Risham Majeed: Romanesque and Republic, Ethnography and Empire

The following paper will be delivered as part of Questioning Geographies and Temporalities: Postcolonizing Medieval Art on February 12th, at the College Art Association’s 98th Annual Conference in Chicago.

Romanesque and Republic, Ethnography and Empire: Displaying Medieval and African Art at the Trocadéro, 1878–1937

Risham Majeed, Columbia University

This paper examines the ways Romanesque and African art came to be defined as “originary” and “primitive” through their parallel display over the course of sixty years in two museums at the Trocadéro, Paris, the Musée de la sculpture comparée and the Musée d’ethnographie du Trocadéro. The 1878 Universal Exposition resulted in the formation of these two influential museums in Paris. Housed respectively in the Passy and Paris wings of the Trocadéro, they were created to simultaneously exalt France’s medieval past while vindicating her colonial present. The MSC publicized the achievements of France at home by celebrating la genie française of medieval sculptors while the MET became emblematic of the nation’s future colonies through display of the fruits of her conquests. At the Trocadéro Romanesque art would find aesthetic redemption in its association with Gothic, while African art would remain statically “primitive,” removed from time and alien to history.