The organizers of the Vienna exhibition called it: European Art around 1400 (an "around" spanning some eighty years), avoiding in the title the appellation, "The International Style," which, however, is used unrestrictedly in the Vienna catalogue itself. The term "International Style"--art international in French--is the godchild of the French art-critic, Louis Courajod, who, towards the turn of the last century, in his famous lectures at the Ecole du Louvre, was the first to detect a "courant international" accounting for stylistic affinities between French and Florentine sculpture at the dawn of the Renaissance. Those were the days of Wölfflinian art criticism, in which, as a reaction against Taine's approach to art as a mirror of man's historical environment, works of art were to be divorced from their historical context and even from their content, and considered only as pure pattern analyzed according to the methods of abstract aesthetics. The Germans coined the term "soft style"--weicher Stil--as the common denominator characterizing European art at the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth century. Neither appellation--"International Style" or weicher Stil--covers appropriately the arts of the period under consideration, but the paradox is that today we could not go anywhere without them. So it was decided to keep "The International Style" as the title of this show, because the specialists have made it legitimate. The artists of the period around 1400 would nevertheless have been surprised to hear that they were international Europeans, because there were then neither nations nor a Europe, at least in the sense given to these political structures nowadays. We cannot help envisioning the past from the viewpoint of our total inheritance of it, and, in our case, from the angle of the new Europe in the making. In connection with this, it is of a great interest to note that the term "Europeans" was used first almost exclusively in times of threatening common danger; for instance, by the chronicler who continued Isidorus of Beja, when he related the defeat of the Arab invasion near Poitiers in 732, and by Pope Urban II (in 1095), when at Clermont he summoned the "provinces of Europe," "the Christian commonwealth," to liberate the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. After the failure of the Crusades, the term "Europe," which had been created by the Greek and Roman geographers, began to be revived by Greek and Italian "inventors" and scholars towards the end of the fourteenth century and through the fifteenth century.
The term "International Style" is in itself justified by the scope of this exhibition, in which the arts of France, England, Flanders, the Netherlands, Burgundy, Germany, Bohemia, Austria, Northern Italy, Siena and Florence, Catalonia and Spain are represented by works which spread over three-quarters of a century-- 1360 and 1433 being the years of the earliest and of the latest dated document--yet these have stylistic features in common. If we had to consider only its formal patterns of softly sweeping curves and melodiously meandering lines, 1360 could appear too late a date to start with. Such patterns are already present in our own chalice of Sigmaringen decorated with translucent enamels in Constance, southwestern Germany around 1320, and in the illuminations of the French artist, Jean Pucelle and his assistants in the Book of Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux, now in The Cloisters, New York, as well as in the Bible of Robert de Billyng and the Belleville Breviary in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris--all three manuscripts having been finished around 1326. The date 1360 makes sense as a "point of no return," after which the arts in Western Europe, considered as an ensemble and not only in a few outstanding precocious masterpieces, everywhere began to . . .