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Bony, Jean

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Bony, Jean

    Other Names:

    • Jean Victor Bony

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1908

    Date Died: 1995

    Place Born: Le Mans, Pays de la Loire, France

    Place Died: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    Home Country/ies: France

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


    Architectural historian of the medieval era and professor of art, UC-Berkeley, 1962-1980. Bony was the son of Henri Bony and Marie Normand (Bony). Bony’s first degree at the Sorbonne was in geography and history (Agregation d’histoire et de geographie) in 1933. As a student in art history in 1929, Bony worked under the Sorbonne’s Henri Focillon, the French medievalist responsible for incorporating German methodologies into French scholarship. Bony was assigned a dissertation topic touched upon by the German art historian Ernst Gall before World War I, but never fully articulated: the Norman Romanesque contribution to Gothic architecture. In 1935 he traveled to England through a Sorbonne research grant to study Norman buildings there. He married Clotilde Roure in 1936 (d. 1942). During his time in England he produced articles on Tewkesbury (1937) and, after his funding ran out and he supported himself as a French teacher at Eton, another article on Norman architecture (1939). He returned to France in 1939 to serve in World War II in the French infantry. He was taken a prisoner of war in Germany, spending the years 1940-1943 in an internment camp. During this time his wife died. Bony was discharged a first lieutenant in 1944 and, after a year as a research scholar at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, returned to teaching at Eton in 1945. The following year he was appointed lecturer at the Institut Français in London, where he remained until 1961. He was a Focillon Fellow and visiting lecturer at Yale University for 1949. In 1951 he issued his book on French Cathedrals. He lectured in many universities in the United Kingdom and Ireland, sitting as an examiner for many students. In 1953 he remarried Mary England. Bony led the scholarship in documenting the “anti-Chartres” movement in Gothic architecture, beginning with his 1958 article in the Journal of the British Architectural Association. He was Slade Professor and fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge University, between 1958 and 1961. About this time, he and the medievalist George Zarnecki resolved to create a corpus of Romanesque sculpture in the British isles while touring Herefordshire, which Zarnecki brought to fruition only after Bony’s death. Such scholarly activity and appointments would have implied an eventual French appointment, but in Bony’s case it never came. In 1961 he delivered the Mathews lectures at Columbia University, New York, which resulted in an offer of a chair in art history at the University of California, Berkeley. Though he briefly held a professorship at Lille (his only French appointment) he joined the Berkeley department in 1962. He edited his mentor Focillon’s book in English, Art of the West in the Middle Ages the following year. Bony delivered the Wrightsman lectures at New York University in 1969. His growing concern with the so-called “New Art History” resulted partially in his 1978 lecture in Melbourne, “La genese de l’architecture gothique: accident ou nécessité?” (“The Genesis of Gothic: Accident or Necessity?”). His Wrightsman lectures resulted in his 1979 book The English Decorated Style. After his retirement as a professor emeritus in 1980, he continued lecturing at various American universities until 1988. These included a Kress professorship at the National Gallery in 1982. In 1983, the topic of his Mathews lectures appeared as his French Gothic Architecture of the 12th and 13th Centuries (dedicated to Focillon). Bony’s early influences were the medievalist and French Annales-School founder and “total-history” historian Marc Bloch (1866-1944). Though Bony never supervised a British dissertation, his influence on English medievalist art-historians was significant, largely his Chartes-style training (Kidson). Bony’s focus was (again, in Kidson’s estimation) on “how the artistic imagination manifested itself in the work of particular architects.” This set him at ever greater odds with the forensic-method of medieval architectural history emerging in Britain. His lecture “The Genesis of Gothic” was his clearest methodological manifesto, one setting him against the architectural historians insisting that patrons and priests–and not architects–were responsible for the advent of the style. His insistence on writing perfection delayed the publication of his French Gothic lectures for twenty years to a time when their conclusions were much less startling; his manuscript on English Gothic architecture was never completed. Bony’s work on medieval influences outside Chartres was developed by Robert Branner. “Bony’s magisterial vision of French Gothic in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by-passed the problem of historical geography by ignoring the political, the institutional and even the theological: it centered around the ‘accidents’ of the masons’ choice and invention, and the exhilarating demands of modernity. French Gothic, for Bony (as it was for Paul Frankl), was a progressive style, a style of the avant-garde, but it was also a laboratory of diverse ideas, all of which Bony lucidly organizes into trends and movements.” Bony’s “beguiling formalism” approach to French Gothic architecture was countered by the socio-political approach of Dieter Kimpel (b. 1942) and Robert Suckale in 1985, two years after Bony’s “La genese de l’architecture gothique,” (quotation and estimation, Crossley).

    Selected Bibliography

    “French Influences on the Origins of English Gothic Architecture.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 12 (1949): 1-15; French Cathedrals. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1951;”The Resistance to Chartres in Early Thirteenth-Century Architecture.” Journal of the British Architectural Association 20-21 (1958):35-52; The English Decorated Style: Gothic Architecture Transformed, 1250-1350. Ithaca, NY : Cornell University Press, 1979; French Gothic Architecture of the 12th and 13th Centuries. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983; “La genese de l’architecture gothique: accident ou necessite?” Revue de l’Art Ancien et Moderne no. 58-59 (1983): 9-20.


    Fernie, Eric C. “Robert Branner’s Treatment of Architectural Sources and Precedents.” Gesta 39, no. 2 (2000): 158; Crossley, Paul. “Regional and National Studies.” [sect xvii of] “Introduction: Frankl’s Text: Its Achievement and Significance.” Frankl, Paul and Crossley, Paul. Gothic Architecture. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 25-26, 28; [obituaries:] Kidson, Peter. “Jean Bony (1908-1995).” Burlington Magazine 137, No. 1111 (October 1995): 688; “Jean Bony, Art Historian, 86.” New York Times July 17, 1995, p. B8; “Professor Jean Bony.” The Times (London) August 9, 1995,


    "Bony, Jean." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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