‘A Piece of Nature’

Arts & Crafts Perceptions of Nature and the Byzantine Monument

The Byzantine Research Fund Archive of the British School at Athens

Nature was central to the Arts & Crafts ideology and aesthetics. John Ruskin, the patriarch of the movement, rejoiced in the presence of natural scenery and the beauty of the natural world as early as his childhood. Nature, and its depictions in art, would occupy him throughout his career and would influence decisively the way he approached art and the historic buildings as well as his working ethos and ideology.

This love of and occupation with nature soon penetrated and embedded the British Arts & Crafts aesthetics. Nature was admired by the followers of the movement, almost with a mystical awe for evoking sacred sentiments, inspiring purity, stability and tradition against the rootless and stressful stirrings of industrial capitalism and the Great Depression of the 19th century.

The relationship between nature and architecture was particularly emphasized by the Arts & Crafts members as an expression of man’s inner-relationship with his natural surroundings. Historical architecture, in particular, had a central role in this interaction between man and the physical world. Medieval architecture, primarily the Gothic cathedral, was admired for its natural forms and the close almost mystical connections that it managed to establish with nature.

Pioneer architects of the British Arts & Crafts movement, such as Robert Weir Schultz and Sidney Barnsley of the British School at Athens BRF Archive, following the example of John Ruskin, William Morris and their Arts & Crafts masters, were among the first to record, document and study surviving Byzantine monuments in the Eastern Mediterranean. Their attitude towards the remains of Byzantine heritage in the region, eloquently reflected in their recordings and, later, publications, demonstrates a pronounced concern, at the footsteps of their masters, for the multiple interconnections between a historic building and its natural surroundings. Byzantine architecture was considered an essential part of the landscape and, vice versa, nature, the physical world, its forms and qualities were reflected in the historic building both in the way it developed as well as in impressive or even minute details in its architecture and decoration.

The present exhibition focuses on highlighting these interactions based on material from the BRF Archive Drawing and Photographic Collections, as well as the BRF Archive Corporate Records, in particular the Notebook Series.

Acknowledgements

Dedicated to Dr Ruth Macrides.

This exhibition was created for Nature and the Environment: the 53rd Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, which was planned by the late Dr Ruth Macrides (University of Birmingham). It is based on the presentation by Dr Dimitra Kotoula, ‘A Piece of Nature’: Arts & Crafts Perceptions of Nature and the Byzantine Monument. The Byzantine Research Fund Archive of the British School at Athens.

Curation:
Dr Dimitra Kotoula, Art Historian/Archaeologist, The Greek Ministry of Culture
Amalia G. Kakissis, Archivist, British School at Athens

Photography and Digital Processing:
Elias Eliadis (Athens)

Website design:
Dr Hallvard Indgjerd, IT Officer, British School at Athens