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Reims on Fire: War and Reconciliation between France and Germany

Thomas W. Gaehtgens

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 civilization, as the rupture between the warring states. 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. 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.

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—once again a timely and pressing issue. Thomas W. 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 emeritus of the Getty Research Institute.

“Scholars interested in politics, diplomacy, war, and material culture will learn much from Thomas Gaehtgens's salutary consideration of the history of the Notre Dame de Reims Cathedral. He has effectively shown (both military and art) historians a new way to think about the role of buildings and monuments in the history of modern wars.”
Michigan War Studies Review

296 pages
6 1/4 x 8 3/4 inches
35 color and 65 b/w illustrations
ISBN 978-1-60606-570-9

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Research Institute