Reims on Fire - War and Reconciliation between France and Germany Thomas W. Gaehtgens

Publication date:
10 Jul 2018
Getty Publications
296 pages: 227 x 163 x 27mm
28 color + 63 b/w illus., 2 line drawings

As the site of royal coronations, Reims cathedral was a monument to French national history and identity. But after German troops bombed the cathedral during World War I, it took on new meaning. The French reimagined it as a martyr of civilisation, as the rupture between the warring states. The resulting battle of words and images stressed the differences between German "Kultur" and French "civilisation". Artists and intelligentsia caricatured this entrenched cultural dichotomy, influencing portrayals of the two nations in the international press. Ultimately, despite a history of mutual respect, the bombing of the cathedral caused all social, scientific, artistic, and cultural ties between Germany and France to be severed for decades. This book explores the structure's breadth of meaning in symbolic, art historical, and historical arenas, including competing claims over the origins of Gothic art and architecture as national style and issues of monument preservation and restoration. It highlights how vulnerable art is during war and how the destruction of national monuments can set the tone for international conflict. Gaehtgens articulates how these nations began to mend their relationship in the decades after World War II, starting with the courageous vision of Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, and how the cathedral of Reims was eventually transformed into a site of reconciliation and European unification.

Thomas W. Gaehtgens is the director of the Getty Research Institute.