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Abraham, Pol

    Image Credit: National Film Institute Hungary

    Full Name: Abraham, Pol

    Other Names:

    • Hippolyte Abraham

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1891

    Date Died: 1966

    Place Born: Nantes, Pays de la Loire, France

    Place Died: Paris, Île-de-France, France

    Home Country/ies: France

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), Gothic (Medieval), Medieval (European), and sculpture (visual works)


    Architect and historian of medieval building, noted for his assertion that Gothic architecture’s system of ribbed vaulting was unnecessary for structural reasons. Abraham served as a soldier in World War I. After the war, he worked on the reconstruction of monument destroyed by the war in the north of France. He trained in the architectural studio of Pascal et Recoura at the Ecole des beaux-arts in Paris, graduating in 1920. He further studied at the l’Ecole du Louvre between 1921 and 1924. He was briefly the editor of the periodical L’Architecte from 1923 to 1924 before opening a partnership with the architect Paul Sinoir in Paris. He was responsible for several buildings in the Ile-de-France. In 1930, he and Henry Jacques Le Même (1897-1997). The two designed sanitariums, notably at Plateau d’Assy en Haute-Savoie, Roc des Fiz (1932), de Guébriant (1932-33), de la Clairière (1934). Shortly before and after World War II, he was part of a team responsible for the reconstruction of the section of Orléans known as “Ilot IV,” a combination of prefabrication and concrete according to classical design. In 1933, Abraham wrote a controversial thesis for the Ecole des beaux-arts arguing that the ribbed vault construction of the Gothic was not structurally necessary and that Gothic architecture vaults, ribs and arches were designed to appear strong. This challenged the long-accepted views of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and set off a debate among intellectuals of France that went to the core humanistic methodology. Abraham argued against Viollet-Le-Duc’s notion that Gothic architecture sprang from rational necessity. His 1933 (published in 1934) thesis focused on the intersecting ribs of the Gothic vaults, the croissée d’ogives. Abraham argued that gothic ribs were illusionistic, not structural. The debate it touched in France fascinated the Annalistes historians, a school of interdisciplinary historic thinking founded by Marc Bloch (1886-1944) and Lucien Le Febvre (1878-1956). Another Annaliste historian Louis Lecrocq published his support of Abraham’s thesis in their journal Annales d’histoire économique et sociale in 1935.

    Selected Bibliography

    “Nouvelle explication de l’architecture religieuse gothique.” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6 no. v, part 11 (May 1934): 257-71; Viollet-Le-Duc et le rationalisme médiéval. Paris: Vincent, Fréal & cie, 1934; and Focillon, Henri, and Godfrey, Walter H. Le problème de l’ogive. Paris: 1939.


    Heyman, Jacques. The Stone Skeleton: Structural Engineering of Masonry Architecture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 66, 88; Sanabria, Sergio L. “Perils of Certitude in the Structural Analysis of Historic Masonry Buildings.” Annals of Science 57, no. 4 (October 1, 2000): 447-453; Long, Pamela O. “The Annales and the History of Technology.” Technology and Culture 46 (January 2005): 184-185; Lecrocq, Louis. “Un process en revision: Le problème de la croissée d’ogives.” Annales d’histoire économique et sociale 7 (November 1935): 644-646; [obituary:] L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui 36 (February 1966): xxiii;


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Abraham, Pol." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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