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Baltrušaitis, Jurgis, IIlocked

(b Moscow, May 7, 1903; d Paris, Jan 25, 1988).
  • Kirk Ambrose

Lithuanian art historian, scholar of folklore and Egyptology, and diplomat of Russian birth. Son of the celebrated Lithuanian Symbolist poet of the same name, Jurgis Baltrušaitis II studied under Henri(-Joseph) Focillon at the Sorbonne and earned the PhD in 1931. The concerns of his mentor are evident in La stylistique ornementale dans la sculpture romane (1931), which reprises and extends arguments for the ‘law of the frame’ in Romanesque sculpture. Accordingly, the shapes of architectural members, such as capitals and tympana, determined the articulation of sculptural forms. This theory could account for the genesis of a wide array of monumental carvings, from foliate capitals to narrative reliefs, but ultimately it had a rather limited impact on the field of Romanesque sculptural studies. In a scathing critique, Schapiro argued that Baltrušaitis’s book—and by implication Focillon’s methods—robbed Romanesque sculptors of agency and neglected the religious and expressive meanings of this art form.

Baltrušaitis devoted substantial attention to the arts outside of Europe, often with an eye to the impact that Islamic and Asian arts had on the medieval West. Among others, he identified the influence of Armenian vaulting on Gothic architecture, of Buddhist and Hindu monsters on Gothic examples, and of Sumerian motifs on Romanesque sculpture. Rather than privilege any single tradition, however, he typically cast the art of a given period as arising from the admixture of diverse local and foreign sources. If some of his specific arguments have not endured in art-historical scholarship, their scope anticipates current, widespread interest in cross-cultural exchanges.

Baltrušaitis published several art-historical works outside of medieval studies, including monographs on Lithuanian folk art and on Egyptomania. His provocative treatise on aberrations argued that ‘depraved perspectives are an ineluctable part…of all attempts to attain knowledge’. In addition to being a prolific scholar, who lectured widely, he represented Lithuania in several diplomatic efforts.

Writings

  • Etudes sur l’art medieval en Géorgie et en Arménie (Paris, 1929)
  • Les chapiteaux de Sant Cugat del Valles (Paris, 1931)
  • La stylistique ornementale dans la sculpture romane (Paris, 1931/ R1986)
  • Art sumérien, art roman (Paris, 1934); repr. in 1989 with complete bibliography of Baltrušaitis and biographical portrait
  • La problème de l’Ogive et l’Arménie (Paris, 1936)
  • L’église cloisonné en Orient et en Occident (Paris, 1941)
  • Lithuanian Folk Art (Munich, 1948)
  • Anamorphic Art (New York, 1955/ R 1977)
  • Le Moyen Âge fantastique: Antiquités et exotismes dans l’art gothique (Paris, 1955; rev. Paris, 1981)
  • Aberrations: An Essay on the Legend of Forms, trans. R. Miller (Cambridge, MA, 1957/ R 1989)
  • La Quête d’Isis: Introduction à l’égyptomanie (Paris, 1967)
  • Le miroir: Essai sur une légende scientifique: Revelations, science-fiction et fallacies (Paris, 1978)

Bibliography

  • M. Schapiro: ‘Über den Schematismus in der romanischen Kunst’, Kritische Berichte zur kunstgeschichtlichen Literatur, 5 (1932–3), pp. 1–21 [trans by Baltrušaitis as part of Romanesque Art (New York, 1932/R 1977), pp. 265–84 ]