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19 - Architecture and the Visual Arts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

David Luscombe
University of Sheffield
Jonathan Riley-Smith
University of Cambridge
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the first edition of the Cambridge Medieval History considered ten pages on ecclesiastical architecture after 1100 quite sufficient to cover the subject, and until the Renaissance was imminent, the only art thought worthy of a whole chapter to itself was the art of war. Two whole volumes were taken up with the conflict between empire and papacy, which was treated as the epoch-making centre-piece of the entire work, yet with scarcely an inkling that there might have been a connection between the victory of the church and the spate of great cathedrals which were subsequently built across the length and breadth of Europe, or that the self-projection of the church on the imagination of Christendom was done largely by means of art. This observation reveals a great deal about the notion of history that was in the ascendant when J. B. Bury launched the project in the first decade of the twentieth century. The original Cambridge Medieval History was nothing if not consistent in sticking close to the primary sources as Bury and his collaborators understood them. The short shrift given to art was part and parcel of the prevalent conviction that only the written word counted as historical evidence. But it was also an accurate reflection of the sources themselves. Anyone who took their views from what could be read about the subject in medieval texts might be forgiven for concluding that works of art were peripheral to what really mattered.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2004

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