Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Memory and Modernity: Viollet-le-Duc at Vezelay

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Memory and Modernity: Viollet-le-Duc at Vezelay

Article excerpt

Memory and Modernity. Viollet-le-Duc at Vezelay. By Kevin D. Murphy. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 2000. Pp. xiv, 200. $45.00.)

The subtitle best labels the essential contribution of this study: Viollet-le-Duc at Vezelay. Here Kevin Murphy offers a history of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc's architectural theory and practice, and the effort, general if not concerted, to restore the medieval monuments of France. He wants, as well, "to understand the romantic and rationalist strains that coexisted in Viollet-le-Duc's thinking" (p. 10). As for architectural history and French history tout court, he tries to show "the particular view of restoration that this project illustrates" and to "situate Vezelay on the contested terrain of nineteenth-century Burgundy and on the embattled figurative territory of the French architectural patrimony" (p. 7). The study is based on records of the repair and restoration supervised by French government commissions: material from the Archives Nationales, the Bibliotheque et Archives du Patrimoine, the departmental archives of the Yonne, and the Bibliotheque Municipale of Auxerre.

Centerpiece of the book is chapter 4, "Viollet-le-Duc and the Re-invention of Vezelay." Here Murphy shows the combination of originality and historical reconstruction that Viollet-le-Duc effected-or sometimes only affected-with special attention to his passage from romanticism to classicism: "Early on in his Italian travels the architect evidenced a lingering Romanticism in his understanding of medieval buildings.... But by early autumn of 1836 Viollet-le-Duc could praise classical architecture, along with the best buildings of the Middle Ages, for their rational restraint" (pp. 74-75). The background story to this is a romantic rationalism movement and the earlier influence of Abbe J.-H. de Cordemoy. Murphy contrasts the Duban, Labrouste, Duc, and Vaudoyer "rationalist" efforts at "romantic" restoration with the creation of a new nineteenthcentury aesthetic by Viollet-le-Duc. The problem here is that the classicism of the Romantics is difficult to isolate. According to Pierre Moreau in Le Classicisme des romantiques (1952), the romantics revered authentic Greco-Roman culture in contrast to neo-classicism and Enlightenment rationalism. …

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