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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  December 2000

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION December 2000

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Subject:

Primer on art historical style names (was Romanesque and Gothic)

From:

[log in to unmask]

Reply-To:

Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 23 Dec 2000 05:34:35 EST

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In a message dated 12/22/00 11:45:57 PM Eastern Standard Time,
[log in to unmask] writes:

> With regard to architectural style names, what name
>  would be given to the architecture 479-1000 other than
>  pre-Romanesque? Wasn't much built of wood and hence
>  does not survive? If so, how could anyone give a name
>  to a style whose appearance is unknown?

The name (early medieval) is used for the period, and isn't specific to the
architectural style or styles. Ditto for Romanesque and Gothic.

I feel we have two groups of list members (A and B) in this thread, and I'd
like to address you separately on the matter of art historical style names.

(A) For those of you who don't remember Art History 101, or never took such a
class, these are the conventional divisions usually used by art historians.
Each has regional and temporal subdivisions, and each applies to all arts,
sacred and secular, made in Western Europe in that time period.

     Early Medieval --deposition of last Roman emperor to c. 1000
     Romanesque --c. 1000-1137
     Gothic --c. 1137-1400

(B) I now address those colleagues who are seething with postmodernist scorn
at the idea that anyone could or would invent such idiotic  labels. Yes, it's
known that these labels are idiotic or arbitrary, as is necessarily the case
with any and all art historical style names. You are not the first to have
noticed. People didn't look around one day and say, "The early medieval
period is getting tiresome, so at 9:00 am tomorrow, we'll begin the
Romanesque." Nor were supplementary dicta issued to the effect that "after
the Romanesque begins, we'll cut the fingers off any craftsman so
intransigent that he continues working in an early medieval style."

In short, art historical style names are labels of convenience, not to be
taken literally and not to be taken too seriously. Think of them as
approximations or fuzzy categories.  That might allow freeing up for higher
purposes all this brainpower  being  devoted on this list to inventing
replacement names. What do you intend to do with the replacement names after
you've worked them out? Bring them as a gift to the art historians, who will
presumably be grateful that better minds than their own have shown them
superior solutions? Naah, that isn't the way things ordinarily work. The art
historians would recognize right away that your arbitrary and capricious
names weren't any more meaningful than the arbitrary and capricious names
already in use. They'd probably also recognize that gratuitous
label-inventing can be a kind of messianic power trip, as in, "I want you to
use my labels instead of your labels, because your labels are no good and my
labels are better."

If you don't want to face down the art historians (who can be pretty scornful
themselves), you can still invent your own art historical style names and use
them for your own purposes. Regard it as a Wittgensteinian language game
which has its pros and cons. Let's say you feel that "Glurkmurk" would be a
more meaningful term than "Romanesque." If you have a little coterie of
devoted followers, y'all can say Glurkmurk where other people would say
Romaneque. Within the group, it might enhance the sense of solidarity.
Outside the group, most people might not have the foggiest idea of what
Glurkmurk means, or why you were reinventing the wheel.

I'm having difficulty correlating the historical training, sophistication and
theoretical interests  of so many people on this list with what seems to me
to be a naive and inappropriately literal-minded approach to art historical
style names, many of which are borrowed from the period names used by
historians. Don't you folks explain to your students in History 101 that
although an historical period might be called the Englightenment, that isn't
necessarily intended to imply that everyone living at that time was
"enlightened"?

pat sloane

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