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Grodecki, Louis

    Full Name: Grodecki, Louis

    Other Names:

    • Louis Grodecki

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1910

    Date Died: 1982

    Place Born: Warsaw, Russia

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

    Home Country/ies: Poland

    Subject Area(s): Byzantine (culture or style), French (culture or style), Medieval (European), paintings (visual works), Romanesque, and stained glass (visual works)

    Institution(s): Université de Paris (Sorbonne)


    Medievalist art historian; influential in French Romanesque studies and stained glass. Grodecki was raised in a Polish-speaking family in Russian-controlled Poland. When he was eighteen, he left to study stagecraft under Emil Preetorius (1883-1973) in Berlin. Later he moved to Paris, enrolling at the école du Louvre. His teacher, Charles Mauricheau-Beaupré advised him to take courses by Henri Focillon at the Sorbonne and Collège de France. Grodecki rose to be one of Focillon’s famous group of students, receiving his licence ès letters in 1932. He was a teaching assistant for Focillon and René Schneider at the Institut d’Art et d’Archéologie of the Sorbonne (1932-1936). During that time he earned his diplôme d’études supérieures (1933) at the College. He never completed his dissertation, however, which centered on the topic of gothic “mannerism.” In 1934 he took French citizenship, serving in the French military (Second Dragoon Regiment, Provins) between 1936-37. Returning to the Institut, he was an assistant to Louis Réau for the academic year 1937-1938, before war tensions with Germany caused him to be recalled to the reserves at Rambouillet, 1939-40. During the German occupation of France, Grodecki was interned at a camp in Drancy (1942-1943) for attempting to save a young Jewish woman with whom he had fallen in love. He worked as an antique dealer for Picard until 1945. After the war he secured a position as the archivist with the Direction de l’Architecture of the Ministry of Culture (1945-1947). There, Grodecki was given the task of documenting the medieval stained glass as it re-emerged from war-safe refuge to the churches. He worked closely with Jean Taralon (1909-1996), later Inspecteur general des monuments historiques, advising him on conservation, and assembling a photoarchive of stained glass. In 1948 fellow Focillon student Sumner McKnight Crosby invited Grodecki to be the first Focillon Fellow at Yale University. There he published a seminal article on thirteenth-century stained glass and, in 1949, a piece on architecture’s relationship to stained glass. He returned to France and the support by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. The academic year 1951-1952 he spent at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton where he met Erwin Panofsky and, elsewhere in America, Hanns Swarzenski whose work on Romanesque art would appear shortly thereafter. He married the Romanesque scholar Catherine Gauchéry (his second wife). In 1959 Grodecki, along with Jean Lafond (d.2009) was asked to write the first French volumes for the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, which had been founded in 1953 by Hans R. Hahnloser to document extant stained glass. The same academic year he was visiting professor at Harvard University. The years 1953-61 Grodecki was conservator of the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, Paris, a model museum of fortifications in the eighteenth century. In 1958, at age 48, he published his first major monograph, Au seuil de l’art roman: l’architecture ottonienne. In 1961 he was appointed Chargé d’enseignement d’histoire de l’art at the university in Strasbourg. It was his first teaching position; its proximity to Germany brought him close to like minded medievalists, including Willibald Sauerländer, then at Freiburg am Breisgau. In 1970 he received his docteur ès letters at the Sorbonne at age sixty. The following year he was appointed chair in art history there, a position he held until his retirement in 1977. He was succeeded at the Sorbonne by Anne Paillard Prache. His 1973 Le siècle de l’an mille, co-authored with Florentine Mütherich, synthesized his findings with other scholars. After retirement, Grodecki continued to write, despite failing eyesight until 1982 when he died of cancer. His students included Florens Deuchler, Jane Hayward, and Catherine Brisac who had succeeded him in his position at Musée des Plans-Reliefs and completed his unfinished manuscript, Le vitrail gothique.

    Methodologically, Grodecki was a Focillon-style formalist who exploited archaeological data to its fullest. In reaction to chartrists scholars such as Emil Mâle, who frequently relied on written accounts and 19th-century engravings for their scholarship, Grodecki insisted on examination of the monuments themselves. Unusual for a French scholar, Grodecki possessed a strong command of Germanic literature on art history and a willingness to incorporate the intellectual traditions of Adolph Goldschmidt, Julius Alwin von Schlosser and Wilhelm Pinder, all of whom he had heard lecture on their own soil. A strong personality, he has been described by his students as capable of bullying and unduly argumentative (Caviness, 2000). His celebrated dispute with Robert Branner–whom he had met when both excavated St. Denis under Crosby–over the attributions of Pierre, Eudes and Raoul de Montreuil (1964), appeared to be more than academic. In gentler disagreement with Panofsky, his two 1961 articles on St-Denis used more concrete sources than Panofsky’s philosophical texts to theorize a program for the church.

    Selected Bibliography

    [complete bibliography] études d’art médiéval offertes à Louis Grodecki. Paris: Ophrys, 1981, pp.19-32; L’Architecture ottoniene: au seuil de l’art roman. Paris: A. Colin, 1958; Sainte-Chapelle. Paris: Caisse nationale des monuments historiques, 1960; The Stained Glass of French Churches. London: L. Drummond, 1948; Chartres. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963 ; Vitraux des églises de France, Paris: éditions du Chêne, 1947 [actually, 1948]; L’architecture ottonienne; au seuil de l’art roman. Paris: A. Colin, 1958; L’architecture ottonienne; au seuil de l’art roman. 2 vols. Paris: A. Colin, 1958; Le vitrail gothique au XIIIe siècle. Fribourg, SW: Office du livre, 1984. English: Gothic stained glass : 1200-1300. London: Thames and Hudson, 1985; and Prache, Anne, and Recht, Roland. Architecture gothique. Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1979, English [published earlier] Gothic Architecture. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1977; Recensement des vitraux anciens de la France. Paris: Editions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1978- : Les Vitraux du Centre et des Pays de la Loire. Recensement des vitraux anciens de la France 2. Paris: éditions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1981; Les vitraux de Paris, de la région parisienne, de la Picardie et du Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Paris: Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1978; Le vitrail roman. Fribourg, SW: Office du livre, 1977; and Mütherich, F., and Taralon, Jean, and Wormald, Frances. Le Siècle de l’an mil. Univers des formes [series]. Paris: Gallimard, 1973; “Pierre, Eudes et Raoul de Montreuil à l’abbatiale de Saint-Denis.” Bulletin monumental 122 (1964): 269-74.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 48 mentioned; Sauerländer, Willibald. “Le Savant.” Revue de l’art 55 (1982): 6-8; Caviness, Madeline. “Necrology: Louis Grodecki (1910-1982).” Gesta 21 (1982): 157-8; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 84, mentioned; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 490; Caviness, Madeline H. “Louis Grodecki (1910-1982)” in Medieval Scholarship: Biographical Studies on the Formation of a Discipline. Volume 3. New York: Garland, 2000, pp. 307-321.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Grodecki, Louis." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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