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  • Continental Art & England
  • Meaghan Clarke
J. B. Bullen. Continental Crosscurrents: British Criticism and European Art 1810–1910. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. x + 297 pp. $99.00

Continental Crosscurrents deploys case studies to explore the impact of continental art on British art production and art writing. The book focuses on the (re)discovery of historical, more specifically medieval, art and architecture in Germany and Italy, alongside the interpretation and application of these new forms to contemporary design and painting. Continental Crosscurrents is unique for the sheer breadth of material and the length of the epoch that it encompasses. It stretches from a pre-Ruskinian revival of Romanesque architecture to the vibrant canvases of Vanessa Bell and Paul Gauguin, via a plethora of sites and individuals. The book's approach is broadly chronological, not in effect a chronology, but rather a collection of ten essays addressing topics or themes. The volume is illustrated with forty-five black and white half-page illustrations. [End Page 336]

The first three essays of the volume address the early-nineteenth-century link with pre-Renaissance Italian art, as highlighted in the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. The history of interest in early Italian art and the Romanesque is traced, beginning in the eighteenth century. Acting as a research assistant to the Quaker architect Thomas Rickman, Edmund Sharpe travelled to the continent to record the medieval architecture of Germany and France. He made a tour of southern Germany in 1832–1834, where he met key figures in the Franco-German medieval revival (as exemplified by the Cologne cathedral admired by Goethe), and France in 1835, where his extensive tour encompassed Limoges, Bordeaux, Lyon, Avignon and the remarkable porch and cloister of Moissac. In France he found the enthusiasm for the Middle Ages ranged from fashion to architectural lithographs and to the construction of neo-Romanesque church architecture. Sharpe returned to Britain and applied this style to churches in Blackburn and Preston, modelling them on the plain Romanesque of northern Germany. Bullen identifies a burgeoning interest in the Romanesque by 1840, which was to be soon superseded by the Gothic as the "only" Anglican architecture espoused by the Ecclesiologist. One church that evaded this new Gothic mantra was St. Mary's, Wreay: near Carlisle and built in 1842, it offered a unique example of Romanesque architecture. The extraordinary design and iconographic scheme gained its architect, Sarah Losh, admirers two decades later in Rossetti and William Bell Scott who praised its genius and Byzantine style. The neo-Romanesque churches of James Wild in Streatham and Sidney Herbert in Wilton, both of 1845, were not so fortunate in avoiding controversy—contemporaries feared their foreign and "Oriental" influences. These structures referenced Byzantine and Lombardic prototypes.

Bullen moves from architecture to Browning's "Pictor Ignotus," positioning it in the context of contemporary scholarship on Christian art—notably by Browning's friend, the art historian Anna Jameson, as well as her contemporary Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. In the following essay Bullen returns to Rossetti, relating Rossetti's early enthusiasm for Giorgione. The Venetians, of course, were situated in art history, thanks to Vasari, beyond Tuscany, lying on the wrong side of that now- often-repeated opposition between colore and disegno. This distinction caused an important clash of discourses during the nineteenth century and a recentring of Venetian art through Fuseli, Ruskin as well as artists such as William Etty. Cultural geography has made a significant impact on theoretical approaches to literature and art history. [End Page 337] Bullen compares two urban centres vital to nineteenth-century art historiography. Ruskin's Venice and Victor Hugo's Paris offer an intriguing comparison; both articulated surprisingly similar aspects of urban topographies such as the vitality of the grotesque. Although Ruskin professed to hating Hugo's novel, Bullen argues persuasively for the influence of Notre-Dame de Paris on his later work.

Museums, particularly national institutions, have recently been subject to considerable scholarship and the South Kensington developments have offered material for fascinating histories of the buildings and their collections (most notably the V&A). Here, Bullen turns to one of these, the National Science Museum, and illustrates through correspondence and design competitions the rather unpredictable result...


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pp. 336-339
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