- Architecture et sculpture gothiques. Renouvellement des méthodes et des regards ed. by Stéphanie Diane Daussy and Arnaud Timbert
This interesting collection of sixteen essays emerged from a conference held at Noyon in June 2009. The purpose of the conference and the resulting edited volume was to highlight how the emergence of new technologies and multidisciplinary approaches has reinvigorated study of Gothic architecture and art. The studies in this collection are of well-known monuments and sculpture found exclusively in France, with the exception of one essay which explores the sculptor’s trade in late medieval London. In his preface, Christopher Wilson bemoans the entrenched mindset of his colleagues in Britain, who cling to their disciplinary affiliations. He congratulates the editors of this volume and, more generally, scholars in France for their embrace and promotion of multidisciplinary approaches to energize the study of Gothic cathedrals, something that Wilson claims is less likely to occur in Britain. Although there have been other edited volumes on medieval art and architecture that explore the use of new technologies and methodologies beyond the confines of France—New Approaches to Medieval Architecture (2011), edited by Robert Bork, William W. Clark and Abbey McGehee is one that comes to mind—Wilson rightly advocates for an international and collaborative effort to study the art and architecture of the Gothic Cathedral. Most of all, he reminds us that these fascinating [End Page 227] buildings, which contain sculptural riches, are worthy of continued study and still have the power to engage scholars.
In their insightful introductory essay, Daussy and Timbert champion multi-disciplinary approaches in order to gain new insights into works produced in the Gothic period. By including studies that employ new technologies (e.g., 3D modeling and laser scanning) as well as those that utilize interpretations from multiple disciplines, the editors present a compelling argument for the importance of true collaborations between architectural and art historians, historians, computer scientists, archaeologists, and engineers. They state that it is through the creation of a joint laboratory of multiple disciplines that the transfer of ideas may occur (13). They stress that collaborative studies do not dilute the contributions of a specific field but instead foster a holistic understanding of medieval architecture and sculpture.
Peter Kurmann’s reevaluation of his earlier work on the architecture and sculpture of Meaux Cathedral is one of the standout essays of this collection. Located before the two main sections of the volume, this essay sets the stage for the remaining studies. Kurmann’s article provides an exciting and refreshing example of why new technological methods and the revisiting of seminal studies with fresh eyes can yield new insights. He reevaluates his hypothesis about the work of the architect Gautier de Varinfroy at Meaux Cathedral based on new observations and interpretations on the dating of the architect’s work proposed by a younger colleague. In his essay, Kurmann observes that the proliferation of studies on Rayonnant Gothic architecture over the years puts pressure on past conclusions, therefore necessitating constant reevaluation.
After the essays by Wilson, Daussy and Timbert, and Kurmann, the volume is divided into two sections on architecture and sculpture. These sections present studies that utilize new technologies in conjunction with multidisciplinary insights to reassess master narratives of production, patronage, workshop practices, and audience reception. Most interestingly for this reviewer, the use of new technologies such as 3D modeling is not confined to the essays on architecture but also appears in those on sculpture, thus highlighting the notion that Gothic sculpture inhabited architectural space. Insights gained from the study of one inform the study of the other. Digital modeling, animations, and laser scans result in more dynamic representations of space in a way that traditional models (e.g., ground plans, elevation) cannot.
Several of the essays suggest dramatic reinterpretations of canonical monuments. Others propose new methodological approaches in which to construct nonlinear narratives of a monument or sculpture. Still others demonstrate how new technologies, such as 3D modeling, polychromatic testing, and laser scans...