Mickey Abel

title.none: Bandmann, Early Medieval Architecture (Mickey Abel)

identifier.other: baj9928.0705.008 07.05.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Mickey Abel, University of North Texas,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Bandmann, Günter. Kendall Wallis, trans. Early Medieval Architecture as Bearer of Meaning (Mittelalterliche Architektur als Bedeutungsträ). New York: Columbia University Press, 19512005. Pp. 354. $50.00 (hb) 0-231-12704-9 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.05.08

Bandmann, Günter. Kendall Wallis, trans. Early Medieval Architecture as Bearer of Meaning (Mittelalterliche Architektur als Bedeutungsträ). New York: Columbia University Press, 19512005. Pp. 354. $50.00 (hb) 0-231-12704-9 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Mickey Abel
University of North Texas

First published in 1951, Günter Bandmann's Mittelalterliche Architekur als Bedeutungsträger has now been translated by Kendall Wallis into English under the title Early Medieval Architecture as Bearer of Meaning. The value of this translation is two-fold. Its primary contribution is that, while the English makes the work accessible to a less advanced and specialized audience, the re-release exposes a somewhat overlooked link in the historiography of medieval architecture to a new generation of scholars. Moreover, the renewed examination of this work serves to illustrate the nature of the constrained--almost nepotistic--exchange within German scholastic circles in the first half of the twentieth century. Equally as valuable, however, is the work's contribution in light of new theoretical turns in architectural analysis. A fresh evaluation at Bandmann's methodological approach may well be fruitful in shedding light on the work's crucial place in the evolving, if somewhat circular, trajectory of the history of architectural analysis, and thus be suggestive in terms of current and future paths of theoretical exploration.

Coming out of the post-Aby Warburg '40s and '50s, Günter Bandmann, like his German colleagues, Richard Krautheimer, Hans Sedlmayr, Karl Lehmann, Rudolph Wittkower, and Erwin Panofsky, systematically applied an iconographical analysis to architecture. Moving progressively away from both a strict adherence to the principals of form and style, and Riegl's notion of Kunstwollen, Bandmann's particular approach was viewed as the most comprehensive synthesis of the problem. Structuring his theory around the question, "What meanings induced the use of [specific] forms?" Bandmann shifted the emphasis of the analysis from "form and type" to interpretation, thereby placing the impetus of authorial intention in the realm of the patron. In so doing, he significantly downplayed the creative role of the architect/mason.

Contemporary reviewers both revered and criticized Bandmann's theory and methodological approach. Shortly after its publication, Mittelalterliche Architekur was reviewed by Paul Zucker in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (March, 1953). Zucker praised the book for taking architectural history out of "decades of...form-analytical approach [and] functionalistic rationalization," and thus moving it away from the primacy of "stylistic evolutions." In contrast to this positive reception, the August, 1953 review in The Art Bulletin by Robert Branner was sharply critical. Citing "incongruities, coupled with a truly masterful lack of precision," Branner's criticisms stemmed primarily from Bandmann's general neglect of the Gothic developments in the Ile-de-France--which was, of course, Branner's area of expertise. Taking Bandmann to task over his basic "theoretical premise," Branner found Bandmann guilty of "conscious omissions," "selective reasoning," and a pervasive "over-simplification and generalization [that] tends to mislead the reader." Stating that Bandmann allied his thesis to the "semi-anthropological explanations," of A. L. Krueder, Branner saw Bandmann's dialectical approach as teleologically focused on the Imperium Romanium and its subsequent manifestation in the Carolingian empire. He viewed the analysis as a whole colored in a decidedly Germano-centric hue that all but negated the possibilities for a French contribution to Gothic architecture.

In terms of these specificities, much of Branner's criticism remains valid. The current review is, however, more in line with the spirit of Paul Crossley's February, 1988 article "Medieval architecture and meaning: the limits of iconography," published in The Burlington Magazine. Calling for a re-appraisal of the mid-twentieth century iconographers, Crossley read Bandmann's work as positively progressive, seeing in it an avenue to "rescue the present-day (late 1980s) study of medieval architecture from its formal and archaeological preoccupations" that leads to "antiquarian accumulation of minutiae." Crediting Bandmann as being "immensely influential," if somewhat "psycho-empathetic" towards all things German, Crossley lamented that "by the late 1950s architectural iconography...was in retreat from...the speculative theorizing and grand explanatory systems" exemplified by Bandmann's work.

While Crossley, like Branner before him, saw Bandmann's "attempt to isolate single and precise 'intended meanings' in the minds of patrons [as] highly problematic," he does, for the purposes of this review, highlight a feature of Bandmann's theoretical approach that has taken on new life in post-modern analysis and will be of interest to those students concerned with tracing the historiography of architectural analysis. Importantly, this is the concept of "reception." Rezeption in Bandmann's vocabulary is an "importation"--"a use of a form not drawn from local tradition but chosen from a universal stock of forms because of its specific iconographical meaning" (Crossley, 117). Contrasting Rezeption with Brauchgul, or "custom," Bandmann gave the historical meaning of forms precedence over their symbolic significance. Even Branner reluctantly concedes the relative importance of Bandmann's notions of "unconscious custom," which, for Branner, "gives continuity to life and knows only 'immanent compulsion,'" and of "conscious tradition," which is credited as giving "unity to culture" (Branner, 309).

For post-modern theorists, the importance of Bandmann's use of Rezeption lies in its contrast with the implied action of "influence," where the agency of "influence" is dynamic and suggests a passive and intangible force of some past producing culture. "Reception," on the other hand, points directly at the empowered agency of the receiver. Despite Branner's criticism to the contrary, Bandmann's use of Rezeption is much less teleologically inclined than influence. In his introductory translator's remarks, Kendall Wallis equates the transferring action of Bandmann's use of Rezeption to a relay race, where another runner must take the baton from a runner coming from behind and run forward to the next runner. For Bandmann, it is the patron who decides to take the "baton" of a meaningful form and "run with it." In questioning the form's perceived effectiveness, Bandmann sees the patron pre-supposing that the form will be received as intended. One might recognize the kernels of Bandmann's use of Rezeption in Hans Robert Jauss's reception theory (Jauss, 1970), where he "proposes that there is a question implicit in the work (in Bandmann's case the architectural form) and that the work is also a kind of answer." Jauss' theoretical ideas, which are looked at in terms of "response," have been given visual explanation in David Freedberg's book The Power of Images (Freedberg, 1989).

Similarly Bandmann's emphasis on the "intention" of the patron--or Bauherr--versus those of the producing agent--the architect/mason/workshop--mirrors the post-structurlist debate which pits the contextual "intentions of the maker," as posited by Michael Baxendall in Patterns of Intention (Baxendall, 1985), against Roland Barthes' (Barthes, 1968), Walter Benjamin (Benjamin, 1969), and Jacques Derrida's (Derrida, 1978) proclamations on the "death of the author." Derrida's statement that "texts (forms) are nothing but assemblages of conventional signs which are given meaning only by the act of reading," can well have been said by Bandmann himself in terms of the privileging of the patron's choices.

It is in the mining of this sort of cross-generational comparisons that students of post-modern theoretical approaches, particularly those interested in tracing some of the more "stayed" aspects of medieval architectural studies, will be enriched. Along this same vein, one of the more surprising discoveries to be found in Bandmann's work is the encyclopedic bibliography, which is quite telling in terms of both the breadth and the self-referential, exclusive quality of German scholastic production in the years between 1830 and 1950. One senses that there are no significant omissions here. And thus even Bandmann's particular Germano-centric vision has the potential to enlighten. Seen through the lens of post-war German historiography, Bandmann's view informs on the level of contemporary events. Opened to newer points of view such as "geographical theory" as exemplified by Thomas Kaufmann's 2004 book Towards a Geography of Art, or the use of "space" as a theoretical model in and of itself, in the manner of David Summers' Real Space (Summers, 2003), Bandmann's vision can be directed towards a completely different set of questions and new possibilities.

The translation is not, however, without its own set of problems. Kendall Wallis's introduction adequately explains the dilemmas inherent in the translator's task, highlighting particular words that defy translation and are left in their original German. Similarly he sets the theoretical stage by situating Bandmann's language in the milieu of German theory. Disappointing, however, was the decision made in conjunction with the publishers of this new edition to shift Bandmann's extensive discursive footnotes to either short "user-friendly" parenthetical citations or to endnotes where, as Wallis explains, they require the use of a "second bookmark." While Wallis acknowledges the uniquely German propensity for using the footnote as a venue for the author to engage in a dialogue with his reader about his own text, the decision is made to devalue this commentary through the questionable practice of "weaving" some of the content of the footnote into the body of the text. It is not clear from the translator's explanation exactly how heavy-handed this "weaving" might be, but for those of us steeped in the tradition of medieval commentary, the loss, of what Wallis describes as the author's "antiphonal relationship" with the reader, is a significant loss.

In spite of this change in format, the student and researcher alike will find valuable material in Wallis' translation. Günter Bandmann belongs in the company of Krautheimer and Panofsky. This translation makes that possible for a much larger set of readers.