#CIHA202400277Materiality in the Zodiaque photographs of Romanesque art

B. Penser la Matière 2
Photomechanical Prints and the Material Agency of Images
J. Marquardt 1.
1Eastern Illinois University/mount Holyoke College - Amherst Ma (États-Unis)

Adresse email : jtmarquardt@eiu.edu (J.Marquardt)


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Materiality in the Zodiaque photographs of Romanesque art (Romanesque, Zodiaque, modernist, photogravure)

The compositions of the photographs in the books and journals published under the Zodiaque imprint of La Pierre-qui-Vire monastery during the twentieth century were imbued with ideals of modern art and design. The primary initiator of the series, Frère Angelico Surchamp, had studied with abstract painter Albert Gleizes, who himself found early medieval and non-western arts to be inspiring in the same manner as many other artists of the first decades of the twentieth century. Art historians, such as Henri Focillon, who paralleled their interest in the marks of the maker, the evidence of the tools and materials, and the process of formulation underlined a return to the art of the hand-crafted form and its documentation. The resulting aesthetic of the Zodiaque black-and-white photogravures was graphic: obliquely lit, highly detailed, and starkly contrasted, highlighting the originals’ essential and technical materiality to the utmost. Abstracted details took precedence over iconographic identities. The photographic negative and copper plate were manipulated to reduce superfluous subject matter and to achieve the sharpest appearance. The monks searched for the best ink, paper, and printing methods to realize an ideal, tactile result. Binding and covering were designed to enhance each volume. In this way, the materiality of the photographic object itself became a key component of a secondary artwork. Each book became a little curated box of original prints. Zodiaque photogravures thus worked on two levels—they both presented an intense study of the materiality of Romanesque artistic subject matter at the same time as their photographic presence was itself a rich and rewarding artistic experience.

Zodiaque books opened up Romanesque art to new awareness—bringing unknown monuments into print and creating an appreciation of its form via modernist sensibilities. Surchamp believed that abstract forms could better convey spirituality than highly representational ones and thus skewed the presentation of his beloved Christian Romanesque art and architecture to appeal to a wider audience. Sometimes the texts reinforced the goals of the photographic program; other times authors merely repeated received information about history and meaning without catching the edge of attraction that the Zodiaque team sought. As art objects in their own right, the books could be perused like “armchair adventures” or alternative touristic visits. Viewers gained better access to the art since the monks were granted extensive permissions and their cameras were helped by zoom or close-up lenses as well as mundane aids like ladders and cranes. These virtual visitors changed the perspective artists had originally anticipated by looking directly across at forms mounted high up or down from lofty vantages. In a reversal of looking, it was the Zodiaque compositions that made viewers really stop and notice the material of the eleventh- and twelfth-century artworks they featured even as they admired the artistic beauty of the photographs themselves. In turn, these books—most published by locations—have gone on to serve regional heritage conservation and restoration efforts with their distinct documentary and historical information.


Cédric Lesec, “A Photographic Breviary. ‘Zodiaque’ publications in the 20th century.” Sacrum et Decorum 4 [online journal: http://sacrumetdecorum.pl/?p=639&lang=en] (2011).

Janet T. Marquardt, Zodiaque: Making Medieval Modern 1951-2001 (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2015).

______________, ‘Defining French ‘Romanesque’: The Zodiaque series,’ Journal of Art Historiography (Univ/Glasgow) 1, (December 2009)

______________, ‘La Pierre-qui-Vire and Zodiaque: A Monastic Pilgrimage of Medieval Dimensions’ Peregrinations II, no. 3/4, SU 2009 (http://peregrinations.kenyon.edu)

Dom Angelico Surchamp, , "l'Aventure de Zodiaque." Annales de l'Académie de Mâcon 13, series 4 (2001): 3-4.

_____________________, “Deux notes sur l’art abstrait,” Zodiaque 1 (1951).

CV de 500 signes incluant les informations suivantes: Prénom, nom, titre, fonction, institution

Janet T. Marquardt

Distinguished Professor Emerita, Eastern Illinois Univeristy
Research Associate, Mount Holyoke College
Visiting Professor, Boston College
Visiting Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


Résumé / Abstract

The photogravures that make up the Zodiaque books on Romanesque art function on two levels. On the one hand, they present an intense, up-close study of the materials of Romanesque art and architecture in uniquely abstracted and highlighted compositions. On the other hand, their photographic presence is itself a rich and rewarding artistic experience since the choices of paper, inks, printing and binding enhanced their own materiality as tactile art objects, presenting books like little boxes of original, curated prints.