HomeLapidariums. Precious sources for the history of a monument and its sculpted decoration

HomeLapidariums. Precious sources for the history of a monument and its sculpted decoration

Lapidariums. Precious sources for the history of a monument and its sculpted decoration

Les dépôts lapidaires. De précieux vestiges pour l’histoire du monument et de son décor sculpté

"In Situ" Journal n°53 – 2025

Revue des patrimoines « In Situ » n°53 – 2025

*  *  *

Published on Friday, May 17, 2024

Abstract

The French term ‘dépôt lapidaire’, a lapidary depot, rendered here as a lapidarium, is understood to mean collections of archaeological or architectural fragments and pieces of sculpture, assembled so as to maintain an organic link with the monument or the site they come from. The time seems to be ripe, then, as the topic as a whole takes on numerous forms, to draw up a general, if provisional analysis of the situation. It seems useful to think about how best to share information coming from different sectors (historic monuments, archaeology, museums and parks and gardens). New lines of action can perhaps be sketched out for a new phase for these very special cultural properties, located at the frontiers between the movable and immovable heritage.

Announcement

Argument

The French term ‘dépôt lapidaire’, a lapidary depot, rendered here as a lapidarium, is understood to mean collections of archaeological or architectural fragments and pieces of sculpture, assembled so as to maintain an organic link with the monument or the site they come from. Over the past few years, the online In Situ review has occasionally taken a look at this topic, for example in the article by Elisabeth Portet on the Pantheon collections, entitled “Les collections du Panthéon, étude, inventaire et perspectives scientifiques”, published in the thematic issue devoted to furniture, industrial and technical ensembles (n° 29, 2016). Another approach is to be found in the article on the plaster moulds made during nineteenth-century restoration work carried out on Notre Dame cathedral at Laon and kept at its lapidarium (Caroline Dujon-Attali Ben Mayer, « Les moulages de Notre-Dame de Laon : une découverte récente », Le moulage. Pratiques historiques et regards contemporains, In Situ, n° 28, 2016).

Arnaud Timbert, professor of the history of mediaeval art at Jules Verne Picardy University, was the initiator of a study day organised at the University of Amiens in 2006, devoted to the lapidariums associated with mediaeval buildings in Picardy. This initiative was followed by two other study days organised by Delphine Hanquiez, the first on the lapidariums of Northern France (INHA, 2008) and the second on the lapidary collections of Flanders, Artois and Cambresis, held at the University of Artois in 2019. The papers read at thesedifferent study days have all been published.1

These initiatives, along with several more recent monographic studies on buildings, have drawn attention to the scientific and heritage interest of lapidariums, both for the history of architecture and for the history of conservation and restoration practices. “For the understanding and proper three-dimensional interpretation of a building that has disappeared or that has come down to us in altered states, the consideration of pieces of the building that have been stored in a lapidarium emerges today as a key step in scientific research. From the heritage point of view, conservation is an absolute necessity, so that preserved elements can function anew as references in future restoration programmes.”2

In keeping with the actions undertaken during the 1970s by Leon Pressouyre in order to preserve certain architectural fragments as historic monuments, piece by piece inventories have been carried in many lapidariums, such as those of Amiens, Arras, Beauport, Beauvais, Besançon, Châlons-en-Champagne, Chartres, Cluny, Creil, Jumièges, Lille, Meaux, Noyon, Reims, Rue, Saint-Denis, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Saint-Leu-d’Esserent, Saint-Omer, Saint-Quentin, Senlis, Soissons, Tours and Vaucelles. The pursual of this inventory work supports the advances made over the past few years in terms of study, conservation and interpretation, thanks to new scientific partnerships and local synergies.

The time seems to be ripe, then, as the topic as a whole takes on numerous forms, to draw up a general, if provisional analysis of the situation. It seems useful to think about how best to share information coming from different sectors (historic monuments, archaeology, museums and parks and gardens). New lines of action can perhaps be sketched out for a new phase for these very special cultural properties, located at the frontiers between the movable and immovable heritage.

Several different approaches might be be considered :

The contribution made by the history of construction and the history of restoration work on religious and civil buildings from the Middle Ages up to the present day : what recent progress in research is to be noted ?

The replacement of Gothic rood screens and choir walls designed by important artists transformed buildings. In her book on Gothic sculpture in France, Fabienne Joubert speaks of ‘beautifying vandalism’, using the expression coined by Louis Réau.3 The study of degradations during times of wars of religion or during the Revolution could be developed. Articles proposed could concentrate on a specific part of a building, examining the characteristics of the fragments which survive, particularly of rood screens, choir walls and funerary monuments.

A critical presentation of sources (engravings, drawings, texts) could provide more information about the states of a monument and its sculptural decoration, that no longer survive. We are thinking in particular of the works of Jean du Tillet ( ?-1570), Étienne Martellange (1569-1641), Jean Mabillon (1632-1707) or François-Roger de Gaignières (1642-1715) which have all been examined in the Collecta programme of the Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes (IRHT).

During the 19th century, lapidariums were created at the same time as restoration campaigns were carried out at the initiative or under the control of the historic monuments administration. The establishment of this administration in the 1830s gives us written sources about the financing and management of restoration undertakings and illustrated records of building work (carnets d’attachements), that can give details about the removal and replacement of stone elements. The instruction of 26 February 1849 for the conservation, upkeep and restoration of diocesan buildings, and cathedrals in particular, based on the report by Viollet-le-Duc and Prosper Mérimée and published by the committee of arts and religious building (architectural section) is a founding text on this question of the preservation of materials and works of art during building and restoration campaigns.4

In the history of restoration, operations undertaken by plaster cast moulding are one of the fields where new research approaches are emerging. Articles analysing the archives of the Musée des Monuments Français on the mould-making artists, or the authorisations, held at the Médiathèque du Patrimoine et de la Photographie, given to allow the moulding of the sculpted decoration of a protected historic monument would make a useful contribution. And how to attach an ‘orphaned’ fragment to the building it came from ? Resulting from gradual accumulation and sometimes dispersed by subsequent circumstances, there are ensembles where all information about the origins and history of certain elements has now been lost. Light can be thrown on this subject by the identification of stones and by the scientific analysis of quarries the stones come from. Other technologies can also help us understand monuments today by comparing elements that are far removed from each other, by creating virtual replacements for missing pieces and by facilitating hypotheses of assembly using modelling techniques such as Cuxa or Serrabona (drawn surveys, photogrammetry, lasergrammetry, Reflectance Transformation Imaging).

The sometimes turbulent history of certain fragments : unravelling questions of ownership and improving provenance research

The whole question of lapidary fragments cannot be addressed without taking into consideration the present-day circulation of this particular type of cultural property, a piece of architecture that has become a movable object, emerging on the art market. A fragment of a porch can be dismantled, perhaps buried and then dug up in the middle of a private garden and put up for sale. Or the fragment might have been kept in the workshop of a restorer and handed down to his descendants who, not necessarily aware of its provenance, export it illicitly. If a piece is suspected of belonging to the public realm, in-depth research can be undertaken. Telling the story of the circulation of a lapidary fragment is, for specialist curators and their legal advisors, a way of going back in time to the period of the Revolution.

How can information about architectural and sculptural elements held in private collections or in museums outside France be assembled and shared ? What lessons can be learnt from recent cases of demands and restitution based on the public domain, on heritage law and recent legislation on archaeology (concerning fragments found during excavations).

Reliable examples of fragments recognised by imaging or by artificial intelligence allowing for indexation (materials, execution methods, comparison of ornamental methods) could open up new perspectives, for example in the case of export controls.

Inventories and recent studies : how can the results of research be better shared ? What architectural fragments merit statutory protection ?

A complete list of research memoirs and inventories so far carried out on lapidariums could be the first step in the creation of a guide to sources on the question. The history of the question can be examined in sources held today by the national archives, by the Médiathèque du Patrimoine et de la Photographie (in particular the minutes of the meetings of the superior historic monuments commission), by departmental archives or by other institutions (associations, archaeological societies, restoration workshops, mould makers). There are several figures who could be the subject of specific articles, on account of their implication in the question, amongst whom Léon Pressouyre (1934-2009), Louis Grodecki (1910-1982) and Pierre-Marie Auzas (1914-1992).

Masters’ and doctoral theses, inventories recorded in data bases, photographic collections… these are come of the sources that could be better exploited. Concrete propositions could describe successful ways of encouraging the sharing of understanding and making the results of research more readily available. New avenues of research could also be put forward.

At another level, an analysis of the present-day situation where the policies of historic monuments protection of individual lapidary fragments or complete lapidarium collections could be established, with proposals for preservation measures to be applied in the future.

Constituting collections in a lapidarium, an exceptional venture ?

Lapidariums are places where different types of heritage professionals and amateurs can meet : curators, museum staff, archaeologists, heritage restorers and professionals of preventive conservation, teachers and students, administrative staff, management organisation and municipal services, public or private documentation employees, patrons, members of local archaeological societies, heritage volunteers, biodiversity specialists… What role, and what place for each of these ? What conclusions can be drawn from the experimentation of volunteer workshops ? What skills are necessary for moving a lapidarium or just moving heavy and voluminous fragments about.

During their history, lapidariums have often been moved from one location to another. Studies of examples of how these moves occurred would be interesting, either in close proximity to the monument concerned or to premises belonging to the local authorities or to a municipal historical, archaeological or fine arts museum. Other collections have been entrusted to local scholarly societies or assembled on the occasion of the creation of a site museum or a museum associated with a monument, or put into a reserve collection. It would be interesting to have information about projects in progress at the moment, with different approaches involving preservation in situ or preservation elsewhere.

Stone fragments and other preserved elements in plaster, such as stamped pieces or moulds, raise specific questions where their conservation is concerned. Do the inventories include information about the state of preservation or recommendations for specific preventive conservation measures ? Dust, biological colonisation, bird droppings, graffiti… how are these dealt with ?

Opening up lapidariums to the general public and to researchers : what evolutions in their presentation and management ?

Opening up a lapidarium involves overcoming many obstacles, administrative, financial, scientific and technical ones. How do local authorities envisage operations of preservation and presentation for the places studied ? What of the lapidoriums that belong to the State and the projects concerning the Abbey of Gellone at Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert (a museum opened in 2009), the basilica of Vézelay, the Saint-Denis basilica, the cathedrals at Amiens, Besançon, Meaux or Tours ?

In the historical approach to this theme and in tracing the development of an awareness of the interest of maintaining the proximity between the fragment and the monument it comes from, the nineteenth century was clearly a turning point. Auguste Caristie (1783-1862), an architect who was member of the national historic monuments commission, regretted the fact that “fragments of monuments are often removed and given to museums far away.” A new requirement was defined and announced in an official circular : “Objects discovered during excavations will be given to the closest museum and it is forbidden to sell or give away antique objects belonging to major monuments.”5 So, what are the major projects underway today for archaeological museums ? How can scattered blocks of stone taken from antique civil or funerary monuments be integrated into historical accounts at the heart of new projects, for example at the Nouvel Espérandieu, the regional museum at Narbonne ? And, more broadly, what solutions have been put forward when a building and its various fragments belong to a municipality ? The national significance of these old stones may require that they be presented and interpreted, but this requirement is not always evident to the local authority, particularly in these days of limited budgets. What kind of mediation is needed to attract the public to what may appear to be "a pile of stones" ?

Submission guidelines

The articles proposed should involve original research, new hypotheses or the updating of information. They should not be based exclusively on articles already published. The revue appreciates articles that are generously illustrated, including with sound or audiovisual documents.

If you wish to make a contribution to this thematic issue on lapidariums, please send a brief summary of your proposal (maximum of 1 500 characters), accompanied by a short CV to

Insitu.patrimoines@culture.gouv.fr

before 15 June 2024

Or by post toMinistère de la Culture – Direction générale de l’Architecture et des Patrimoines, Revue In Situ, à l’attention de Nathalie Meyer 182, rue Saint-Honoré 75001 Paris

Please send a copy of the abstract of your proposed article to the scientific coordinators :

  • Emmanuelle Flament-Guelfucci (emmanuelle.flament-guelfucci@culture.gouv.fr)
  • Delphine Hanquiez (delphine.hanquiez@univ-artois.fr)
  • Gaëlle Pichon-Meunier (gaelle.pichon-meunier@culture.gouv.fr)

Your complete texts will then be expected before 10 December 2024.

You article may be written in French or in your own language.

It will be published in the original version, with a French translation. The articles should be of between 15 000 and 35 000 characters in length (spaces and notes included).

Recommendations for authors concerning the number of pages, the number of pictures, copyright questions, notes and links, etc. can be found on the revue’s site at https://journals.openedition.org/insitu/32424

Scientific committee

  • Emmanuelle Flament-Guelfucci, conservatrice générale du patrimoine, cheffe du bureau de la Conservation des monuments historiques mobiliers
  • Delphine Hanquiez, maître de conférences en histoire de l’art médiéval, université d’Artois (Arras), directrice adjointe du Centre de recherche et d’études Histoire et Sociétés (CREHS, UR 4027)
  • Gaëlle Pichon-Meunier, conservatrice du patrimoine, adjointe à la cheffe du bureau de la Conservation des monuments historiques mobiliers

Notes

1 TIMBERT Arnaud (dir.) & HANQUIEZ Delphine, L’Architecture en objets : les dépôts lapidaires de Picardie, actes de la Journée d’étude d’Amiens, 22 septembre 2006, Amiens, CAHMER, coll. « Histoire et archéologie médiévale », 2008 ; HANQUIEZ Delphine (dir.), Regards sur les dépôts lapidaires de la France du Nord, actes de la Journée d’étude à l’Institut national d’histoire de l’art, Paris, 12 décembre 2008, Caen, Publications du CRAHM, 2011 et Hanquiez Delphine (dir.), Fragments d’architecture. Les collections lapidaires de la Flandre, de l’Artois et du Cambrésis, actes de la Journée d’étude à Arras, 29 novembre 2019, Aire-sur-la-Lys, ateliergaleriéditions, 2023.

2 BLIECK Gilles, JOURD’HEUIL Irène & MARCHANT Sylvie (dir.), Cathédrale de Tours, Tours, Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, coll. « Patrimoines en région Centre-Val de Loire », 2019, p. 141.

3 JOUBERT Fabienne, La Sculpture gothique en France, xiie-xiiie siècle, Paris, Picard, 2008, p. 20.

4 This text enters into details on the management of site work, on the establishment of an illustrated building record, the design of scaffolding and different modes for maintaining and restoring stonework, stone cutting, timber framing and different types of roof covering. It also deals with rainwater run-off, precautions to be taken against fire, metal working, ornamental sculptures, stained glass windows, paintings and plastering, woodwork and furnishings. The instruction was approved by the minister for public instruction and religious affairs and sent out as an official circular. It was renewed as an annexe to circular n° 365 of 20 January 1881 sent to diocesan architects (AN Paris F/19/4536). https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark :/12148/bpt6k208421w/f136.double)

5 BERCÉ Françoise, Les Premiers Travaux de la Commission des Monuments historiques (1837-1848). Procès-verbaux et relevés d’architecture, Paris, Picard, 1979, p. 28-29.

Places

  • Ministère de la Culture / Revue In Situ. Revue des patrimoines
    Paris, France (75)

Date(s)

  • Saturday, June 15, 2024

Keywords

  • architecture, archéologie, pierre, historiographie, france, église, révolution

Contact(s)

  • Nathalie Meyer
    courriel : Insitu [dot] patrimoines [at] culture [dot] gouv [dot] fr

Information source

  • Nathalie Meyer
    courriel : Insitu [dot] patrimoines [at] culture [dot] gouv [dot] fr

License

CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Lapidariums. Precious sources for the history of a monument and its sculpted decoration », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, May 17, 2024, https://doi.org/10.58079/11olw

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