Editions Zodiaque – a Guest Post by Janet Marquardt

The distinctive Zodiaque books on medieval art, with their colorful cloth covers, ribbon bookmarks, and rich black-and-white photographs, began in a monastery in Burgundy, France during the 1950s. Growing out of a journal of the same name, the goal of the monks at the abbey of la Pierre-qui-Vire was to renew interest in medieval art, especially pre-Gothic, with high-quality photography that brought out its simple linear power and figural abstraction in response to the current modernist aesthetics.

Beginning with the power of Burgundian Romanesque architectural sculpture, the monks looked to theories about the spiritual purity of ‘primitive’ art to reinforce their beliefs in the potential of medieval imagery to replace tired, saccharine, nineteenth-century ‘Saint-Sulpician’ religious art. Journal issues were dedicated to the arts of Autun, Tournus, Vézelay, and Auxerre as well as sub-Saharan Africa and Albert Gleizes (important Cubist painter who was teacher to first editor-in-chief, Frère Angelico Surchamp). Other issues addressed themes like abstract art or concerns about sacred art.

Cover of first Travaux des mois, 1953

The issue on Autun grew into the first book in 1953, beginning the Travaux des mois series on famous medieval sites. This was followed shortly after by the best-known series, organized by geographic region, La Nuit des temps, with its distinctive hardbound volumes. Bourgogne romane from 1954 was the first product of La Nuit des temps. In both are found the evocative ‘héliogravures’ or photogravures, a photographic process that is similar to aquatint since the photographic negative is transferred to a copper plate where artistic intervention becomes possible.

These initial photographic campaigns were directed by la Pierre-qui-Vire monks; however, they hired professional photographers. The photogravure printing process also occurred outside the abbey, but the volume layouts, maps, text pages, and soon color photographs and binding, were handled in a monastic printing atelier in the tradition of opus dei.

Paray-le-Monial from Bourgogne romane, La Nuit des Temps I, 1974 (6th ed.), pl. 50

By the early 1960s, much of the photography was being handled by the Zodiaque team. Sales of the first volumes had been brisk and returns were financing more ambitious undertakings, such as the triple volume treatment of Irish art, authored by Françoise Henry or the expedition to the Middle East for La Terre Sainte romane. New series were launched, such as les Points cardinaux, where Zodiaque photographs of important monuments were paired with primary texts from historical, ecclesiastical or contemporary literary sources. Regional itinerary guides to Romanesque sites became an offshoot of the Travaux des mois series. Pocket-sized guides were published under the La Carte du ciel title.

A number of introductory volumes were conceived for La Nuit des temps, including the Glossaire des termes techniques de l’art roman, Lexique des symbols, Dictionnaire d’iconographie romane, Routes romanes I-III, Invention de l’architecture romane, Floraison de la sculpture romane I-II, and others. Although new photographs were being taken as sites were added, the continual addition of thematic series allowed the recycling and regrouping of existing photographs.

San Isidoro, León from Leon Roman, La Nuit des Temps 36, 1972, pl. 35

Every site offered the Zodiaque team a pilgrimage of sorts—traveling in a small panel van with their photographic gear, the monks used a network of contacts to gain access to churches and museums. The locations were often remote, bringing visual records of nearly forgotten medieval sites to publication for the first time. They rented equipment such as scaffolding and aerial lifts that allowed close-up studies of architectural detail. They timed visits when objects or manuscripts were being taken apart for repair work and photographs could better portray separate elements.

Vaison from Cloîtres romans de France, Les Travaux des Mois 27. 1983, pl. 12

The first texts were merely accompanying descriptions or local histories, often written by resident clerics. However, Zodiaque’s model and predecessor came from similar books published by Arthaud, also with héliogravures but written by giants such as Marcel Aubert. With the advent of collaborations like that of Zodiaque and Henry, the editors began seeking higher-quality scholarship. Raymond Oursel (son of Charles Oursel) wrote nearly exclusively for Zodiaque. Anne Prache, Willibald Sauerländer, Lucien Musset, and other academic authors contributed to key volumes.

Serrabone from Cloîtres romans de France, Les Travaux des Mois 27, 1983, pl. 30

Yet the greatest selling point remained the amazing photogravures. Less documentation than fine art prints, the compositions grew out of the resonances Surchamp had first perceived between a Cubist aesthetic and the directness of Romanesque visual narrative. An abundance of details, even to the expense of iconographic identification, emphasized an artistic vision of medieval art that rejected the notion of ‘Roman-like’ naturalism inherent in the term ‘Romanesque,’ particularly in terms of sculpture. Instead, these photographs celebrate a more original understanding of visual expression, free of the slavish imitation of nature that one might associate with Gothic classicism, and thus often believed to be more conducive to profound spiritual reflection.

Santo Pietro di Tenda from Corse romane, La Nuit des temps 35, 1972, pl. 99

Over time the number of examples ranged widely in dating and location. Fascination with minimalist forms spawned L’Art Gaulois, the Scandinavia, pre-Romanesque Spain, and Ireland series. Demand drove companions to Christs roman and Vierges romanes on comparable Gothic illustrations. Foreign publishers sought partnerships; a collection of translations into Dutch and German came out. Volumes on Ethiopia and Russia appeared. An atlas was designed.

The first editor stepped down in 1995 and a new team rethought Zodiaque’s goals and launched fresh topics for the journal, still going strong, and new book series–opening out consideration of other world religions in La Route des mages, adding major Gothic monuments in the collection Le Ciel et la pierre, and regrouping examples in fresh ways with Visages du moyen age. Advances in offset duotone printing allowed less complicated preparation of black-and-white photographs with nearly the same rich tones as photogravures. In 2001, la Pierre-qui-Vire sold the entire enterprise and all stock to an outside company, which was soon merged into a larger corporation. Publication of Zodiaque books ceased in 2004.

Vicofertile, from Emilie romane, La Nuit des temps 62, 1984, pl. 44/45

For more information on Janet Marquardt, see this link.

San Michele, from Routes romanes I, Introductions à La Nuit des Temps 12 1982, pl. 35

This article was originally published on the website for the International Center for Medieval Art.

17 thoughts on “Editions Zodiaque – a Guest Post by Janet Marquardt

  1. What a fine comment on the Zodiaque adventure ! I have followed from the beginning the wonderful work of Dom Angelico Surchamp : il was indeed a delight to listen to his lectures and discuss with him. I was also acquainted with the Chanoine Craplet and Raymond Oursel who launched the first editions : “Auvergne Romane” and “Bourgogne Romane”. The whole collection (“La Nuit des Temps”, “Glossaire”, “Floraison”, “Iconographie”, “Symboles”, etc. )were constant companions to my own research.
    May I suggest to anyone interested in romanesque sculpture to read the paragraph dédicated by Bernard Craplet in “L’Auvergne Romane” to a masque present on one of he capitals of the Abbaye de Mozat. It is a striking example of the far-sighted and modernistic perspectives opened by a romanesque art sometimes misjudged.
    Bien cordialement à vous, Madame Marquardt,

    1. Albert, thank you for this note (I am sure that Janet will reply on her own). Surchamp has been one of our most important influences. If you are interested, we did a post earlier this year from our visit with him in September. Since you have met him, you know the inspirational figure that he is. I hope that PJ and I sometime get the opportunity to talk to you on our visit to France. We are going to be in the Clermont area this fall, but you will be gone to warmer climes, I’m afraid. We are glad to have your observations here on Via Lucis.

    2. Merci beaucoup, Albert, for your recommendation. I’ve looked at that description today–something I had never noticed in my reading. It presents another interesting perspective on Romanesque art, of which are so many among the various authors!

  2. Thank you for posting this blog, Janet. The Zodiaque series really are the most distinctive and comprehensive books with their fascinating black-and-white photogravures of perhaps the most interesting period of human religious art ever. As their object of study, the books of the monks and the medieval scholars now have becone monuments by theirselves. Reading the books, one can feel the enthousiasm of the publishers for the uncomplicated richness and the pure and powerfull emotions expressed in pre-Gothic architecture and sculpture.

    1. Thank you for your continued interest, Hans! The book manuscript–nearly ready!!–will go to the press this Fall for further review, editing and production. They expect to have it ready for publication in Fall 2013, if all goes well.

      1. I stay tuned to hear about the progress and wish you good luck with finishing the book manuscript! Cordialement vôtre, Madame Marquardt, Hans

    1. Merci. C’est un projet merveilleux avec beaucoup de différentes directions à étudier.

  3. Beautiful photography – reminds us of the virtues of black & white. A pleasure to see Serrabone featured as it’s one of my favourite places and one a I return to whenever in the area.

    1. The photography is grand, isn’t it? Agree with you about black and white, but at your favorite in Serrabone, nothing but color does justice to the tribune made with the pink marble from the Conflent. Thanks for commenting on the post. We are finding lovers of the Romanesque all over the world.

    2. Thank you for your comment. I was struck by the photograph of the capital at Serrabone early on while making the connection between Romanesque and modernism. I’ve never been there, though, so it is on my list!

  4. Thank you also for posting this blog ! The Zodiaque series on Roman architecture and their specialized glossaries were already my close companions during my cursus in medieval history at the Free Brussels University between 1966 and 1971 and since that times many others have joined my bookshelves, only for my pleasure i

    1. You are very welcome. We are delighted that Professor Marquardt was able to post – Dom Surchamp and the Zodiaque series have been inspirations in our work at Via Lucis.

    2. I hear this from many scholars who originally bought just the books related to their area of study but then collected more simply for aesthetic reasons. I was happy that taking on this project justified my acquisition of as many as I could find/afford! Could you tell me which ones you used in that course and whether the texts were as important as the images for that study?

  5. Greetings! I’ve been reading your site for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Lubbock Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the great work!

    1. Thank you! I’ve finished a book-length study on the project which is in the editorial stage at Penn State Press now. It should appear sometime next year, depending upon how long the illustrations take. Are you a collector?

  6. Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to
    mention that I’ve really loved surfing around your blog posts.

    In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I’m hoping
    you write once more very soon!

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