Cover image for Zodiaque: Making Medieval Modern, 1951–2001 By Janet T. Marquardt


Making Medieval Modern, 1951–2001

Janet T. Marquardt


$93.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-06506-9

288 pages
6.5" × 8.5"
16 color/71 b&w illustrations


Making Medieval Modern, 1951–2001

Janet T. Marquardt

Zodiaque is a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk that will either remind readers familiar with the Zodiaque format of what made the books special or will introduce a new generation of readers to them.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
Begun in 1951 by monks at the abbey of La Pierre-qui-Vire in Burgundy, the Zodiaque publications consisted of a triennial journal and multiple series of books, including the most famous: La Nuit des temps. The editors’ goal was to renew sacred art for twentieth-century viewers by making connections between the direct, “primitive” character of pre-Gothic religious art and an emerging modernist aesthetic. Focusing almost exclusively on Romanesque architecture and sculptural decoration, Zodiaque revived the style’s richness and variety, bringing to light monuments lost to popular currency and visually shaping their reception with a new eye to graphic forms. What captured the public imagination and brought the Zodiaque books to international attention was their primary feature: striking black-and-white photogravures. These powerful images went beyond documentary photography to become collectible graphic prints, shaping the plastic form seen by the camera into a fresh two-dimensional artwork. In Zodiaque, Janet Marquardt explores the motivations, philosophies, and workshop practices of Éditions Zodiaque and how they affected the scholarly discourse on medieval art and architecture.
Zodiaque is a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk that will either remind readers familiar with the Zodiaque format of what made the books special or will introduce a new generation of readers to them.”
“Marquardt’s book succeeds in situating the Zodiaque enterprise in the context of postwar French Catholicism and demonstrates the series’ impact on art-historical pedagogy. Scholars familiar with the Zodiaque books as well as art historians invested in critically evaluating their own visual pedagogical tools will find this study particularly enlightening.”
“A deft scholarly work, one which combines the personal touch with an extremely thorough examination of archival material.”
“The French avant-garde monks who created the publishing house Zodiaque in Burgundy thought they were shaping the inner world that post–WWII societies were lacking. How was picturing, framing, printing, and publishing on Romanesque art a way to a better world? And why Romanesque rather than Gothic? Thomas Merton, Albert Gleize and the Cubists, Alfred Stieglitz, Henri Focillon, André Malraux, and Jacques Maritain were the scouts and witnesses of a fifty-year venture that made the medieval modern. The brilliant medievalist Janet Marquardt is our guide, the one we need for a journey that begins as a monograph on a sacred aesthetic experience and finally turns into global history.”
“This significant study casts a keen historiographical eye over the genesis and development of the famed Zodiaque series, books that are essential holdings in libraries worldwide. Janet Marquardt performs the important task of putting the Zodiaque project in the context of modern art, demonstrating how its aesthetic developed out of early twentieth-century interests and went on to influence scholarly assumptions about medieval architecture throughout the second half of that century. All libraries will want to have a copy of this book next to their Zodiaque collections.”
“Janet Marquardt’s meticulous medieval scholarship, widely recognized both in France and in the United States, gives authority to her insight into the hitherto unappreciated modernist aesthetic that underlies Zodiaque’s success in rekindling public enthusiasm in France for Romanesque art. Her book, so wonderfully illustrated thanks to the cooperation of the monastic Zodiaque editors, will surely encourage the further spread of this enthusiasm among English readers.”
“The Zodiaque publications, produced by the monks of La-Pierre-qui-Vire, are celebrated for their arresting photographs of Romanesque sites. Janet Marquardt delineates how discourses surrounding twentieth-century art came to inform the distinctive aesthetic of these lavishly illustrated publications. In the process, she performs a great service in critically assessing the technologies through which we access monuments from the past.”
“Janet Marquardt reveals the ideological agendas behind the Zodiaque book series' creation of a photographic record of Romanesque architecture and sculpture and its capacity to shape our ideas of the past. Rather than simply juxtapose past and present, she articulates the means by which the present must inevitably affect our conception of the past. Richly nuanced in its analysis of both the form and the content of these images, Zodiaque gives articulate expression to their role in the creation of cultural memory.”
“Janet Marquardt's Zodiaque is more than an in-depth study of the historiographically important Zodiaque publications. It is a rare look into the inner workings of the mutually influential interactions of academic and non-academic intellectual cultures at a crucial time in the postwar formation of Western medieval art history.”
“Most students of medieval art will be aware of the powerful presence upon the bookshelf of an extensive series of most unusual volumes on Romanesque art published by Zodiaque, based at the Burgundian monastery of La Pierre-qui-Vire. Zodiaque books, beautifully produced with striking black-and-white photography and texts that sometimes verge on the poetic, invite readers to enter and engage—just as they might enter a church or embark upon a pilgrimage.
“With impressive control of the art-historical and theoretical backgrounds as well as extensive and meticulous research in the primary sources, both written and oral, Janet Marquardt tells an extraordinary and most engaging story of a quest that went far beyond the traditional purview of art-historical scholarship and publishing. By drawing upon resonances between the dynamic rhythms of the ‘Romanesque’ and the abstractions of modern art, the visionary founder and leader of Zodiaque, Dom Angelico Surchamp, who had studied with Cubist artist Albert Gleizes, hoped to propagate a new vision—not just aesthetic, but also spiritual. The redemptive power of art might heal the wounds of war-torn Europe and animate not only the Benedictine house of La Pierre-qui-Vire but also the Catholic faith at large.
“This is a compelling plot—and Zodiaque: Making Medieval Modern, 1951–2001 kept me moving attentively forward to the final page.”
“In this study, Janet Marquardt has created a powerful synthesis of religious, art, and technological history. Focusing on the monastery of La-Pierre-qui-Vire in Burgundy, she follows out the career of Angelico Surchamp, who, along with fellow monks and scholarly collaborators, produced the Zodiaque series of art books and the review of the same name. She shows how the study and presentation of Romanesque sculpture and architecture was forever changed by religious vocation, secular know-how, and an original, sometimes disputed, artistic aesthetic. Her book reveals to us just how much the European and American image of Burgundy and of medieval French history owes to the multifaceted genius of the French monastic renewal of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”
“A rich meditation on photography’s role in the revival of Romanesque art, Zodiaque: Making Medieval Modern, 1951-2001 will be celebrated by historians of art, architecture, photography, religion, and the press. Janet Marquardt expertly traces the gripping story of the material and aesthetic struggles encountered by a group of modernist-inspired monks as they attempted to communicate their sense of the sacred through the carefully produced Zodiaque volumes, works of art unto themselves.”
“Janet Marquardt's Zodiaque: Making Medieval Modern, 1951-2001, is a brilliantly conceived analysis of the publishing enterprise that emanated from the Benedictine Abbey of Sainte-Marie de la Pierre-qui-Vire, a project that was itself an opus dei of the highest order. Intended to demonstrate art’s, and particularly abstract art’s, ability to express spiritual content, the photographs published in the various Zodiaque editions, including books and journals, would come to represent modern thinking about the essence of Romanesque art. Marquardt offers a cogent analysis of the modernist aesthetic visible in the magnificent and often moving photographic illustrations. Her study also recognizes the difficulty in defining Romanesque art, a task perhaps more challenging than with the art of any other period of Western art. Marquardt provides a rich historiography of Romanesque art by contextualizing nearly two centuries of its study.”
“What student or devoted amateur of medieval art has not lost him- or herself in the inviting black-and-white photogravures of the Zodiaque volumes published for fifty years by the monks of La Pierre-qui-Vire? The quality of the photography and sheer beauty of the images brought the world of Romanesque sculpture and architecture to the fingertips of thousands. More than an invitation to become an armchair traveler, however, the volumes, often written by leading experts, introduced complex monuments, and even debates and controversies, in accessible language and clear presentations. In many cases, the scholarly opinions expressed have withstood the test of time. In some instances, the attention Zodiaque brought to monuments helped spur their preservation. The beautiful Zodiaque volumes initiated newcomers just as much as they engaged scholars.
“The remarkable story of the Zodiaque publications is the subject of Janet Marquardt’s book. It joins a growing bibliography of works on Zodiaque, including a recent spate of studies, and interest in Romanesque art’s modern (and modernist) connections more generally. Part biography (especially of Zodiaque’s founder, Dom Angelico Surchamp, himself a modernist painter by training, but of other early key figures as well), part history of mid-twentieth-century Catholicism in France, part history of modernist taste, this book leads the reader through the origins of the Zodiaque enterprise (tracing its origins to various German philosophical and spiritual sources) to the editorial pursuits of its monastic publishers, and finally to Zodiaque’s impact on the study of medieval art. Marquardt examines how, from the format of the books to the manipulation of the photographic subjects—hoping for the reader’s spiritualized connection to the works, through the close cropping and dramatic details—the Zodiaque series shaped modern understanding of the Romanesque past. “Buttressed by a prodigious volume of archival work to trace this history, Marquardt’s volume makes many thoughtful connections between medieval art and modernist sensibilities. It represents surely not the last word on Zodiaque’s influence on modern perceptions of Romanesque art, and Marquardt’s investigative approach and generous scope offer the reader countless further avenues for research. But Marquardt’s book will henceforth be a benchmark for those future studies.”
“In this richly layered account, Janet Marquardt unpacks the remarkable publication venture of a remote Burgundian abbey. From 1951 until the venture’s demise half a century later, the beautifully illustrated Zodiaque volumes programmed readers to view Romanesque art through a modernist, quasi-abstract, and spiritually rejuvenating lens. By masterfully contextualizing the choices made by the publishers, writers, and photographers, Zodiaque goes beyond reception history to reveal a great deal about the cultural assumptions and aspirations of postwar France.”

Janet T. Marquardt is Research Associate in Art History at Smith College and Distinguished Professor Emerita of Art History and Women’s Studies at Eastern Illinois University.


Foreword by Christian Sapin


A Note on the Text and Sources


1 The Setting

2 The Project

3 The Texts

4 The Photographs

5 The Impact



Selected Bibliography

Photographic Credits



Éditions Zodiaque, a publishing venture undertaken after the Second World War by a Benedictine abbey in France, affected perceptions of European medieval art for art historians around the world as well as for the general art book–buying public. In this study, I try to understand the underlying premises for such an ambitious project. Although carried out in twentieth-century France, it centered on religious imagery—primarily photographs of Romanesque churches and their sculptural decoration. The visual illustrations were so alluring that the books sold extremely well both inside and outside of France, setting new publishing records. Indeed, how the very stylistic term “Romanesque” is used today is largely due to the popularity of one particular Zodiaque series, while many formerly unknown medieval sites that now figure prominently in art history courses owe their recognition to the coverage they received in these publications.

The Zodiaque journal was launched in 1951 and gave rise to multiple series of books, starting in 1953. Both journal and books were published by the Abbey of Sainte-Marie de la Pierre-qui-Vire in Burgundy. In total, roughly 150 issues of the journal and over 250 books, organized into thirteen series, appeared between 1951 and 2001, at which point the name and stock were sold to a commercial Christian book publishing house. During that fifty-year period, the journal alternated between articles on medieval art, Christianity, non-European arts, and modern “abstract” art, in addition to reviews of literature and music. The books initially covered only Romanesque topics but soon came to encompass Early Christian and early medieval subject matter as well. In the project’s final years, following the retirement of the original editor, Dom Angelico Surchamp, and the onset of digital media, a series on canonical French Gothic cathedrals was added.

The black-and-white photogravures (héliogravures) that illustrated the Zodiaque publications made the books famous and raised the bar for art-historical photography. They now stand as documentary photographs of medieval art and architecture, capturing the condition of works on the date they were recorded. However, they were also designed to be artworks in their own right and to evoke a profound aesthetic appreciation for the original monuments they picture. These dual roles endured throughout the history of Zodiaque.

This book grew out of my interest in the ways that the medieval period, and medieval art in particular, has been used to construct notions of the historical past. I am especially fascinated by modern interpretations of medieval art, as can be seen in my study of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century interventions into the ruins of the Abbey of Cluny, From Martyr to Monument: The Abbey of Cluny as Cultural Patrimony, and the essays on the reception of medieval art from all over Europe across five centuries that make up the anthology Medieval Art and Architecture after the Middle Ages, which I co-edited with Alyce A. Jordan. I have used the Zodiaque series of books on medieval art for forty years, yet up until my work on this study knew nothing about their origins, only that they have always been unique among art books and were the product of a monastery in France. I decided to investigate how the idea for the Zodiaque books came about and why the monks at La Pierre-qui-Vire embarked on a publishing venture. I wanted to relate the modernist aesthetic that I saw in the photography compositions to art that was contemporary with the books. I knew very little about twentieth-century religious communities and the issues that confronted them, but it seemed essential that the project be contextualized in order to evaluate the impact of the book series on my generation’s appreciation of Romanesque art. Do we see here an example of how photography has helped shape the market for art history? Is Zodiaque imagery linked more to religion or to art? These books have held great fascination for art historians, despite the fact that they were never planned as scholarly products but rather targeted tourists and consumers of Christian subject matter alike. Some of the authors were quite important, while others were unknown; how did their texts factor into the popular reception of the photographs and, in turn, the art they portrayed?

Once I had met Dom Angelico Surchamp and visited his successor at the abbey, more questions arose: How much did Surchamp’s own artistic training, taste, religious belief, and leadership role in the enterprise influence the outcome? How and where does the Zodiaque undertaking fit within the French nationalist appropriation of medieval art? Is there a definition for the term “Romanesque art” that can accommodate all examples, and if so, was it affected by the comprehensive Zodiaque documentation?

The Zodiaque project represents a recent layer in a long line of modern cultural memories of Romanesque art. Beginning with the early nineteenth-century coining of the term, to suggest a debased form of the Romance languages or Roman architecture, the Neoclassically biased writers of this period found its heavy, symmetrical, and often quixotic forms to be poor substitutes for their paradigmatic notions of beauty. Instead, they revived appreciation of the classically ideal figures found in so-called “Gothic” sculpture and the romantic ornamental exuberance of that style’s architectural manifestations. It was left to the modernists of the early twentieth century to “rediscover” medieval art forms prior to the thirteenth century.

Ever since, the definition of Romanesque art has alternated between a period designation usually associated with the visual arts produced across Europe during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and a stylistic characterization that best suits monumental European church architecture before the technological advances of the Gothic period. For Surchamp and the other members of the Zodiaque team, the period designation would determine the choices of buildings and artworks to include in their series. The stylistic reference to Roman precursors was less important than a perceived general artistic inclination away from sculptural naturalism in favor of an inventive expressionism that allowed for exaggeration, abstraction, and originality. It was these latter features that seemed to align with tendencies in modern art and to suggest a vision of medieval art that was both more challenging and potentially more spiritually profound than the better-known Gothic. As such, anything that fell within those two centuries, even widely varied in appearance, constituted this fascinating subject for Zodiaque’s reconsideration, and was considered Romanesque.

Scholars have written about the emphasis on creativity in Romanesque visual art, attributing it to the pressure on monastic communities to justify elaborate illustrations in these private spaces for monks who could read, despite the Church’s suggestions that art’s function was to illuminate religious texts for the illiterate. By moving beyond mere illustration to complex iconographic interpretations, the monks could posit deeper spiritual revelations arising from meditation on visual art. Especially important in the twelfth century, when monastic art programs were being criticized as a poor use of funds versus the potential public benefits of alms, an emphasis on the intellectual challenge of monastic imagery sought to justify its function within the cloister. Peter Low writes in the context of the famous tympanum at Vézelay: “The consequences of this conviction, for early medieval monks, was a desire to produce art that was not just sophisticated in its content but that could also surprise and delight, that could capture attention and hold it by presenting that content—within the parameters of established tradition—time and again in an original light.” It was this aspect of Romanesque art that drove the Zodiaque project and served as the definitive distinction between it and later, Gothic forms.

The Zodiaque books enter the realm of cultural memory (Funktionsgedächtnis) because they established a new way of remembering the imagery of the past. The series of photographs published by La Pierre-qui-Vire impact scenic and narrative memory, the two categories developed by Jan and Aleida Assmann as a social and communicative extension of Maurice Halbwachs’s notion of collective memory. They provide points of emotional force (scenic), but they are also carefully composed to offer interpretive mediations (narrative). Unlike the documentary photographs of Romanesque art available before Zodiaque publications, the Zodiaque images treat not just the subject but also the recording medium as art, infusing their photographs with a deeper aesthetic dimension. As their viewers, we join in a collective experience by knowing and remembering both the Romanesque subject matter and the Zodiaque aesthetic. The photographs become aides-mémoires to shape an idea of the European eleventh and twelfth centuries, and, as a whole, the Zodiaque project has itself become a lieu de mémoire.

By approaching these books as collections of artistically composed photographs supported by written descriptions rather than as texts with accompanying illustrations, I have focused on analysis of the innovations and technical concerns that went into their production. For this reason, although I address the texts in general and consider a few key authors, that is not the thrust of my investigation. Instead, it is the visual composition and photographic effects that make Zodiaque publications stand apart. The Zodiaque books appeared at a very special time in medieval art-book publishing in France.

For the purposes of introduction, I will now briefly set out the key themes and theoretical issues that drive my inquiry. There were many reasons for and projects involving post-medieval renewal in the twentieth century. I try to distinguish only those that underpinned the Zodiaque project. I will return to many of these points in the chapters that follow.