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Gabriel Millet (1867-1953)

Gabriel MilletGabriel Millet was born on April 17th, 1867 in Saint-Louis, Senegal. Orphaned from an early age, he was reared in Nice by his grandmother and pursued his higher education in Paris. Having undertaken high level studies in in history in 1891, he was made a member of the Ecole française d'Athènes (French School in Athens) in the same year. From 1899 he taught at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (in the religious sciences section) before becoming head of studies in 1906. It was here that he dedicated much of his scholarship to the study of Byzantine Christianity and Christian archaeology. He was based here until his retirement in 1937. While teaching at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, he also held from 1927 the chair of aesthetics and history of art at the College de France. In 1929 he was elected to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. He died in Paris on May 8th, 1953, leaving a considerable body of work, not only in terms of volume but also in the range of publications which covered many areas of Byzantine studies.

Millet was firstly a scholar who undertook much field work, and an archaeologist and a photographer, before becoming a scholar of international reputation, an historian, who contributed to the resurgence of Byzantine studies at the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth centuries. It was while he was staying at French School in Athens that he first visited Greece, where he discovered many Byzantine monuments. Many of these were unresearched and lacked serious scholarship. He visited sites in Attica as well as Epirus (Arta), in Macedonia (Thessalonike), in Beotia and in the Peloponnese. It is thanks to him that we have the first and even today still unique monograph on Le monaste`re de Daphni : histoire, architecture, mosai¨ques (1899), and a study on church architecture in Greece (L’E´cole grecque dans l’architecture byzantine, 1916), as well as the first publication on the monuments of Mistra (Monuments byzantins de Mistra; mate´riaux pour l’e´tude de l’architecture et de la peinture en Gre`ce aux xive et xve sie`cles, recueillis et publie´s par Gabriel Millet, avec le concours de Henri Eustache, Sophie Millet, Jules Ronsin et Pierre Roumpos, album de 152 planches, 1910).

He visited the monasteries on Mount Athos, in 1894 and 1898, again in 1918, in 1919 and 1920 which lead to him publishing his study on the inscriptions of Mount Athos, (Recueil des inscriptions chre´tiennes de l’Athos) in 1904 as well as Monuments de l’Athos releve´s avec le concours de l’arme´e franc¸aise d’Orient et de l’E´cole française d’Athe`nes, in 1927. These different stays allowed him to photograph the architectural monuments as well as the painting and sculpture, but also the miniatures and precious objects of the treasures of the Holy Mountain. He was also able to copy and photograph the acts of the main monasteries and was responsible for developing the “Archives of Athos “. In 1916, he published what he called Researches on the iconography of the Gospel in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, according to the monuments of Mistra, Macedonia and Mount Athos (Recherches sur l’iconographie de l’e´vangile aux XIVe, XVe et XVIe sie`cles, d’apre`s les monuments de Mistra, de la Mace´doine et du Mont-Athos). This was original and innovative work, which revealed the importance of the last centuries of Byzantium, and whatever are the reservations today with this publication it is still a very rich source for iconographical research.

Gabriel MilletBut the explorations of Gabriel Millet did not focus on Greece alone. He also went to Istanbul and travelled widely in Turkey, where he made plans and notations on churches and monasteries of Trebizond. He visited Italy (Ravenna, Venice) and Madrid, led missions of study to Dalmatia and Istria (in 1897, and 1901), where he took part to the excavations of the Euphrasian basilica at Porec (Parenzo). But it was in Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, which he visited between 1905 and 1906, that lead from the 1920’s until 1935 to his final research and photographic campaigns. These revealed to the world the importance of Balkan monuments of the Palaeologan period which were considered up to then as works of a declining period (L’ancien art serbe, 1919; La peinture du moyen a^ge en Yougoslavie (Serbie, Mace´doine et Monte´ne´gro) - four posthumous albums published in 1954, on 1957, on 1962 and 1969 by A. Frolow and for t. IV, T. Velmans).

Gabriel Millet did not content himself with studying monuments: his interest also carried on into inscriptions (Greek and Slavonic), objects, manuscripts, coins, seals, and the whole range of religious embroidery, the study of which he pioneered (Broderies religieuses de style byzantin, par Gabriel Millet, avec la collaboration de He´le`ne des Ylouses (1939), and La dalmatique du Vatican; les e´lus, images et croyances (1947).

One of Gabriel Millet greatest accomplishments was to amass a huge corpus of documentation from his many expeditions. He brought back to Paris thousands of notes, plans, architectural drawings, copies of inscriptions and manuscripts, sketches and watercolors (some of which are due to his wife, Sophie Millet, as well as artists including Pierre Benouville, Yperman and Ronsin. Of considerable importance however is the impressive quantity of photographs on glass plates which he amassed. From 1899 onwards he gave all his personal documentation to the EPHE and created in 1903 what he called The Christian and Byzantine Collection. This consists of more than 2000 photographic plates, prints on paper, engravings, and watercolors which constituted the embryo of what was to become one of the most important collections in the field. At the instigation of Gabriel Millet other donations followed from Byzantinists and researchers, such as Clédat, Kondakov, Jerphanion, Gertrude Bell, and institutions such as the Orthodox Society of Palestine, the Academy of Sciences of Belgrade, the Academy of Sciences of Skopje, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres, etc. All of these collections provide a fine coverage for the study of Greece and the Balkans and are now irreplaceable. The Collection, which has more than 100,000 photographic documents on Christian arts of East (monuments, manuscripts, objects), continues to be extended with donations from researchers.

Three catalogues on the collection exist:

Gabriel Millet, La collection chrétienne et byzantine des Hautes Etudes Paris 1903.

André Grabar et alii, Catalogue des négatifs de la Collection chrétienne et byzantine fondée par Gabriel Millet, Paris 1955.

Dominique Couson, Catalogue des documents photographiques originaux du fonds Gabriel Millet, Louvain 1986 (catalogue devoted to the missions in Yougoslavia).

Another catalogue by Ioanna Lagou, who, as assistant of conservation and research, takes care of the daily maintenance of the archive is in progress.

D. Couson-Desreumaux and E. Delage conceived and realized three online exhibitions:

- In 1999, Baouit. Complexe monastique. Missions archéologiques Jean Clédat 1901-1905

- In 2001, L'art byzantin dans la collection Gabriel Millet

- In 2003, Centenaire de la Photothèque Gabriel Millet

In 2010, the association Patrimoine sans frontières and the Centre Gabriel Millet (EPHE) conceived and realized a multi-media exhibition: http://www.patrimsf.org/expomillet/ Byzance à travers un siècle de photographie. Le fonds Gabriel Millet révélé.

For a long time accommodated in Sorbonne, the photographic collection, which is temporarily housed at 190-198, avenue of France, 75244 Paris cedex 13, will join the City of humanities and social sciences, Campus Condorcet Paris-Aubervilliers within the next few years.

Catherine Jolivet-Lévy
Directeur d'études à l'Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes
Directrice de la Collection chrétienne et byzantine (Photothèque Millet).

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