A quick glance in Dr. Tom Russo's office reveals his strong interest in 12th century sculpture. A fascinating collection of maps and photographs chronicle his work during the past 11 years with the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in the British Isles, a project sponsored by the British Academy in London. Upon completion, the project will provide the first fully searchable archive of British and Irish Romanesque stone sculpture.
Dr. Russo's interest in 12th century sculpture grew out of his graduate school coursework. During that time, he saw a seldom-studied area in history, especially when compared to the classical and Renaissance periods. There were a lot of questions about this period in history, about the resurgence and rebirth of certain art forms, in particular large-scale sculpture. "I'm interested in the junctures in history when something has ended and something new is beginning and the underlying social factors that caused something to end and something new to begin," he said when discussing his passion for this period. "As a graduate student, I decided to see if I could understand it just a little bit better."
Recently returned from seven months in Lincolnshire County, England, Dr. Russo is nearly finished with the research that has consumed his summers and breaks since 1991. A member of a research team comprised of some 50 art historians, Dr. Russo is one of three non-British members, and one of two Americans on the team. "It's been an amazing, eye-opening experience in terms of the religiosity of the 12th century in this one county," he said. "There are over 500 churches in a 50 by 70 mile county." Lincolnshire County, his assignment on the project, has 270 different sites of known 12th century sculpture. He estimates finishing his research with about 3 additional weeks of field work, and hopes to complete his part of the project by next year.
Focused specifically on 12th century Romanesque sculpture in churches and cathedrals, Dr. Russo has scoured the Lincolnshire countryside locating old village churches, some in serious disrepair. Along the way he has discovered many previously unrecorded pieces of sculpture. This year alone, he found at least 20 unrecorded pieces. One particularly interesting find - a king's head - may actually show that the sculptor of a small village parish church was influenced by the county's largest cathedrals, something not previously known.
"My work is really all about looking," he said, "taking the time to sit and look at the wall and things that have changed in the wall. It's visual archaeology, if you will. To me, the discoveries are fun discoveries."
At the completion of the project, the team's findings and research will be published by Oxford and also will be available on the Internet. Preliminary findings, photographs, and detailed descriptions of the team's work can be found at www.crsbi.ac.uk.