T. Marquardt, Eastern Illinois University
In 1928, Speculum
published a short piece by Kenneth John Conant entitled "Five
Old Prints of the Abbey Church of Cluny" (3:401–404). It was
the first mention of a project that would link the Medieval Academy
with Conant's work in France for the next forty years.
that he would need additional funding beyond the Guggenheim grant
that he had received for 1927, before he left for Cluny, Conant
turned to the newly formed Medieval Academy of America (1925) to
propose a publication project. In line with
the avowed goals of the organization, Conant outlined the potential
for an important monograph to include a "complete and accurate restoration
of the great abbey church as it was before the lamentable demolition
of a century ago." In addition, he promised data on the pre-Romanesque
churches and partial restoration of the medieval conventual buildings.
He clearly stated that no comprehensive study of the buildings had
ever been undertaken and that the site represented "one of the greatest
masterpieces of mediaeval building." He attached drawings from sketches
he had made since his first visit in 1924 and listed an impressive
retinue of friends in high places who could help pave the way for
permissions to dig. He also mentioned that he had been received
as a member of the Academy of Mâcon.
In this outline,
Conant proposed four summers of excavations and study including
a second one funded by the Guggenheim. He promised an efficient
plan of attack based upon existing old plans which indicated where
to dig first. He did not guarantee any finds aside from foundation
walls which would yield measurements for his drawings. Though he
admitted sculpted stones would surely be found in the process, clearly
the artistic decoration was not on his agenda. Finally, Conant anticipated
the expense of the campaigns from 1928 to 1931 to run about $5,000
plus an additional $1500 for his own expenses with the following
closing caveat: "Events may prove this estimate wide of the mark,
but it allows for the uncovering of about half a mile of foundation
at the rate of two dollars a cubic yard for removing and replacing
earth. Interesting and unexpected discoveries might call for further
digging, but the program of excavation could doubtless be adjusted
to the appropriation."
copies of the proposal were sent to the members of the executive
committee for review. Only one, Charles Rufus Morey, gave unconditional
approval. The others suggested various things
such as only promising funds for two years at a time or finding
another scholar to review extant documents and coordinate with excavation
findings, etc. Overall, however, Rockwell's comments from his position
at the Union Theological Seminary sum up their interest in the work:
". . . I feel that the significance of Cluny is very great indeed.
When I made a flying visit to it in 1922, I was distressed to see
how little of the mediaeval Abbey remains. . . . It would be worthy
of the Academy to arrange for the publication of an adequate volume
at a price between five and ten dollars, publishing not merely the
results of excavations to be made under its oversight, but also
reproductions of old prints and miniatures which show Cluny as it
was in the days of its leadership." He felt that the Academy should
only pay for excavations if "friends of Harvard" provide the money.
Otherwise he felt it was "putting money into a bottomless pit."
Publication was his first interest in all things. "How interesting
it would be to have an American scholar publish under our auspices
a worthy volume illustrating the evolution of those monastic buildings
whence went forth during the middle ages so many noble impulses
for the reform of art and of religion."
came at a crucial point in the Medieval Academy's history. Having
just made the decision in December of 1925 to incorporate as a national
organization, the first members stated as their purpose: "To conduct,
encourage, promote and support research, publication, and instruction
in Mediaeval records, literature, languages, arts, archaeology,
history, philosophy, science, life, and all other aspects of Mediaeval
civilizations, by instigating and maintaining research, and by such
other means as may be desirable, and to hold property for such purpose."
They applied for membership in the American Council of Learned Societies
and solicited dues for individual membership as well as seeking
important academics to serve as various administrative advisors.
Already one year later, in December of 1926, the Medieval Academy
had 746 paying members as well as one "patron," one "benefactor,"
3 "sustaining members," 25 "life members," and 91 "contributing
members," these terms representing the level of donations from generous
individuals. One of the "life members" (representing a one-time
payment of $100) was Arthur Kingsley Porter, who sat on the first
Board of Councillors. In 1928 the Committee on Research was founded,
to free up the editors of Speculum on whose behalf the Executive
Committee applied and were granted a revolving publication fund
of $25,000 from the Carnegie Corporation. The Committee on Research
included John Nicholas Brown and Porter, both of whom knew and encouraged
architect, Ralph Adams Cram, was elected Clerk of the Academy. He
worked with Conant for a short time after 1920 and introduced him
to Isabella Stewart Gardner. According to Conant's son John, it
was during this time that Mrs. Gardner became aware that, though
married to a Roman Catholic, Conant had never been formally baptized
and insisted that she stand as his sponsor for the Episcopal Church
if he was going to make plans with Cram for the monastery she was
donating to monks in Cambridge. Through
this project and previous plans made for another abbey outside Boston,
Conant became exposed to planning conventual and church architecture,
as well as to the lifestyle it supported.
at the American Church in Paris during 1928, gave a copy of Conant's
M.A. thesis on Compostela to Marcel Aubert who was then the president
of the Commission of Historic Monuments in France. He was impressed
and began helping the American ambassador to France, Myron T. Herrick,
to obtain permissions for digging to be undertaken at Cluny. (Herrick
had been contacted by John Nicholas Brown and an opportunity was
arranged for Conant to meet with the ambassador before his departure
for France.) On 23 March 1928, the cable came from Cram: "CLUNY
CONCESSION GRANTED HURRAH LETTER FOLLOWS."
On 4 March
1928 the New York Times Magazine ran a story on the upcoming
expedition. Calling Cluny "the greatest center of learning in the
Middle Ages," the author, Thomas S. Bosworth, gave American readers
a brief history of the abbey. "The town of Cluny, which is quite
off the beaten track, set in its 'black valley,' is a town of comparatively
little interest to travelers. By automobile it is not far from its
vastly more interesting neighbor, Autun, with its roman gate and
fine church; nor from Lyons." Making reference to the remaining
transept with its "orphaned tower", Bosworth goes on to tell of
the abbey's glorious past and the power of her abbots, ending with
its demise: "In the violence of the French Revolution all the monastic
buildings disappeared, save the abbot's lodging, a small bit of
the abbey walls, and that part of the transept that was saved for
a parish church—now gloomy, silent and bare under its covering
of whitewash. The walls of Cluny no longer echo to the music of
psalms, and the old abbots lie in nameless graves." Bosworth apparently
had done a bit of research, finding some of the more romantic nineteenth-century
accounts to paraphrase!
On 25 May 1928,
the Medieval Academy served Conant with "A Letter of Instruction."
Acceptable expenses were specified as well as requirements for recordkeeping.
He was to send short monthly reports to the Medieval Academy office
"from the field" and a full report of the season was due 30 October
1928. The letter also claimed all publication rights for the Medieval
Academy. Conant wrote to acknowledge receipt and acceptance of terms
on Medieval Academy letterhead, so probably in the office under
John Marshall's guiding eye (first executive secretary). Meanwhile,
on 25 May, John Nicholas Brown also confirmed his verbal offer to
donate $12,000 to the Academy, payable in three annual installments,
for excavating and publishing Cluny. A letter
of credit was issued through the Harvard Trust Company for Conant's
use in France. Apparently
on the same day a press release was delivered to the Boston Evening
Transcript because on 26 May, W. A Macdonald authored an article
entitled: "From Harvard to Recompose the Lines of a Ruined Abbey:
Kenneth J. Conant, Assistant Professor of Architecture, going to
France for His Second Summer at Cluny, Over Whose Structure the
Records Disagree." Five illustrations took up the greatest proportion
of copy space, two of which represented an engraving done before
the demolition and a model constructed shortly after but which are
The focus of
the story was on Conant's purpose not only to prepare restoration
drawings for publication, but to reconcile extant materials which
do not agree as to the exact form of the former buildings. "Last
summer Mr. Conant measured things remaining above ground; this summer
he hopes to dig below. The testimony of the past disagrees on measurements,
on vaults, niches, ornaments. The task is to patiently make a new
record of labor impatiently erased." Macdonald drew out the human-interest
angle for his story, and he gave us a sense of Conant's own trepidation
it will be possible for architecture to know again all the problems
of the men who built at Cluny. It may be that there was pioneering
there: that difficulties were solved in a manner never devised
before. The history of architecture has paid scant attention to
the place. . . . The work in which Professor Conant will engage
himself . . . involves problems sometimes forgotten by laymen:
the human problems of social relations with those who may by their
attitude help or hinder the investigator. The activities of the
technical school, of the breeding establishment of the Government,
of the people of the town must be considered, their convenience
consulted. "They may not want us digging around year after
year," says Mr. Conant. He is a young man and he has enthusiasm.
He must be seen and questioned by the authorities before the permission
he seeks is finally granted. They will want to know, he is aware,
what his attitude will be toward the work he desires to do. They
will want to be assured what kind of person he is. That he will
pass this test cannot be doubted by anyone who has talked with
him. A scholar who is a likeable and attractive human being is
not too often found. . ."
also prepared to introduce Conant to the appropriate authorities,
in particular to Marcel Aubert, to whom he was to present himself
directly upon arrival in Paris. Caution had been recommended by
Cram in his follow-up letter of 24 March: "It appears from what
I have learned from Mr. Lafond and Mr. Aubert that Professor Conant
[sic], was not altogether wise in some of his actions at Cluny in
the past, that is he did not, so I am told, act always with official
authority and did one or two other things in the way of investigations
which slightly prejudiced his case for the future."
A three-person commission was formed in Paris to advise Conant,
consisting of Mr. Herriot (Minster of Education and Beaux-Arts),
Aubert, and the chief architect of the Commission of Historic Monuments,
Paul Gélis. The architect appointed for Burgundy by the Commission,
Edmond Malo, had begun to consider excavations at Cluny in 1913,
before the war intervened, so he was assigned as the local liaison.
French seems to have been quite good since there is no indication
that he procured help with his letters. According to current residents
of Cluny who knew him well, his spoken French was passable but he
never lost a harsh and awkward American accent. One has to imagine
that his style and personality carried Conant through more of the
early meetings and negotiations than fluent language skills.
to work on the site from the government and town was not all that
was at stake. The former abbey grounds, including portions of the
church, were being utilized by the École Nationale des Arts et Métiers
(an engineering school) as well as the National Haras or horse-breeding
stable. Thus the Ministries of Education and Agriculture became
involved in the proceedings, as did small shopkeepers and the proprietors
of the Hotel de Bourgogne, where Conant was lodged.
for France on 1 June, sailing from New York and arriving at Le Havre
on 8 June. He met with Aubert on the eleventh and with Gélis on
the thirteenth. He was given the title "Director of Excavations
at Cluny." Before heading to Cluny, however, he participated in
an archaeological conference at Dijon, where excursions to relevant
sites were planned. He was able to meet several important French
archaeologists and interest them in his project, and he was particularly
pleased with scholars who were rethinking the development of the
Romanesque, as he clearly hoped to influence their assessment of
Cluny on 24 June, the director of the engineering school had been
briefed on the situation and offered his unconditional consent as
long as Conant waited until after school closed on 15 July to begin
work. Thus he had time to set up his bank account, to present his
letters to the city authorities and gain their cooperation, and
to query Malo about recommendations for a contractor. Malo showed
up with the man who, with his son, would be the contractor for the
work throughout Conant's years—Cartier et fils. Cartier had
extensive knowledge of restoration as ordered by the Commission
of Historic Monuments and was able to immediately draw up estimates
of the costs to submit to both Conant and Malo and then send on
to the Medieval Academy. Since they had arrived on 29 June, the
feast of SS. Peter and Paul, who were the patrons of the old abbey,
and the date on which rents had always been collected, Conant thought
it nicely symbolic to make a ceremonial beginning to work on that
day. The president of the tourist office found a pick and Conant
appropriately offered Malo "the first stroke, because it was he
who was in charge of the excavations begun in 1913 and interrupted
by the war. He is resigning into my hands, with the utmost good
will, a project which he held very dear."
They began at the narthex portal, and photographed the occasion.
permission was not as forthcoming from the Haras director as was
expected since he had not been notified in advance and was unwilling
to proceed until he received the requisite signed papers from his
Ministry. Since the planned excavation work would have upset the
daily routine of the stables, Conant recognized that for the meantime,
he would "have to be content with soundings in this area." In the
first monthly report to the Medieval Academy, however, Conant does
address the Haras issue at length. He nurtured great hopes for a
few years that it would be relocated so that he could raze the entire
area and open extensive excavations. This was never entirely possible,
even though Malo drew up estimates of the cost and Conant specified
a deficit of about $20,000, which no agency in France at the time
could bear. He felt that the opportunity was one not to be missed
both for clear access to the outline of the foundations and "the
likelihood of finding sculptured fragments." It must have been a
shock to those back in Cambridge to find that already, in his first
report home, Conant is serving to engender notions of American gold.
". . . I have been asked particularly not to approach Mr. Rockefeller,
who has been so generous at Reims and Versailles. I hope that something
might be done through the Academy."
as executive secretary of the Medieval Academy, wrote in response
to Conant's first monthly report that they were using the photographs
he sent together with short write-ups on his commencement of the
work to begin a press coverage of the project. Although the traditional
word on Conant among the next generation's scholars was that he
never missed an opportunity to toot his own horn about Cluny, reading
through the materials of the Medieval Academy interventions suggests
that rather it was John Marshall and perhaps Cram, who are to be
credited with the intention of keeping the project before the public
eye. In the report of the executive secretary for the Council meeting
of 26 April 1929, plans to reproduce Conant's restoration drawings
on postcards appear. They were to be available at the meeting of
the Corporation and at Cluny. In addition, a prospectus was sent
to members of the Archaeological Institute announcing a series of
articles on the Cluny work to appear in Speculum.
first excavation in 1928, Conant kept in close touch with Cambridge.
On the fifth of July, he cabled the Medieval Academy office: "DIGGING
PORTALS SMALL FRAGMENTS IMMEDIATELY" and followed that on the twenty-third
of the same month with: "IMPRESSIVE NARTHEX EXCAVATION MERITS PRESERVATION
PLEASE INDECATE [sic] LIMIT FROM SEASON SURPLUS OF TWO THOUSAND"
(provincial French telegraph operators are apparent in numerous
misspellings, including his name which in this instance is recorded
as "CONAY"). Being a question of money, the matter was turned over
to John Nicholas Brown as Medieval Academy Treasurer and he replied:
"IS PRESERVATION NECESSARY TO YOUR WORK STOP CABLED INFORMATION
INSUFFICIENT STOP ON RECEIPT OF DETAILED REPORT WILL CABLE DECISION
STOP SEND MORE PHOTOGRAPHS." Conant wrote a detailed letter the
same day as his original letter. He referred to photographs previously
mailed and two drawings he attached (elevation and section of exposed
fabric) as well as a postcard showing the state of the portal before
"Now we have
a hole from twelve to fifteen feet deep embracing it. No one who
has gone down into the excavation has failed to remark how fine
it would be to preserve it. It gives an entirely new idea of the
the Commission of Historic Monuments could assist with the expenses
but promised to ask.
from the United States are undated and it is therefore unclear how
much time passed until Brown replied saying: "AUTHORIZE EIGHT HUNDRED
DOLLAR LIMIT FOR UNDERPINNING WITHOUT SETTING PRECEDENT." A photograph
of 1929 shows town dignitaries peering into this preserved opening:
the pit around the base of the narthex portal, protected by iron
fencework. The town was beginning to take notice of their monument.
report for the excavations during July 1928, he records that real
work began on July fifth with a crew of "four good men." He
began with the two west portals (the later narthex and the original
entrance). Conant also employed a student, René Folcher, as his
assistant for 1000 francs for the summer. The men immediately encountered
difficulties in their working relationship.
had not made it clear that I was in command and that he would
back my orders financially. The men were not used to sifting their
earth, and took my archaeological vigilance as a personal matter.
They disliked the constant changing of orders, necessary of course
when trial trenches are being run and unexpected conditions met.
Neglect to observe my order (conflicting with orders left by M.
Cartier) led to a thoroughgoing explanation on July 9. At this
time I decided that, on account of the exceptional character of
the work, each man should, during good behavior, receive in addition
to his pay a half-bottle of wine daily (price six cents). The
results of this interview have been extremely happy; I have a
contented and satisfactory crew, and the personal relations and
esprit de corps are all that could be desired. I have given
the men photographs of themselves, of the excavations, and of
the interesting finds, believing that it would help to give the
men an indispensable interest in their work."
dichotomous/contrasting notions of "good behavior" and "esprit
de corps" show Conant's awkwardness with his elite status as
privileged overseer among ouvriers. Photographs taken in
1931 portray the same striking contrasts; in one Kenneth in his
three-piece suit complete with fedora, stands stiffly to the side
of the men who are in two rows, seated and standing at the edge
of a pit in the court of the Haras.
clothes, suspenders, casquettes, and wooden clogs remind us of the
extraordinary cultural and class differences inherent in a project
conducted in rural Burgundy by a Harvard professor at this time.
with the local photographer, Loury, to document all the sculptural
finds on uniform heavy photographic paper of 7 1/4 by 9 5/8 inches.
one set to serve as an "archive," later placed in Paris with the
Commission of Historic Monuments (now in the Cluny Museum), and
retained the other for his own study purposes.
The two first
pits yielded rewarding finds. In later articles on his method, Conant
remarked that the locals thought he was a magician to know exactly
where to dig. But he was using plans made
in the eighteenth century when the monks were planning to replace
major portions of the conventual buildings. Their accuracy allowed
him to chart dimensions in such a way that his excavations were
at first really only confirmed measurements. The first pit exposed
the foundation of the northern narthex portal including the column
bases. This is the one he requested to make a permanent exhibit.
The other, pit II, was less interesting to look at but turned up
more exciting fragments such as, on 9 July, a polychrome head. It
was the subject of an emotional letter to Verdier, head of the Academie
des Beaux Arts in Paris, describing the circumstances of discovery,
the remarkably fresh-colored paint on the piece when first unearthed,
and the heart-wrenching experience of watching that color fade—literally
in the moments that Conant took to record what he saw.
The best sculptural
finds and most complete blocks of stone were numbered, photographed
and then placed into a holding area for the municipal museum, still
the former abbot's palace. This would soon prove to be too small
for all that Conant was unearthing. The smaller bits and pieces
were boxed into wooden cases labeled with the appropriate pit number.
The archeological daybooks now on file at Cluny show how carefully
Conant kept track of the exact section of earth excavated each day,
coordinated with the numbered box. These cases were stored in the
basement of the museum. Already after one month of work, 42 cases
were thus lodged.
and seemed satisfied to Conant. The press picked up on the event
and local coverage began. Conant claimed to have sent information
only to the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune,
which ran a story on July 26 headlined: "Americans Excavate Site
of Mediaeval Abbey at Cluny—Townspeople Believe Golden Treasure
Is Being Shipped to U.S.—PORTALS LAID BARE—Harvard Professor
Directs Work on Largest Romanesque Ruin in France." The first two
paragraphs of the story seem to represent the material Conant would
have supplied, explaining the method and purpose of the excavations,
beginning with the fact of the visits of Malo and Jean Virey, "observers
for the Ministry of Public Instruction and Fine Arts." But then
the story seems to take off with the journalist's flair for the
dramatic, and accounts for the mixed headline. "The excavators have
been much entertained by the local excitement over their work: the
popular imagination has credited them with finds in solid gold and
wrought iron, and the objects found (actually deposited in the local
museum) are said to have been shipped to America. The children of
the town believe that the enterprise has been undertaken in order
to unearth a mummy like the one in the museum."
In the report
for August, Conant continued his account of the activity according
to the numbered pits. Pit 1, at the western entrance of the narthex,
continued on into the garage of the Hotel Bourgogne, whose owner
authorized an open pit so that the workers would not have to tunnel.
As we have seen, based upon Brown's authorization of up to $800
for this project, Conant offered 5000 francs toward the retaining
wall for preserving the excavation, Marcel Aubert was grateful and
found Commission of Historic Monuments funds for the remainder.
Pit II yielded
the most interesting fragments after refilling the area around the
portal jambs and digging to either side. Although his official report
is rather dry, mentioning eight heads with three in good condition,
many small figures in fragments and architectural pieces, Conant's
cables home suggest he was reading more into the material:
1928: "GREAT PORTAL NON [sic=now] SOLVED BY FRAGMENTS AND TRACES
NARTHEX PORTAL PRESERVATION NEGOTIATED" CONANT
1928: "BEAUTIFUL FRAGMENTS OF PAINTED HEAD OF CHRIST FROM GREAT
In his final,
detailed report for the 1928 season, Conant identified each object
and discussed size, material, and possible subject matter. He did
not mention in the monthly reports any finds related to dating the
east end of the church, the issue which would become hotly debated
between Parisian scholars and those who followed Porter's suggestion,
yet a cable sent to the Medieval Academy August 22 must have made
the folks back home smile:
CAPITALS ELEVENTH CENTURY" Conant
In the final
report, this claim is explained. He derives the conclusion from
photographs taken by Monsieur Loury who was busy on scaffolds in
the remaining transept, documenting both general views and architectural
details. He describes the capitals and mentions that similar ones
exist in the smaller tower then goes on to say:
suffices here to say that an inscription, painted in red upon a
coat of stucco overlying the original stucco finish of the interior,
certifies in characters of the first quarter of the twelfth century
that the chapel was dedicated and relics were deposited in the altar
by Peter, Bishop of Pamplona (=1115). The date is given as the II
Ides of March; the year has been lost, but 1100 plausibly fills
the lacuna, and it seems certain that the construction is to be
dated within a few months or years of that time. This necessarily
means that the transept was built at that time also. There is indubitable
evidence that the capitals in the chapel and transept were carved
when they were set.
Thus we may
say that seventy-one fine pieces of sculpture surely dated close
to the year 1100 have been introduced on the field of a hotly contested
archeological battle. It is the coup de grâce to the system
of certain French and German scholars who would have us believe
that Cluny was largely the work of the twelfth century well advanced.
. . . "
still, the ivy on the east wall of the great transept yielded a
capital which, so far as I am aware, was unnoticed and unpublished.
It formerly supported the west end of the arch between the westernmost
bays of the south choir aisles; it is in situ in a portion of the
building surely ascribed to the end of the eleventh century. The
undercutting of the capital is so disposed as to constitute preremptory
[sic] proof that is was sculptured at the time of setting. In style
it is as advanced as any of the rest, and in design and execution
it is patently related to the ambulatory capital devoted to the
fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth tones-so patently related that
it is probably a work of the same artist. A similar capital, executed
at some time after 1104, exists at Vézelay. But the important thing
is that this eleventh-century Cluny capital, taken in conjunction
with the other evidence presented above, makes it infinitely probable
that the ambulatory capitals were carved at the same period—that
they were quite possibly completed at the time of the dedication
of 1095, and are to be counted as masterpieces of the eleventh,
not of the twelfth, century.
has implications which run counter to the conceptions of many as
to early history of Romanesque sculpture. It corroborates the doctrine
of those—notably M. l'Abbé Terret, M. Oursel, and Mr. Porter,
who have done battle to prove the priority of the great Burgundian
abbey and the significance of the work which was done there. . ."
to which Conant refers in this passage have been reviewed by David
Walsh in his recent paper, "Medieval Art Wars: French-American Academic
Conflict in the 20th Century" (given at the ICMA session of the
International Medieval Congress, Leeds University, Jul 2004). The
positions of the Parisian scholars later became entrenched against
those who supported the early Porter/Conant dating of the east end
of the church, based on the belief that it was finished when the
pope came to consecrate the altar in 1095. Eventually these supporters
included the Burgundians, Americans, and, through such friends as
Joan Evans and later disciples as Neil Stratford, the English. We
find many references to this argument among the proceedings for
conferences at Cluny, in articles written by Conant and Francis
Salet (from Paris), and in letters between Conant and colleagues.
for July and August, as well as the overall season, were translated
into French and sent to the head of the Commission of Historic Monuments.
Conant's final paragraph for his season report is picked up by those
who wished the French government to support the project with funding
from the Commission of Historic Monuments. It is wildly acclamatory
and dismissive, in the best Henry Adams style, but it was apparently
effective at the time:
". . .The renaissant art of monumental
sculpture is seen to have received a wonderful impulse at the very
start from the great genius who carved Cluny ambulatory capitals,
just as the art of architecture did from the designer of the giant
church. Both rose fully to a stupendous opportunity in producing
this splendid witness to the grandeur of the order and the greatness
of the builder abbot. Cluny was then a focus like the Constantinople
of Justinian or the Florence and Rome of the Renaissance. We should
no more be asked to explain the achievements of the artisans of
Cluny by mechanically regular steps in development (as some writers
propose) than we are in the case of Isidoros and Anthemios, Donatello,
or Michelangelo. Once the inspiration of Cluny is recognized, and
its activity between 1088 and 1109 admitted, the flowering of Burgundian
art and architecture which followed the closing of its chantier
early in the twelfth century needs no further explanation."
to both the Guggenheim and Medieval Academy for another season in
1929. He continually underlined the value of the abbey church building
in these proposals, echoing the kind of affirmations found in earlier
letters to the French ministry requesting repair funding. He places
himself into a position of history-making: "I have, as a result
of my studies, a profound conviction that the great structure which
I am making available to the workers in architectural history was
as important in Romanesque architecture as St. Sophia in Byzantine,
or Chartres in Gothic architecture. And I have besides, as a result
of my work, a profound appreciation for the majestic beauty of the
building, which will be in a way re-created by my restoration drawings."
of 1929, the Medieval Academy published an article with Conant's
first technical report of the excavations in Speculum ("Mediaeval
Academy Excavations at Cluny the Season of 1928," 4:2–26).
Like his daybooks, these reports are professional, dry, and informative.
They evidence none of the personal turmoil or enthusiasm which clearly
accompanied his excursions. Although the arrivals of visitors are
recorded, their impact on his self-esteem or accomplishment is not.
He had married in 1923 and had one small son, Kenneth John, Jr.
The family stayed at home the first year. Finances must have been
tight. Conant was young, not yet well established at Harvard, with
doting parents who expected great things. It is from extant letters
home that one can begin to get a glimpse of the more personal side
of this effort. Letters to his parents were often done on a series
of postcards (often as many as 45 to 50 at a time) recording excursions
he took to other monuments. Every year he complains about being
eaten alive by mosquitoes, regales them with stories of wild tours
around the area in cars with local luminaries, reviews every fragment
of architecture he visits. He also brags a bit and expresses hopes
and fears and financial plans, as one would expect. It makes him
real for us and it makes the entire project come alive:
". . .on the return, M. Oursel, my special
friend in Dijon at the Library, gave a talk on the Cistercian manuscripts
there, and after dinner a talk on the school of Cluny in monastic
and cathedral architecture. It revolved around the chapel I discovered
a year ago. It is fun to hear oneself referred to on the lecture
platform. It must happen often! I must be a good archeologist!"
". . . (you amuse me, by the way, by adding 'archaeologist-Cluny
abbey' to my address—I am as well known here now as the mayor
or the town drunkard)"
". . .The 19th century lithograph on this card is the one which
has been used to give me an idea of this portal. It is all wrong,
and I can prove it"
". . . My work on this portal will really add to my reputation—I
have had requests for information from England, France, Germany,
Switzerland, Spain, and the United States. So I got started first
on the portals—awaiting the departure of the students and the
arrival of the official paper for the other areas. I had enough
to do—I get up at 6—work begins at 6:30 and keeps on until
6:30 p.m. with two hours for lunch. That really means a 12 or 13
hour day for me, for I have to watch the excavations, make no end
of arrangements and explanations, and do my paper work besides.
Among my visitors was the chief of the Archives Service of the League
of Nations. After in the evening, for a relief, I have strolled
out to this villa [Villa St. Lazare, Cluny] with my friend M. Gargnet,
Bursar of the school . . ."
"Back to work the next day of course—I work six days a
week, I tell you, and I shall really have to come home to get a
rest but I am thriving on it. Ten hours a day in the sun does me
no harm, and the work is of course endlessly interesting. Think
of my beginning my career as an excavator with one of the greatest
mediaeval sites in France—but their 'prentice hand will make
a good job I think, don't you?"
The work at
Cluny continued for another twenty years, most of it supported by
the Medieval Academy in the hopes of the promised monumental publication.
Instead, annual reports in Speculum had to do until the monograph
finally appeared, in French, in 1968. It was a grave disappointment
to many scholars who felt that the conclusions were passée by that
point. Yet without Conant's singleminded devotion to the site and
his generous and exuberant personality, it is unlikely that the
fragmentary architectural relics which remain today at Cluny would
mean much to anyone.