The Spirit of Romanesque

Romanesque Art: Selected Papers

by Meyer Schapiro
Braziller, 368 pp., $30.00

Meyer Schapiro, now in his early seventies, is, without question, one of the leading art historians of the older generation, and his fame is based as much on his publications as on his gifts as a teacher. Those who have heard him lecture are unlikely ever to forget his style of delivery, full of passion and persuasive eloquence, which keeps the audience almost hypnotically spell-bound. After listening to Schapiro lecture in London many years ago, I overheard the remark that St. Bernard must have preached the Second Crusade in a similar way.

Schapiro’s contribution to scholarship lies chiefly in two periods, the art of the early Middle Ages and modern art. I remember him giving a lecture on the Book of Kells at the Courtauld Institute one day and on Cézanne at the Warburg Institute the next, both equally memorable. The present volume reflects his long-standing interest in Romanesque art, chiefly in France, and, in fact, it was in this field that he began his scholarly career, some fifty years ago, with a doctoral dissertation for Columbia University, devoted to the sculptural decoration of Moissac Abbey.

We are told by the publisher that Romanesque Art is the first in the four-volume series of Schapiro’s Selected Papers. The subsequent volumes are to include studies ranging from Early Christian to modern art. The publication of “selected papers” by various well-known scholars, living or dead, has become fashionable in recent years, and there is, it seems, a ready market for them. It is undoubtedly very convenient to have articles which were scattered in periodicals, some not readily accessible, and in even more tiresome Festschriften gathered in one volume. Unfortunately, the price of these collected reprints is often beyond the means of students and younger scholars.

Romanesque Art consists of eight articles, the earliest written in the late Twenties, the last read at the International Congress of the History of Art in 1961, so it includes youthful studies and a number of mature works. The author states that he is “aware of many imperfections, inconsistencies, and unclear formulations in those papers, but to correct them would require more rewriting than I can undertake now,” and that his justification for reprinting them is the belief that they “still have some interest for students of [Romanesque] art.” He further admits that “except in a few places, it has not been possible for me to add references to more recent literature.” This is understandable enough, though it is a pity that a younger person was not entrusted with this task, for the usefulness of the book would have been thus greatly increased. A model for this kind of work is Henri Focillon’s The Art of the West, first published in 1938, and when translated into English in 1963 (twenty years after the author’s death), it was provided with invaluable annotations and a new bibliography by Jean Bony. However, it would be ungrateful and ungracious to labor this point, for the advantage of having these papers, even…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.