Drawing by Gill, “The old breaker of irons,” La Petite Lune 34, 1878. During discussions on whether to grant amnesty to communards, Gill made Victor Hugo into the figurehead for this struggle.

Amnesty is a procedure of radical clemency that decrees forgetting of wrongdoing. Often practiced in Europe during the aftermath of major civil crises in an effort to end confrontation and revive community life, it was used in varying ways and for varying reasons depending on the regime. Long praised for its restorative role, the violence of the modern period contrasted it with the duty of memory. Its current rejection is revealing of a system of historicity in which actors struggle to free themselves from the past, with concern for victims taking priority. Forgetting subsequently becomes possible only if justice is rendered and history succeeds in disarming the confrontation of memories.

Heidelberg Castle, watercolour drawing. Plundered in the late seventeenth century by the French during the War of the League of Augsburg, the gutted towers from the ruins of Heidelberg Castle are a work both “of time and of man,” in Chateaubriand’s sense.
Syros, Cyclades, watercolour drawing. © Tuija Lind, 2001. In the late twentieth century, even ordinary ruins spark interest, such as those of an abandoned factory. All ruins foster curiosity, as they allow the eye to pierce through their walls.

Beginning with the Renaissance, interest in ruins focused on the monuments of Antiquity, before including all of the remains of the European past. The Enlightenment helped give birth to the new discipline of architectural conservation, because ruins then began to be regarded as aesthetic objects as well as mere historical records. Archaeological studies and measures for protection increased over the following centuries, as did the categories of ruins considered to be monuments or objects worthy of conservation. Certain ruins created by voluntary destruction, natural catastrophe, or abandonment were added to what were referred to as romantic or archaeological ruins. Today, ruins—edifices whose structure is seriously damaged—continue to spark great interest among professionals and visitors, while guides and administrators of heritage tourism have replaced the artists and writers of the past.

Portrait of Marc Chagall (1887-1985), July 4, 1941. Photo: Carl Van Vechten.

Artistic migrations have often been studied in order to better understand the circulations that artists chose and planned for, as well as the phenomenon of reciprocal influence in art. Yet the movements of artists have not always been voluntary, as creative activity has also been the result of forced migrations since the Middle Ages. This phenomenon would later spread during the nineteenth century and became a major aspect of a twentieth century marked by wars as well as ethnic and political exoduses. The impact of these migrations on artistic identity and on works themselves can be reassessed in this light, which reveals the breaks and discontinuities that are a key component of creative activity and helps to better identify processes of acculturation and their impact on inspiration. Artistic migrations can thus be seen as multi-faceted “crises,” ones that shed a different light on both the form of a work and the artist’s intentions and identity.

Benvenuto Cellini, Christ supporting Saint Peter above the waves, inscription “Quare dubitasti?” (“Why did you doubt?”), 1530-1532, silver double carlin of Clement VII.

The political accident that was the sack of Rome is a major landmark in the artistic history of Europe. Contemporaries insisted on its Protestant iconoclasm, which notably jeopardized the relics and sacred images of the Holy City, home of the Holy See and destination of pilgrimages. The sack dispersed the successors to Raphael along with the other actors of the first generation of Mannerists, thereby bringing about the immediate diffusion of the first Roman—as well as Florentine—manner, initially towards the main courts of Italy (1527 and 1528) and later to those of France (Fontainebleau) and ultimately Europe.

Martin Luther (author), Lucas Cranach the Elder (engraver), Passional Christi und Antichristi, Wittenberg, 1521, A ii v°- A iij. This work sets side-by-side images from episodes in the life of Christ and the Pope, for the purpose of showing that the latter was none other than the Antichrist. Left page: Christ, beaten and mocked, receives a crown of thorns. Right page: The Pope, venerated by bishops and abbots, receives a tiara.

Print played a central role in political and religious conflicts in Europe during the sixteenth century. Both Protestant reformers and defenders of the Catholic Church saw it as an effective instrument for raising awareness, informing the population, and garnering its support. The politicization of religious conflicts promoted the production and diffusion of texts that justified uprisings against authorities, explained the actions of these authorities, and formulated political theories. The publication campaigns organized by genuine specialists in writing became an indispensable element for any kind of mobilization. While the print runs were relatively modest in comparison to the vast majority of the illiterate population, print exerted an important influence, as it targeted the elites who possessed the power of action and who could serve as intermediaries towards oral forms of information diffusion. 

The Christmas truce, 25th December 1914 on the Belgian front (Ploegsteert): British and German soldiers photographed together

The fraternizations of the Western front during the First World War, which have received considerable media attention since the 2000s, have been transformed into memorial sites and symbols of the fraternity between the peoples of Western Europe. This use of fraternization in the discourse of a hypothetical “European memorial community” obscures the fact that fraternizations appeared in specific conditions and took different forms. They were initiated by soldiers and were for the most part fiercely opposed and condemned by senior officers.

Abraham-César Lamoureux (1635-1692), Equestrian statue of Christian V, gilded lead, ca. 1685-1688.

Faced with the wars of religion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many French Protestant artists chose exile to save their lives, preserve their freedom of religion and, more rarely, to put their art at the service of their faith. Their departure roughly followed the chronology of the Refuge of French Protestants, with two peaks nearly a century apart (1562-1598 and 1660-1695), as well as its geography, since these artists generally favoured the courts and large cities of Protestant lands such as England, Holland, Prussia, and Geneva.

Puppet of an Englishman ready for assembly, 1914. © Landesmuseum Stuttgart/Museum der Alltagskultur Schloss Waldenbuch, F. Schreiber collection, VK 1978/50-8156

War toys, which have been expanding as an industry since the nineteenth century, are both cultural objects and commercial products. In times of war they contribute to the mobilization of civilians, especially children and the young. For a long time, such toys and games were luxury products. As they became more freely available, they helped shape the imagination and served as a symbolic outlet. In times of peace, they have conveyed a historical discourse whose educational potential remains largely untapped, especially since the emergence of video games. As a medium for interpreting wars of the past they have led to criticism, controversy, and issues relating to memory, and today represent a largely unexplored field of study.

Photograph taken by Colonel Meches on April 12, 1945, upon the liberation of the Ohrdruf camp (Germany).
Photograph taken by the Agence Meurisse, showing the start of a militia attack in the Spanish Civil War, 1937. Source: Gallica https://goo.gl/PybXbv
Photograph taken by Captain Horton showing Winston Churchill inspecting English defences near Hartlepool in July 1940. This photograph was later altered by Nazi propaganda to present the British Prime Minister as a gangster. Source: IWM https://goo.gl/VuXSnn
Photograph taken by Yevgeny Khaldei on May 2, 1945, entitled “The red flag on the Reichstag.” Source: Flickr https://goo.gl/HovBqw

War photography experienced its golden age from the interwar period to the 1970s, particularly in Western Europe. It was driven by the mythical figures of major reporters and magazines and drew on the many technical and technological transformations that marked photography since its invention in the nineteenth century. It was used by totalitarian regimes for a time but has now lost its monopoly over the image as a repository of reality and truth to other media, such as television and the Internet. The genre subsequently found other forms of expression to represent war, which are more artistic and less focused on the event itself than on the emotion it arouses in the audience as seen through the photographer’s gaze.

“Into the Jaws of Death,” photograph taken on the morning of June 6, 1944, in front of Omaha Beach in Normandy. 

Amphibious operations, documented since Antiquity but associated with the major landings of World War Two, belong to the classical range of warfare. In spite of technological evolutions, the problems remain identical: being able to successfully combine means by land, air, and sea during an attack on a coastline. After the glory days of the early modern period, which won renown for British “landings” on the continent, the Industrial Revolution led to their eclipse, so much so that in 1939, strategists were convinced that the era of amphibious operations was a thing of the past. However World War Two, which opposed naval and land powers, on the contrary provided them with a new dimension.

Subscribe to RSS - war