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Byzantinism and Modernism 1900-14

Author(s): J. B. Bullen
Source: The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 141, No. 1160 (Nov., 1999), pp. 665-675
Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/888554
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J.B. BULLEN

Byzantinism and

modernism

1900-14*

12. Leisure,
by BorisAnrep. 1952. Floor mosaic. (Northvestibuleof the National Gallery,London).
ONE of Boris Anrep's mosaics in the north vestibule of the
National Gallery in London depicts T.S. Eliot contemplating
Einstein's famous mathematical formula e=mc2 (Fig.12). The
ancient medium in which Anrep chose to depict the alliance
of modern poetry and modern science provides an appropriate emblem for the early twentieth-century fascination with
Byzantine art.' Eliot's own work contains just one reference
to Byzantium. It occurs in the poem of 1920 in French, 'Lune
de Miel', in which two unhappy and uncomfortable newlyweds pass through Ravenna. Eliot contrasts the couple with
the Byzantine figure of St Apollinaris - stiff and ascetic ('raide
et ascetique')
who is walled up in the crumbling stones ('pierres
of his church, 'which still holds . . . the precise
ecroulantes')
form of Byzantium' ('tientencore... laformeprecisedeByzance'),2
and in a rapid series of sharp images Eliot contrasts the fretful irritations of daily life with the cool, austere 'geometric' art
of Byzantium.
Roger Fry, commenting in this Magazine in 1923 on the
modern enthusiasm for Byzantium, had high praise for
Anrep's mosaics. Selecting a daringly contemporary series
of mosaics entitled Scenesin the life of a lady offashion (Fig.13)
for the home of William and LesleyJowitt at 35 Upper Brook
Street, London,' he remarked that Anrep was 'able to treat
a completely modern theme ... with exactly the same sense
of the monumental and resistant qualities of the medium as
the Byzantine mosaicists displayed'.4In this way mosaic took

its place alongside other visual expressions of modernism.


'With the new aspects of pictorial design', Fry observed,
'which were explored by Cezanne's successors, in particular
by Gauguin and still more in the early works of Matisse e.g. his large design for The Dance- with the new interest in
the organisation of the picture surface and the new sympathy
for Byzantine art, it would have been natural enough that
mosaic should once more appear to the artist as a peculiarly
satisfactory method of expressing his pictorial conception'.'
The 'new sympathy' for Byzantine art can be traced back
to the end of the nineteenth century but it built on a tradition
of Byzantinism which involved the scholarship and the artistic practice of the earlier part of that century.' In the 1890s
the proliferation of information about Byzantine culture permitted connexions to be made between history, religion and
society, and the art of the period was reappraised in new
terms. Above all, the French Symbolists perceived in Byzantine art an adumbration of their own efforts. Iconic art provided them with a model which was non-mimetic, tended
towards the decorative and the abstract, and, above all, gave
priority to the symbol. But the values that were attributed to
Byzantine art underwent rapid changes in the first decade of
the twentieth century as they came into contact with new
philosophies and new ideologies. The dominantly symbolist
interpretation was modified in Roger Fry'sformalist criticism
where the treatment of space and line in Byzantine art was

*I am most gratefulfor the adviceof MarkAntliff,JacquelineCox, Anna GreutznerRobins, Richard Shone and Susan Sinclair. Fig.18 is copyright 1961 Estate of
VanessaBell;Fig.23 is copyrightEstateof Mrs G.A. WyndhamLewis.
'Though the Eliot portraitwas not finisheduntil 1952, it is part of a projectwhich

'Ibid.,pp.272-73.
"Rankeand Mommsenhad dispelledthe mythof a thousand-yearByzantinedecline
promulgatedby Gibbon and Voltaire,and after the 1860s Byzantinehistorywas
given respectabilityby AlfredRambaudin France,Vasilij.G. Vasiljevskijin Russia,
Karl Krumbacherin Germany,and J.B. Bury in Britain. In 1892 Krumbacher
followedin
establishedthe firstjournal for Byzantinestudies,Byzantinische
ZeitschriJf,
1897 by CharlesDiehl and GabrielMillet'sEtudesByzantins.
Importantmonographs

Anrep began in 1926. See A.

MORHANGE:

Boris Anrep: The National GalleryMosaics,

London [1979], pp.6 and 18.


Poems1909-1962, London [1974], p.50. Eliot
2T.S. ELIOT: 'Lune de Miel', in Collected
visitedItaly in 1914 but it is not knownwhetherhe visitedByzantinesites.
'Now in the BirminghamMuseumand Art Gallery.
4R.

FRY: 'Modern Mosaic and Mr. Boris Anrep', THE BURLINGTONMAGAZINE, XXXII

[1923], p.277.

and general books on Byzantine art included J.P.

RICHTER:

Die MosaikenvonRavenna,

Paris [1900-01];
de l'artbyzantin,
Vienna [1878]; D.V.AINALOV: Origines
hellenistiques
c. BAYET: L'Artbyzantin,Paris [1889]; N.P. KONDAKOV:Histoirede l'art byzantin,Paris

[1886].

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BYZANTINISM

AND MODERNISM

13. Scenesin thelifeofa ladyoffashion:


thetoilet,by BorisAnrep. 1923. Floor mosaic.
(BirminghamMuseumand Art Gallery).

given priority. At almost the same time it was reassessed


by Matthew Prichard in the light of the intuitionist theories
of Bergson and, finally, it was revised yet again - this time by
T.E. Hulme in terms of Wilhelm Worringer's ideas.
Symbolist interest in Byzantinism was inspired by the
stiffly organised compositions and the self-conscious 'primitivism' of Flandrin and the stylisation of Puvis de Chavannes.
But, more immediately, Emile Bernard, Albert Aurier, and
Maurice Denis effectively re-invented the iconic mode in
terms of the famous 'lesson' of Gauguin and the work of
Cezanne. They all wrote approvingly of the spiritual, symbolic language of the 'Primitives' whose non-material values
they urged against contemporary naturalism, and whose
expression of permanence they contrasted with the flux in
Impressionism. Bernard in 1890 described Cezanne's work
as 'essentiellement
for Aurier Primitive art was 'aila
hieratique';7
fois subjectif,synthtique,symbolisteet ideiste',8and for Denis the
'most perfect type of Christian art' was Byzantine.9 In the
modern period, said Denis (thinking of Puvis de Chavannes
and Odilon Redon), the revival of religious art corresponded
to a return to Byzantium and Byzantine symbolism. 'A
Byzantine Christ,' he said in 1890, 'is a symbol; theJesus of
our modern painters is merely literary. In the first it is form
which is expressive; in the second, expression is attempted

no.387 [1892], p.2. 'Hieratic'


7E. BERNARD: 'Paul C6zanne', in Hommes
d'aujourdhui,
and 'iconic' were words much used in the Symbolistcriticismof this period; see
M.P. DRISKEL:
France,
Representing
Belief:Religion,Art, and Societyin Nineteenth-Century
UniversityPark,PA [1992], p.239.
G.-ALBERT AURIER: 'Le Symbolisme en Peinture' [1892] in (EuvresPosthumes,Paris

[1893], p.216.
"M.DENIS:'Notes sur la peinturereligieuse'[1896] in Thiories,1890-1910, 4th ed.,
Paris[1920], p.37.

I900-I4

through the imitation of nature'."'


In 'Notes sur la peinture religieuse' of 1896 Denis spoke of
how Byzantine art had transcended the trompe-l'aeil
effects of
late classical art and 'invented a complete visual language' to
express the dogmas of Christianity. In the mosaics of Rome,
Milan and Ravenna, Byzantine artists had created modes
of expressing sacred history which they communicated to
Cimabue, Giotto, Raphael and Ingres. As a practising artist,
however, Denis's focus is on the present, and the whole
tendency of his criticism is to inscribe the ancient within the
modern. For him Byzantine symbolist ideas are imprinted in
all good modern art." 'Cezanne,Gauguin,Bernard,'he wrote, '1
entredesformeset desemotions.
Les
y avaitdoncetroitecorrespondance
des
d'dme
et
.
.
.
etats
c'est
le
Symbolisme etje
phenomenes
signfient
reviensaux Byzantins.'1 As Michael Driskel points out, Denis,
in his demand for a return to Byzantine hieraticism, wanted
'a renunciation of narrative modes of representation' and 'a
revival of an iconic one, dictating an attitude of non discursive contemplation and direct emotional response to the
forms constituting the image'. " Denis's own iconic paintings
were developed in the context of his response to the work of
Bernard and Gauguin at the Caf6 Volpini in 1889, at which
time Denis began the first of his three versions of the famously
iconic Mysterecatholique,the last of which is shown in Fig. 14.
He had already been impressed by the writings of Sar
Peladan who spoke warmly of the primitives, and in the next
few years, together with the other members of the Nabis,
he began to work out an avant-garde theory which favoured
non-mimetic art and whose historical basis lay as much in
Byzantium as in the Western classical tradition.
No similar theories had been developed in Britain, but
the seeds of the idea were germinating in the mind of Roger
Fry, who was materially to affect the standing of Byzantium
there. In the early years of the 1890s, as an aspiring artist, Fry
was in Paris where he claimed to have learned 'all the latest
theories of the Independents, the Symbolists, the members
of the Society of the Rose-Croix, and of Sar Peladan, the
Wagnerian'. 4 At the same time he was preparing himself to
write and lecture on art, and in 1891 had made his first visit
to Italy where he was both impressed and puzzled by Byzantine art. He visited Rome to 'get some idea of early Italian
art as shown in the mosaics' and Palermo where he found
the 'amalgam of marble and mosaic' beyond description.''
When he reached Ravenna he recognised his 'state of complete ignorance' about the mosaics and in his response to
them we can hear the voice of both the would-be historian
and the budding critic. On the one hand the historian judges
that 'the art of the period is degraded and conventional to a
degree', but 'as the cradle of medieval art and as explaining
the transition from classic to medieval art it must be the most
important place to see'. On the other hand the critic in him
grasped with enthusiasm the idea that Byzantine art 'shows
the hesitation between the old played-out classical ideals and
traditions and the first children's attempts to start an art
expressive of the new ideals'.'"

'"M.DENIS:'D6finitionde n6o-traditionnisme'[1890] in Theoies,p.10 (my translation).


"Ibid.,p.8.
"Ibid.,pp.33-34.
'IDRISKEL,loc. cit. at note 7 above, p.236.
'4Letters
ofRogerFry,ed. D. SUTTON,London [1972], p.8.

"Ibid.,p. 137, Fryto G.L. Dickinson,April 1891.


"Ibid.,p. 144, Fryto Lady Fry,14th May 1891.

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BYZANTINISM

AND MODERNISM

14. LeMysterecatholique,
by MauriceDenis. 1891. 27 by 41 cm.
(RijksmuseumKroller-Muller,Otterlo).

In 1894 Fry went to Italy again and was 'getting a grip of


Italian art' such as he had never had before.'7 In 1897 he
returned there for the third time and extended his knowledge
of early art by visits to Pompeii, Naples and Sicily. In the
Cappella Palatina at Palermo he was intrigued by the
mosaic of the raising of Lazarus (Fig.15), which, he wrote
in his notebook, was 'not much behind Giotto'.'8 Giotto and
his Byzantine predecessors were increasingly on Fry's mind
in these years because he was preparing some Cambridge
University Extension lectures on the subject.'9He was subsequently asked by Henry Newbolt to write an 'article of 8,000
words' out of the revised lectures for the first volume of the
MonthlyReviewin 1900.2"
The result was in fact several articles, including Art Before

Giotto' of 1900 and 'Giotto' of 1901. The second contained


several disparaging references to Byzantine art which Fry
later regretted,2' but it is the first piece that is important to us
here. 'ArtBefore Giotto' is a highly polished survey of Byzantine art tracing its reaction against late classical naturalism
- what Fry calls 'the process of passing from a naturalistic to
an abstract and symbolical art'.22Fry distinguishes between
the 'barbaric crudity' of the art of the Western Empire and
the 'suspended animation' of the art of the Eastern Empire
which 'enabled it to burst forth into new splendour under
the Comnenian Emperors'.23The article contains no references and no bibliography, but his preparatory notebook
reveals his reading of Kondakov's Histoirede 'artbyzantinon
the 'difference between Romano-oriented art and Byzantine
properly called',24 and suggests that his method of juxtaposing Byzantine mosaics with manuscripts and miniatures
was also derived from Kondakov.25Fry also consulted Eugene
Miintz's Etudessur l'histoirede la peintureet de l'iconographie
chretienneof 1881, which told him about the role of the Nicaean
Council, and he made extensive use of the publications of the

17Quotedin v. WOOLF:RogerFry,London [1940], p.91.


'"R. FRY: 'Palermo Notebook', Cambridge, King's College Archive Centre, Fry
Papers(hereaftercited as KCA),4/1/4.
'These were entitled'The Transitionfrom Classicalto Modern Art' and 'Changes
to Neo-ChristianArt'. Notes for them are in KCA, 1/65.
"'Thearticle is referredto in Fry's'Notes from varioussourceson Byzantineart',
KCA, 14/1/17. This notebook is undated but must have been compiled around
1899.
"'In'Giotto' he spoke of 'the effete accomplishmentof the Byzantines',a remark
which he withdrew in a footnote when the article was republishedin Visionand
Design.See R. FRY: VisionandDesign[1920], ed.j.B. BULLEN, Oxford [1981], p. 122.
22R. FRY: 'ArtBeforeGiotto',Monthly
Review,I [1900],p. 127.

I900-I4

15. TheraisingofLazarus(detail).c. 1150. Mosaic. (CappellaPalatina,Palermo).

Palaeographic Society which, since the 1870s, had published


facsimiles of ancient documents, texts, and inscriptions. His
meetings in this period with Jean Paul Richter, author of
Die MosaikenvonRavenna(1878) and Salomon Reinach whose
'knowledge', Fry said, 'is immense of all kinds of art from
Greek to Impressionist'26 must have increased his understanding of Byzantium.
In 'Art Before Giotto', Fry makes no claim to original
research. Instead he sets himself up as what he calls 'the
middleman between the art-historian and the amateur',27
and adopts the role of the informed critic who offers his audience a stylistic reading of the changes which took place in
Byzantine art. Though, like Maurice Denis, he suggests that
'the material of all art is symbolic',"'his attitude to Byzantine
art is entirely secular and he hardly develops its symbolic
significance. Instead his strategies are formalist, and at his
best he produces close and illuminating interpretations of
changes in the representation of dress or physiognomy in
support of the procession of historical facts. In short he
aestheticises Byzantine art in ways that were most unusual
at the time. The empirical feel of his interpretation is intensified by the clear and enthusiastic imprint of his recent visits
to Pompeii and Palermo, and also by his asides on modern
art. Unlike the Symbolists earlier in the decade, Fry makes no
direct link between Byzantium and modernism, but there are
signs that analogies are developing in his mind. He communicates, for example, his dissatisfaction with Impressionism
which he compares with the 'capricious sense of atmospheric
perspective' 29of Roman wall painting in Pompeii and, more
important, he registers his irritation with what he sees as the
state of confusion in modern art (in 1894 he had said to his
father: 'The more I study the Old Masters the more terrible
does the chaos of modern art seem to me')." He now praises
the benefits to art of the Nicaean Council which had

"Ibid.,p.132.
'Notebookon Carpaccio'and 'Notes on ByzantineArt', KCA, 4/1/21.
2"Kondakov
and Fry make much of the famous tenth-centuryminiatureof David
playing his harp held in the BibliothequeNational, Paris,and the introductionto
KONDAKOV, op.cit.at note 6 above,is illustratedby detailsfromthe UtrechtPsalterto
which Fryalso refers.
2'FRY, ed.cit.at note 14 above,p. 178, Fryto Helen Fry,July1900.
loc.cit. at note 23 above, p. 126.
27FRY,
2"Ibid.,
p. 128.
2'Ibid.
:"FRY,ed.cit.at note 14 above,p. 159.
24R. FRY:

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BYZANTINISM

AND MODERNISM

I900-I4

attempted to regulate Church dogma and to bring some kind


of homogeneity into ecclesiastical practice. Fry's view is that,
instead of stultifying creativity, such a council served to concentrate artists' minds. 'And who', he adds wryly, 'in face of
the inchoate and tentative compositions of modern art, does
not long for another Nicene Council?'31
Although the main focus of Fry's interests in this period
was early Italian painting - in 1899 he had published his
successful book on Bellini - he never lost his fascination with
Byzantium,32a fascination which was deepened by his reading ofJean Paul Richter's and Alicia Cameron Taylor's The

Art (1904). This monumental


GoldenAge of ClassicChristian

study- 'epoch making' as Berenson called it33- seems to have


been catalytic in forging the link in Fry's mind between
Byzantine art and modern art. Fry's review of Richter's book
in the Athenaeum
was highly complimentary and he mentions
for the first time those authorities who for him were important in Byzantine studies.34He also offers a formal reading
of some of the mosaics in terms of modern art. Comparing
the mosaics of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome (Fig.16) with a
head in S. Vitale, Ravenna, Fry says that 'both ... show an
art dependent on outline, without modelling or relief or true
chiaroscuro, whereas when we turn to the examples of the
original design we find an art in which the design embraces
at once all aspects of nature - an art, that is to say, which is
essentially modern, and in which the local visual impression
of objects is symbolised'.3: The images remained in Fry's
mind, and they re-emerged when, soon afterwards, he discovered the work of Cezanne.
In 1905 Fry travelled to America where his interest in
Byzantium was given added impetus by a visit to Boston and
the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. There he met Mrs
Gardner herself and her deputy director Matthew Prichard.36
Fry warmed to Prichard. 'The chief man' at Boston, he wrote
to his wife, 'is an Englishman Pritchard [sic]'37and, in his
turn, Prichard found Fry delightful. He is 'the most inspiring
critic I have ever met', he exclaimed, 'with a wealth of
knowledge derived from every branch of art'.38Prichard was
to play a powerful backstage role in the twentieth-century reinvention of Byzantium. Educated at New College, Oxford,
he had been the amanuensis to an expatriate Bostonian
aesthete and collector, Edward Perry Warren, who lived in
Lewes in Sussex, acquiring during that time a detailed knowledge of classical art. Warren's brother Samuel Denis Warren
had been a trustee since 1882 of the Gardner Museum to
which Warren himself supplied art objects. Prichard was

"FRY,loc.cit.at note 23 above,p. 137.

2In his entry on Italian art in the 1901 MacmillanGuideto ItalyByzantiumwas


Guides:
Italy,
representedby a condensed versionof Art Before Giotto' (Macmillan's
London [1901], pp.xxxiv-lxxx),and in 1904 he referredto Blakeas having recovered 'for a moment that pristinedirectnessand grandeurof expressionwhich puts
him besidethe greatByzantinedesigner...' (THE
IV [1904],
BURLINGTON
MAGAZINE,
pp.267-98).
London [1965], pp.69-70,
"TheSelected
Letters
ed. A.K. MCCOMB,
Berenson,
of Bernard
Berensonto Richter,5thJanuary 1905. Berensonexpressedthe hope that Richter
would continue to 'illuminatethat darkprocessionof ignorancewhich now passes
for knowledgeregardingthe historyof art in the Westduringthe first 13 Christian
centuries'.
'Athenaeum
[11th February 1905], p.184. Fry speaks of the Russian scholar D.B.
AINALOF
whose Origines
de l'artbyzantin
had appearedin 1900 together
hellenistiques
with the six-volume study by R. GARUCCI(Storiadell'arte
cristianane'primiottosecoli
dellachiesa,Rome [1873-81]), and G.B. ROSSI:La Romasotterranea
cristiana,Rome
[1864-77].
ibid.
"'Athenaeum,
"'Iam very grateful to Richard Shone for directing my attention to the r6le of
MatthewPrichardin this tradition.R6mi Labrussehas made an extensivestudyof

Fifthcentury Mosaic.
(S. MariaMaggiore,Rome).
16. Lot
t and
andhis
hissuite
sui (detail) Fifth
16.
(detail).
century.Mosaic. (S. MariaMaggiore,Rome).

instrumental in the business of evaluation, buying and


shipping, and after S.D. Warren became President of the
Gardner Museum, Prichard in 1903 was appointed Assistant
Director. He was extremely well connected with a wide range
of artists, dealers, and museum personnel in America and
Europe but, when Fry met him in 1905, he was about to leave
the museum after dissension among the staff.
Like Fry,Prichard had a well-developed interest in Byzantine art and a burgeoning but undeveloped understanding
of current work in France. On leaving the Gardner Museum,
Prichard spent two months of the summer of 1906 in Paris
'absorbed in picture study',39meeting Fry there once again."'
Both men knew Reinach of whom Prichard, unlike Fry, had
a low opinion - 'Reinach has little feeling for art', he wrote
- and another mutual acquaintance was Claude Phillips,
director of the Wallace Collection, whom they both admired.
Neither, however, was yet in touch with the state of affairs
in contemporary art. For example, in September 1906 when
Prichard went to London, he identified the most up-to-date
figures in the art world as Renoir, Pissarro, and Besnard.4'
Similarly in November of that year when Prichard asked
Fry to recommend the 'best moderns' in Paris, Fry suggested
to him the names of Anquetin, Veber, Denys [sic], and
Baudouin!42 It will be remembered that it was in January
of that same year that Fry had begun to notice the work of
Cezanne at the International Society's exhibition.43
In 1909 Prichard underwent 'a withdrawal'44 and the

Prichard,his writings,and his relationswith Matisse;publicationsby him on this


subjectare forthcoming.
"FRY,ed.cit.at note 14 above, p.235, Fry to Helen Fry,31stJanuary 1905 (Sutton
silentlycorrectsFry'sincorrectspellingof Prichard'sname).
'"MatthewPrichard,letter to IsabellaStewartGardner,27thJanuary 1905. These
and all the followingletters to Isabella Stewart Gardnerare kept in the Isabella
StewartGardnerMuseum,Boston,hereafterreferredto as ISG.
'Some Correspondence of Matthew Stewart Prichard and
:!'W.M. WHITEHILL:
Isabella Stewart Gardner', FenwayCourt:Art Reviewof theIsabellaStewartGardner
VI [1997], p. 16, IsabellaStewartGardnerto Mrs BernardBerenson,17th
Museum,
August 1906.
wrote Prichard'sname and addressin his diary between 28th and 30thJuly,
4"Fry
correctinghis initialsfrom FM. to M.S., and his surname.
"ISG, Prichardto Mrs Gardner,26th September1906.
42ISG,Prichardto Mrs Gardner,19thNovember 1906.
4Fryconfessedto 'havingbeen hithertoscepticalabout Cezanne'sgenius'and even
then felt that Cezanne, 'touchesnone of the finerissuesof the imaginativelife' ('The
New Gallery',Athenaeum
[13thJanuary1906], p.56).
& theLewesHouse
44Theterm is that of D.H. sox (Bachelors
of art:EdwardPerryWarren
London [1991], p. 186).
Brotherhood,

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BYZANTINISM

AND MODERNISM

upheavals in his personal life prompted a rebellion against


many of the aesthetic principles in which he had been educated. He rejected museums and museum life with its materialism and its treatment of art objects as symbols of personal
status; he turned, too, against both classical and renaissance
principles of visual perception which he felt had blighted
the development of Western art. He left America never to
return and plunged into Continental Europe and the world
of Byzantium. His decisive conversion to Byzantine art seems
to have been consolidated in front of the Pala d'Oro in St
Mark's, Venice, in 1907. 'It was made', he wrote to Isabella
Stewart Gardner from Italy, 'in the "dark ages" when people
had foolish beliefs in angels ... and I suppose I shall not ever
see a more glorious page in my life-time.'45Prichard's passion
for Byzantine art caused Claude Phillips, who was in Venice
in September 1907, to accuse him of setting himself up as 'a
new Messiah in the world of art'. Fry was also with Phillips in
Venice in that same month, and may have been stimulated by
Prichard's enthusiasm to look once again at Byzantine work,
since something triggered a connexion in his mind which was
to crystallise his whole attitude to modern art.46
The occasion was the eighth annual exhibition of the International Society in London which took place inJanuary and
February 1908, and which included a small selection of paintings by Signac, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin and the first
painting by Matisse to be shown outside France. An anonymous reviewer in THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE was disparaging
about the work, suggesting that in its 'callous imitation' and
'empty caprice' it represented the fag-end of Impressionism.47
The article drew a celebrated riposte from Roger Fry, who
had been closely associated with the Magazine since its
foundation in 1903 and was to become its co-editor in 1909.
He defended the 'Neo-Impressionists' as he called them by
adopting the historical parallel he had used in 'Art Before
Giotto' between Impressionism and the art of the late Roman
empire. But now a new and important element is added. Fry
extended the analogy to the work of the Neo-Impressionists
and the art of Byzantium, writing:
Impressionism has existed before, in the Roman art of the
Empire, and it too was followed, as I believe inevitably, by
a movement similar to that observable in the Neo-Impressionists - we may call it for convenience Byzantinism.
In the mosaics of Sta Maria Maggiore as elucidated by
Richter and Taylor ('The Golden Age of Classic Christian
Art') one can see something of this transformation from
Impressionism in the original work to Byzantinism in subsequent restorations. It is probably a mistake to suppose, as
is usually done, that Byzantinism was due to a loss of the
technical ability to be realistic, consequent upon barbarian
invasions. In the Eastern empire there was never any loss
of technical skill; indeed, nothing could surpass the perfections of some Byzantine craftsmanship. Byzantinism was
the necessary outcome of Impressionism, a necessary and
inevitable reaction from it.4"

'ISG, Prichardto Mrs Gardner,4th August 1907. Prichardstudiedthe churchand


its mosaics minutely for nearly two months, then spending a month in Ravenna
wherehe was impressedby the buildingsbut disappointedwith the mosaics('Judged
technicallyas draughtsmanship,representation,design,theyarebeneathcontempt';
ISG, letter of 27th October 1907).Although he went on to be enormouslyappreciativeof mosaicworkin Torcello,Palermoand Rome, he nevercame to termswith
those in Ravenna.
had met Phillipsin Parisin May 1907 ('Diaryfor 1907', entry for 16th May
""Fry
1907, KCA, 5/1/1) and again in Venice in Septemberof the same year where he

I900-I4

I-

17. TheEmperor
Justinian(detail).c.548. Mosaic. (S. Vitale,Ravenna).

In 1907 Fry had given a series of lectures on a theory of art


which he was developing at the time. The second of these
was devoted to 'epic' in the visual arts, in which Byzantine art
featured as the supreme example. The Byzantine period is
now, for Fry,the 'great age of hieratic art in Europe' which he
contrasts with the 'impressionistic manner' of earlier, Pompeiian wall painting. The art of Pompeii, he says, 'was already
passing over into a kind of sophisticated naivete not unlike
that of our own neo-Impressionists (Gaugin [sic]John) but it
still had no vital ideas to communicate'.49 But what is most
significant about this lecture is that the precise, formal, terms
of praise for the sixth-century mosaics in Ravenna (Fig.17)
so closely anticipate what Fry will very soon apply to the work
of Cezanne. 'The contour', he says, 'has become significant
and the forms are reduced to that abstract simplicity which
is an essential of the Epic style.""'In his 1908 letter, the connexion between ancient and modern is put firmly in place.
'MM. Cezanne and Paul Gauguin', he writes, 'have already
attained to the contour, and assert its value with keen
emphasis. They fill the contour with wilfully simplified and

had been hugelyimpressedby the 'widthof his sympathiesin art'(FRY, ed.cit.at note
14 above,p.290, FrytoJ.G.Johnson,September1907).
7'The Last Phase of Impressionism', THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE, XII [1908],

ed. J.B.
in England:The CriticalReception,
pp.272-73; reprintedin Post-Impressionists
BULLEN, London [1988], pp.41-44.
"4R. FRY: Letter to the editor, THE BURLINGTONMAGAZINE, XII [1908], pp.374-76;
reprinted in BULLEN, op. cit. above, pp.44-48.

'KCA,1/76/2, p. 10.
""Ibid.

669
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BYZANTINISM

AND MODERNISM

1900-14

unmodulated masses . . .'. They are, Fry adds, 'not really


Impressionists at all. They are proto-Byzantines rather than
neo-Impressionists'.51 The label 'proto-Byzantines' did not
stick and by 1910 gave way to the more apposite 'PostImpressionists';52but the idea endured, and it would not be
long before both Fry and Prichard were developing further
the connexion between Byzantinism and modernism.
Prichard's fascination with Byzantium was more exclusive,
fervent, and fastidious than Fry's but during this period he
entered into a serious dialogue with Fry about the connexions
between Byzantine art and modern work. In autumn 1908,
and after his trip to Italy, Prichard went to live in Paris where
he began a concerted study of Byzantine history and Byzantine art. He also pushed forward his interest in contemporary art, and inJanuary 1909 went with a friend to see some
of Matisse's paintings. His first response was puzzlement.
Matisse, he said, 'is a man working toward a scale, is most
emotional, a free draughtsman, but is coarse, is short-sighted
and perhaps has some other optical trouble'.53But by Easter
1909 Matisse, whose acquaintance Prichard now seems to
have made, had become for him 'the greatest of the modern
men'.54 In May, Fry went with Victor Goloubew (who was
then forming his collection of Middle Eastern miniatures)55to
Matisse's studio where Prichard probably introduced them
to Matisse as he was later to introduce both William Rothenstein and Georges Duthuit.56Prichard told Isabella Gardner
that Fry 'liked Matisse's work' but Fry confessed to his wife
that he was bewildered by it. He told her that Matisse was
'one of the neo, neo Impressionists quite interesting and lots
of talent but very queer', and referring to their seven-yearold daughter, he added: 'He does things very much like
Pamela's.'57At this time Prichard clearly felt very much at
ease with Fry who, he said, accepted the 'main positions' of
his 'favourite mania' which was that 'painting, sculpture and
architecture - went to pieces as early as 1200',58and as part
of his fascination with his other mania - the work of Matisse
- he sent Claude Phillips some photographs of Matisse's
works after he had heard that Sargent declared them worthless.59Prichard now confessed to Isabella Stewart Gardner:
'Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Matisse ... make a stronger appeal
to my nature than most of the 13th and 14th century productions.' And in the same letter he mentioned that he and
Claude Phillips had had a serious disagreement about the
standing of the mosaic work in Ravenna.60
In November 1909 Prichard united the two themes of
his letter to Phillips in July and made the direct connexion
between Byzantine art and modern art. Where Fry had
identified Cezanne and Gauguin as proto-Byzantines, for

Prichard that role was played by Matisse. He told Isabella


Gardner that he maintained his 'passion for the expression
we find in Byzantine art' and how 'the symbolic expression of
the East, of Byzantium' is to be found also in 'the modern
French school of which Matisse is the artist most talked of'.61
In the autumn of 1909 Prichard enrolled at the Sorbonne
to begin a formal study of Byzantinism and modern French
philosophy - especially that of Bergson who was to clarify
his attitude to iconic art. Early in 1910 Prichard met Fry
again in Paris, but divergences were now beginning to appear
in their attitudes to art. Prichard resented what he perceived
as Fry's aesthetic formalism. He had repeated several times to
Isabella Gardner that he felt that 'art cannot exist alone' but
has to 'attach itself to something with which it reconciles us',62
whereas for Fry,he said, 'art is quite separate from life, in fact
a parallel, rival life, and consists only of works of art'.63In spite
of their differences, however, he applauded Fry's attempt
to bring modern French art to London in the first PostImpressionist exhibition. While he was in England in 1910
Prichard also met and liked Clive Bell who sympathised with
the view that 'we can only learn at this moment from Byzantine expression'.64
In these years Byzantine art became central to Prichard's
aesthetic. As early as 1909 he spoke to Isabella Gardner about
the importance of intuition in art as opposed to thinking
'scientifically' and to the superiority of Byzantine or 'oriental'
art over 'classical Greek art' and 'classical Italian art'.65This
view was considerably strengthened by his initiation into
Bergson's work and in 1911 he spoke to Bergson himself of
his ideas.66Both Bergson and Prichard were critical of Kant's
separation of intuitive perception from an 'intellectual experience of the world'. For both, and later for Matisse who was
very sympathetic to Prichard's aesthetic application of Bergson's views, the 'Byzantine-Matisse attitude' was superior
to the 'Greek-Renaissance-Academic position'.67The exhibition of Islamic art in Munich in 1910, together with Matisse's
visit to Russia in 191 1, confirmed the artist'sbelief that colour
should be used to express 'emotion' and not act as 'a transcription of nature'.68 The non-representational power of
'oriental' art in this exhibition - which included Goloubew's
miniatures - impressed many commentators including the
Berensons and Fry,69but Fry would have had little time for
Prichard's ambition to develop his aesthetic ideas as 'continuations' of Bergson's philosophy 'in the direction of morals and
religion'.70So in 1911, though Fry recommended Prichard
to Clive Bell, he also warned him about his Bergsonian
monomania. 'You must either avoid that subject', he said, 'or
be prepared to listen'.71

"Ibid.,p.46.
52Aswith the term 'proto-Byzantines'Fry seems to have formulatedthe term 'PostImpressionists'on the spurof the moment:see D.MACCARTHY:
'RogerFry',Memories,
London [1953], p. 181.
53ISG,Prichardto Mrs Gardner,2ndJanuary 1909.
54ISG,Prichardto Mrs Gardner,EasterDay 1909.
j5VictorGoloubew sent worksto the Munich exhibitionof Muslim art in 1910 and
his collection was eventuallyplaced in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. See
A. COOMARAsWAMY:
Les miniaturesorientalesde la collectionGoloubewau Museumoffinearts
deBoston,Paris [1929].

thoughtthat Prichard'sfanaticismwas 'mad' (sox, op.cit.at note 44 above,p. 190).


6ISG, Prichardto Mrs Gardner,12th November 1909.
62ISG,Prichardto Mrs Gardner,20thJuly 1909.
63ISG,Prichardto Mrs Gardner,between 3rd and 7th March 1910.
64ISG,Prichardto Mrs Gardner,22nd November 1910.
"ISG, Prichardto Mrs Gardner,11thAugust 1909.
66See M. ANTLIFF:'The Rhythms of Durance: The Poststructuralist
Bergson and
the Art of Matisse',in TheNewBergson,
ed. J. MULLARKEY,
Manchester[1999], p.204
note 12.
67ISG,Prichardto Mrs Gardner,24th April 1913.
68H. MATISSE: 'The Path of Colour' [1947], in Matisse on Art, tr. and ed. j. FLAM,

56ISG,Prichard to Mrs Gardner, 23rd May 1909. See also w. ROTHENSTEIN:Men and

London [1932], p.215.


Memories,
SFryto Helen Fry,1909, quotedin F. SPALDING:
RogerFry:ArtandLife,London [1980],
pp. 118-19.
5ISG, Prichardto Mrs Gardner,23rd May 1909.
5gSargent stronglydisapprovedof the whole Post-Impressionistventure in art; see
BULLEN op. cit. at note 47 above,pp.152-53.
60ISG,Prichard to Mrs Gardner, 7th July 1909. David Sox reports that Phillips

'Henri Matisse: un'


Berkeley [1995], p. 178. This point is developed by R. LABRUSSE:

estetica orientale',in Matisse:La revelation


d'estvenuede I'Orient,
ed c.. DUTHUIT et al.,
exh. cat. (MuseiCapitolini,Rome), Florence [1997], p.341.
review of the exhibitionwas included in VisionandDesign[1920]; see note 21
g6Fry's
above.
70SeeANTLIFF, op. cit.at note 66 above,p. 186.
ed.cit.at note 14 above,p.339.
71FRY,

670
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BYZANTINISM

AND MODERNISM

What was for Prichard a period of intense concentration


on Matisse and Byzantium, was for Fry one of expansion. Fry,
who had no real quarrel with the Euclidean treatment of
space in art, was now moving eclectically between ancient
and modern art and between western and non-western art
forms. Byzantine art, however, was never far from his mind.
In January 1910 he rhetorically asked the readers of THE
BURLINGTON MAGAZINE: 'Was it not rather El Greco's earliest
training in the lingering Byzantine tradition that suggested
to him his mode of escape into an art of direct decorative
expression? and is not Cezanne after all these centuries the
first to take up the hint El Greco threw out?' 72Fry's tendency
to connect Byzantium and Cezanne persisted, and it is curious to hear in the same year Fry's pet theory echoing back
from Bernard Berenson in Ravenna. He wrote to his wife
Mary: 'I have never before noticed so clearly the resemblance
between the technique of colour in mosaic and in our impressionists as in Cezanne for instance. They have in common a
procedure ofjuxtaposition of tones.' 7
At this same moment, Fry's involvement with the Bells
seems to have stimulated Bloomsbury interest in Byzantium.
Duncan Grant and Maynard Keynes went to Greece and
Constantinople in April 1910 where they visited S. Sophia
and Kariye Camii, and in the spring of the following year
they travelled to Sicily and north Africa. The following year
Fry himself visited Constantinople with Clive and Vanessa
Bell. On her return, Vanessa Bell wrote to Fry saying, 'I'm
trying to paint as if I were mosaicing not by painting in spots
but by considering the picture as patches . . .' which, she
added, 'ought to give me something of the life one seems
to get with mosaics'. Duncan Grant apparently approved of
this experiment and 'was very nice' about the pictures, saying
that 'mosaic is the one thing to be done'.74 The result of
Bell's attempts can be clearly seen in her Byzantineladyof 1912
(Fig.18). In Sicily Grant had seen the twelfth-century mosaics
in Monreale and, soon after his return, he was invited by
Fry to offer designs for a series of murals at the Borough Polytechnic. Grant's contributions to 'London on Holiday' were
Bathing(Fig.19) and Football,and contemporary critics had
no doubt about the source of inspiration. The writer in the
for example, suggested that Bathing'makes one want
Spectator,
to swim - even in water like an early Christian mosaic', and
Robert Ross writing in the MorningPost said that the water
was very much like the 'strata and streaks such as you see in
Christian Fifth Century mosaics at Rome or Ravenna'.75
But the impulse to address Byzantine art seriously came
from the appearance of yet another new and stimulating
figure in their midst - Boris Anrep.
Alone among living artists he has practically restored a lost
art, and revived the tradition of the golden age of Christian art in this particular medium. Affected both by the
early Byzantine traditions still surviving in Russia, together
with the magnificent examples to be seen in Sta. Maria
Maggiore in Rome, and those of Ravenna and Palermo, he

2R. FRY: Introduction to M. DENIS: 'Cezanne, I and II', THE BURLINGTONMAGAZINE,

XVI [1910], p.207; reprintedin BULLEN, op.cit.at note 47, p.61.


7'Berensonto Mary Berenson,4th September 1910, quoted in j. REwALD: Cezanne,
theSteinsandtheirCircle,London [1987], p.30.
7'VanessaBell to Fry,June1911, quoted in FRY,ed.cit.at note 14 above,p.40.
7'Spectator
[llth November 1911], p.795, quoted in R. SHONE:Bloomsbury
Portraits,
London [1976, 1993], p.64. I have been unable to identifythe precisereferencefor
RobertRoss'swords,recordedin a clippingin the Tate GalleryArchive.
7'A. JOHN:'FiveModern Artists',Vogue
[3rd October 1928], p. 104.

1900-14

18. Byzantine
lady,by VanessaBell. 1912. 72.5 by 51 cm. (? U.K. GovernmentArt
Collection).

has succeeded in expressing modern conditions in terms


which have too long been considered obsolete.76
This tribute comes from AugustusJohn, who unconsciously
or not is quoting the title of Richter's book on the mosaics of
S. Maria Maggiore, and it wasJohn who patronised Anrep
from the first. Anrep had qualified as a lawyer in his home
town, St Petersburg. According to one of his biographers he
left Russia around 1907 and went with his first wife on a tour
through France and Italy to Ravenna.77In 1908 he enrolled
under J.-P. Laurens at the Academie Julian, where he met
Henry Lamb who introduced him into Bloomsbury. In 1910
John, impressed by his designs for mosaic, commissioned one
for his house in Chelsea.78Anrep's approach to Byzantium
was strongly inflected by his identification with Russian
traditions. 'The innermost recesses of the Russian heart are
filled with mystical passions', he wrote in the introduction to
the Russian section of the Second Post Impressionist Exhibition in 1912. In the following year he wrote of mosaic as 'the
embodiment of purely spiritual qualities' in the catalogue
for the one-man showJohn helped him organise at the Chenil Gallery to which Fry wrote the introduction.79

BorisAnrep1883-1969, exh. cat., Gallery EdwardHarvane,London


'ArtUnder YourFeet', TheOldLady,
[1973], n.p. Other informationis fromJ. DEAN:

j7. VUILLIAMY:

no.237 [1980], pp.18-20,

and A. FARJEON:
'Mosaics and Boris Anrep', Charleston

Magazine,VII [1993], pp.15-22.


7This was not executeduntil the end of the FirstWorldWar.
7"R. FRY and B. ANREP: 'Introduction'to Works
byBorisvonAnrep,exh. cat., Chenil
Gallery,London [1913], pp.1 and 11. Of the fifty-sevenitemsin thisexhibitionthree
were mosaics of which one, TheSpiritof Reasoning
was in what the cataloguecalled
'the earlyByzantine'manner.

671
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BYZANTINISM

AND MODERNISM

1900-14

19. Bathing,
by Duncan Grant. 1911. 229 by 306.5 cm. (TateGallery,London).

In the next couple of yearsGrant,in his muraldecorations


such as Streetaccident
and The Queenof Sheba(Fig.20),experimented with publicmonumentalart and it was monumental
art - that of Byzantium- which Fry made the subjectof a
lecture at the Slade School of Art in 1911. Referringto the
mosaic figuresof Abraham and Lot in S. Maria Maggiore,
Rome, he noticed how the eyes were not drawnbut indicated by dots employing'almostexactlythe method of the modern pointillists'and, moving to Sargent'seffortsin Boston,
reminded his audience how difficult it was to achieve an
'abstractand grandioseair' in monumentalart.8?The examples of EarlyChristianand Byzantineart which Frygave in
this lecture are familiarfrom his previouswork- S. Pudenziana, SS. Cosma e Damiano, S. Vitale and S. Agnese,reaching a peak of perfectionin Monreale and Cefali - but now
he seems to stressas much the mysticaland symbolicsignificance of mosaic as its formal and technical aspects. He
remarkson the 'supernaturalsplendour and the ineffable
glory of the divinity'of the figuresin SS. Cosma e Damiano,
and the 'rendering[of] abstracttypes of divine supernatural

beings' in S. Agnese and S. Vitale.8'He may well have been


encouragedin this directionby Prichardwhom he saw again
But similar
inJuly 1911just afterhis tripto Constantinople.82
tendenciescan be seen in the writingof W.R. Lethabyand
O.M. Dalton whose workFryknew.83
What is most strikingabout these various treatmentsof
Byzantineart,however,is the way in which- in theirstresson
Byzantine detachmentfrom nature and the abstractvisual
schemataof mosaic art - they have assimilatedthe kind of
formalanalysiswhich Fryhad begun to developin 1900..Fry
sums up this change in a review he wrote in THE BURLINGTON

""Sargent
employed Byzantineforms for the Christianphase of his Boston Public
Librarymurals,commissionedin 1891, visiting Sicily and Ravenna to study the
mosaics in 1897 and 1898 respectively;see M.C.VOLK: 'The Murals',in JohnSinger

'2ISG,Prichardto Mrs Gardner,July1911.

Sargent,ed. E. KILMURRAYand R. ORMOND, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London [1998],

BURLINGTONMAGAZINE,XXIII [1911], p.358.


84R. FRY: 'An Appreciation of the Swenigorodski Enamels', THE BURLINGTONMAGA-

pp.177 and 195.


"'R.FRY: 'Slade Lectureno 1 on MonumentalArt', KCA, 1/88/1.

MAGAZINEin

1912 of some enamels bought by Pierpont Mor-

gan out of the Swenigorodskicollection. 'At one time', he


wrote, 'art historianswould have written of such works as
these as being barbaric,simplybecausethey do not conform
to the generalidea of representationwhich we have inherited from Hellenisticart.''Now', he added, 'whathas become
most evident to me is the extreme modernity,the complete
self-consciousness,one might almost say sophisticationof
these artists.'84

"For W.R. Lethaby, see SHONE,op. cit. at note 76 above, p.56. O.M. DALTON'SByzan-

Oxford [1911] was reviewedsympatheticallyby Fry in THE


tineArtandArchaeology,

XXI [1912], pp.293-94.


ZINE,

672
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BYZANTINISM

AND MODERNISM

I900-I4

20. TheQueenofSheba,by Duncan Grant. 1912. 120.5 by 120.5 cm. (TateGallery,London).

Byzantomaniawas approachingits height in 1912, when


Duncan Grant designed 'Byzantine'costumesfor Granville
Barker'sMacbeth."'
The followingyear the DailyMirrorillustrated an article on the Omega Workshopswith, among
others, a reproductionof the mosaic head of St Agnes from
S. Apollinare Nuovo (Fig.21), and the signboard of the
Omega itself depicted what the critic PG. Konody called
'an emaciated Byzantine youth'.86In 1914 Clive Bell's Art
re-affirmed many of the ideas about Byzantium which
Prichardand Fryhad been promulgatingelsewhere.According to Bell, European art sank 'by slow degrees, from the
thrilling design of Ravenna to the tedious portraitureof
Holland..' ,87and he offeredS. Sophia in Constantinopleas
one of the finestexamplesof'significantform'.88In 1915 the
American friend of the Steins, WillardHuntingtonWright,
comparedthe 'harmonyof Gauguin'swork'with the Byzantine mosaics in S. Vitale, but wished to dissociateCezanne
from the equation. 'The most superficialcorner of his can'had more organivas', he wrote in his book ModernPainting,
sation and incited a greater aesthetic emotion than all the
mosaicsin S. Vitale near Ravenna'.89
Wright'sremarks,publishedin the NewAge,were undoubtedly a responseto its most combativeart critic T.E. Hulme.

Rather like Prichard, Hulme (who also knew Bergson


personally)found in Bergson'swork a release from nineteenth-centuryscientificdeterminismand a restatementof
the doctrine of individual free-will. For both Hulme and
Prichard, Bergson appeared to have given philosophical
respectabilityto those forces of irrationalitythat science

"'Thatyear FryvisitedRavennaagain, accordingto his diaryfor 1912, KCA.


London [1983], p.65.
"'Quotedinj. COLLINS:TheOmegaWorkshops,

"Ibid.,p.8.

21. Interiorat the Omega Workshopsshowingframedreproductionsof Byzantine


mosaics(DailyMirror,8th November 1913).

New Yorkand London [1915], pp.204 and 150.


"'W.H.WRIGHT: Modern
Painting,

"7. BELL:Art [1914], ed.J.B. BULLEN, Oxford [1987], p.39.

673
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BYZANTINISM

AND MODERNISM

I900-I4

22. Largebathers,
by PaulC6zanne. 1906. 210.5 by 250.8 cm. (PhiladelphiaMuseumof Art).

had left out of account. In 1911 Hulme and Bergson both


attended the fourth International Philosophical Congress in
Bologna, during which a tour to Ravenna was offered - an
experience which served to shift Hulme's aesthetic in a new
direction. Reading the work of Riegl and Worringer between
1911 and 1913 confirmed for him the importance of Byzantine style in the history of culture. In his book Spitrimische
Kunstindustrie
(1901) Riegl had put forward the view that art
produced by different cultures conformed to the psychological need of those cultures irrespective of technical competence or skill. Thus the post-classical 'will to art' (Kunstwollen)
lay behind the special forms of Byzantium which could be
interpreted only in terms of Byzantine culture. This idea was
taken up by Wilhelm Worringer in his famous text Abstraktion
und Einfuhlungof 1908. For Worringer art was divided into
two tendencies between the need for empathy and the drive
towards abstraction. Empathetic art he associated with the
Classical tradition in which man, at ease with himself and his
place in the world, creates a vital, romantic, naturalistic art.
The urge to abstraction, on the contrary, says Worringer, 'is
the outcome of a great inner unrest inspired in man by the
phenomena of the outside world';'" it results in a desire, says
Hulme paraphrasing Worringer, 'to create a certain abstract
geometrical shape, which, being durable and permanent
shall be a refuge from the flux and impermanence of outside
nature'.9' Like Prichard, Hulme confessed a 'repugnance
towards ... all philosophy since the Renaissance' and was
'moved by Byzantine mosaic, not because it is quaint or
exotic, but because it expresses an attitude I agree with'.92
But where Prichard's enthusiasm for Byzantine work was

developed around Bergson's intuitionism, Hulme's was


developed in the context of Worringer's anti-humanism. For
Hulme, Byzantinism offered an ontological alternative to the
classical tradition, producing an art of flat and geometric
forms which 'takes no delight in nature and no striving after
vitality'.93
Although Worringer's text was later taken up as the basis
for Expressionist art theory, he himself did not, at this stage,
inscribe his philosophy of art within modernist experimentation. Hulme, however, is entirely conscious of the relationship
established between Byzantinism and modernism. Though
he rejects most of Fry's ideas, he starts from a similar basis
in the work of Cezanne and, like Fry, he sees in Cezanne a
proto-Byzantine. Cezanne's Largebathers(Fig.22), he says, 'is
much more akin to the composition you find in the Byzantine
mosaic (of the empress Theodora) in Ravenna, than it is to
anything which can be found in the art of the Renaissance'.
In it, 'the form is so strongly accentuated, so geometric in
character, that it almost lifts the painting out of the sphere of
"vital" art into that of abstract art'."4Hulme and Fry attach
equal importance to the relationship between Byzantine art
and modern practice, but differ about the nature of that relationship. For Hulme it is the abstract spirit of Byzantium that
lives on in modern art, not its outward formal qualities. Consequently he dismisses the 'botched Byzantine' of Bloomsbury and in particular Duncan Grant's work where 'elements
taken out of the extremely intense and serious Byzantine art
are used in an entirely meaningless and pointless way'.'' Fry's
criticism, for Hulme, is a form of superior journalism, the
creation of a romantic empathetic mode, and Fry has no

andEmpathy:
a Contribution
to thePsychology
W"w.WORRINGER:Abstraction
of Style, tr. M.

"Ibid.,p.273.
"Ibid.,p.281.
5"'TheGraftonGroup' [1914], ibid.,pp.264 and 266. He is referringhere to Grant's
AdamandEve.

London [1953], p.95.


'"T.E. HULME: 'Modern Art and its Philosophy' [1914], in The CollectedWritingsof
T.E. Hulme, ed. K. CSENGERI, Oxford [1994], pp.273-74.

BULLOCK,

'2Ibid.,p.257.

674
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BYZANTINISM

AND MODERNISM

I900-I4

23. Indiandance,by WyndhamLewis. 1912. Ink on paper,27.3 by 29.2 cm. (TateGallery,London).

understanding of the emergent geometrical work. 'He has',


says Hulme, 'no conception whatever of this new art, and
is in fact a mere verbose sentimentalist'."6For Hulme, the
future is represented by Picasso, Epstein, Lewis, Bomberg and
members of the Rebel Art Centre, and that future depends
upon a reading of the tendency to abstraction in Byzantine
art (Figs.23 and 24), where 'curves tend to be hard and
geometrical, where the representation of the human body
... is often entirely non-vital, and distorted to fit into stiff lines
and cubical shapes', something which was 're-emerging in
modern art'. It was, he said, before the mosaics in Ravenna
that he came to understand, 'how essential and necessary a
geometrical character is in endeavouring to express a certain
intensity'.'7
The First World War brought to an end this particular line
of speculation as Hulme was killed in action in 1917. After
the war Anrep established his reputation as a mosaicist, and
Prichard continued to preach the gospel of Byzantium, but
the heart had gone out of a myth which seemed for a time to
be so close to the interests of modern art. The period of greatest interest in Byzantine art, when Byzantinism and British
modernism were most closely linked, corresponds precisely
with that extraordinary moment of innovation and experimentation between 1908 and 1914 when so many established
ideas were challenged or overthrown. The rapid changes
which took place in British art and aesthetics are paralleled in
the shifts which took place in the responses and assessments
of Byzantine art. For a short while the urge to abstraction
which seemed to be latent within ancient iconic art fitted
neatly with the aesthetics of British and Continental modernism. The Byzantine use of symbolism, its reduction of
form to stylised linearity, and its intuitive expression of nonmaterial values attracted some of the most imaginative
thinkers in that early modern tradition.
University
ofReading

24. Femaleinfienite,
byJacob Epstein. 1913. Serpentine,47.5 by 9.5 by 12.1 cm.
(TateGallery,London).

Art and Its Philosophy',ibid.,p.282.


""'Modern
p.271.
"7Ibid.,

675
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