new loan collection. Barnaby Wright, deserves praise for the installation, the rooms devoted to modern German art preparing the spectator for the intense yellow room housing the Münter show.

No less intense was the educational programme accompanying the exhibition. The symposium ‘From Expressionism to Exile: German-speaking women practitioners and the public sphere’, was held under the auspices of the Research Forum and the Goethe-Institut London. This provided the opportunity to investigate Münter’s contribution in light of other women painters, designers and photographers. While Reinhold Heller (Chicago) prepared a key paper on Gabriele Münter, Dot Rowe (Roehampton) focused on self-portraiture in the oeuvre of the Berlin-based painter Lotte Laserstein, who went into enforced exile in Sweden in the late 1930s. In her paper ‘How Modern was the Bauhaus?’, Anja Baumhoff (Loughborough) intrigued us with the furniture and toy designs of Alma Buscher, who adapted her work to the Bauhaus paradigms of functionalism and technology and yet remained on the periphery of the school. Duncan Forbes’s (Scottish National Gallery) paper on ‘Politics, Photography and Exile in the Life of Edith Tudor-Hart’ examined the career of the Austrian émigré photographer Edith Suschitzky, her reasons for emigration to Britain and the impact of Communist activism on her photography. The presence in the audience of Tudor-Hart’s surviving brother, the photographer Wolfgang Suschitzky, added to the dramatic poignancy of the narrative. The respondents Monica Bohm-Duchen (London), Timothy Benson (Los Angeles) and Julian Stallabrass were astute in summarising key points and in provoking discussion, the symposium (true to the Greek origins of the word) ending on a note of much conviviality and chilled wine.

Shulamith Behr