The 2nd World War was, probable, the bigest catastrophe of the mankind suffered by itself. This devastation affected directly to artistic treasures of an uncountable value, some of them great Gothic cathedrals and buildings. Photography, invented in mid 19th Century, is an instrument that helps us to remember this lost.
Renaissance expanded from Italy all over Europe, spreading the Renovatio Vetustatis, a look back to the Classic Splendour of Rome and Greece, with their shapes and methods, not only in Art but in Literature and Philosophy. In those days the European medieval style, Gothic style, was subordinated to a second term, being considered “ugly”, an aesthetics that must be forgotten. This fact expanded from XVI century on.
We have to wait till 19th Century, the apparition of the Romantic movement all over Europe, whose main idea was to recover the past of the different countries, most of all looking to the Middle Ages to find their roots. So, the Gothic cathedrals took importance again and even new buildings copied Gothic elements and structures, becaming the Neo-Gothic style. Viollet Le Duc in France or Schinkel in Germany were the most important architects of this new current.
Just in 19th Century, Romanticism looked back to Middle Ages to recover its Art. There was a rise of the nationalist movement and each country looked for an artistic style from the past to identify with, and most of all found their roots in Middle Ages. Gothic cathedrals took importance again and even new buildings adopted this style from the past, the Neo-Gothic current.
Caspar David Friedrich had already painted a ruin Gothic abbey near dead trees. He seems to be a Visionary, previewing the devastation of the gothic buildings a century later. This is the point of this post: the Gothic buildings that were destoyed in the 2nd World War.
Photography, one of the most important inventions of 19th Century, was the witness of this part of our culture that was devasted by the war and that nowadays we only are able to remember as images.
Henry La Farge, just a few years after the end of the war, collected and compiled all the photos of ancient buildings destroyed by the war in archives all over Europe. This work was published in Spain in 1951 under Seix Barral named Los tesoros perdidos de Europa (Lost treasures of Europe), reference book for this post.
I want to show some Gothic buildings today disappeared, most of all churches and cathedrals, because, in the contrary of Friedrich, I want to memory a splendorous past, though the images I present are only phantoms. I have chosen the most beautiful ones from my point of view.
The buildings I show come mainly from France and Germany. There are two different gothic styles, which reveals the different points of view, ways of thinking, cultures, of two European countries with a big personality. Therefore, the terrible destruction affected to some other countries: Poland, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Italy, Russia… They lose also big treasures of Art. We only keep images of a splendorous past that is lost now.
If nowadays I´m an Art Historian it´s because once when I was a child I visited Burgos Cathedral in a journey with my school and this visit impacted me so much. This fact sowed in me the seed of Art love deep inside. When I look at these photos in this ancient book I question myself what I would have felt If I had been there contemplating their slenderness, their stained glass windows, their gargoyles, walking through their naves and ambulatories and being captivated by the spirituality under these magnificent buildings.
I can only lament and contemplate the photos that give me a very partial perspective about what those places were once long time ago.
I do recommend you to look for this book and to buy it if it´s possible, because it keeps a collection of unique images of great monuments sadly dissapeared.
Bibliography: La Farge, Henry. Los tesoros perdidos de Europa. Ed. Seix Barral. Barcelona, 1951.