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Études traditionnelles had a particular character determined by Guénon and obviously very congenial to Coomaraswamy. Its central idea was that underlying all the major religions was a common metaphysical doctrine, an original revelation, known only to initiates. The religion as experienced by its ordinary adherents was the exoteric form of this esoteric doctrine. The orthodoxy of the religion could be judged by the extent to which the esoteric doctrine remained implicit in in the exoteric form. Roman Catholicism was more orthodox than Protestantism, Hinduism was more orthodox than Buddhism (though Lipsey, p.170, says Guénon revised his views on Buddhism in agreement with Coomaraswamy), Sunni Islam was more orthodox than Shi'i Islam (leading to tensions between the Guénonian school and the specialist in Iranian religion - Shi'i Muslim and Zoroastrian - Henry Corbin [6]).

[6]  See Xavier Accart: 'Identité et théophanies. René Guénon (1886-1951) et Henry Corbin (1903-1978)'. Available as a pdf (September 2016) at

The esoteric tradition had, Guénon believed, been maintained in 'the East', especially in Hinduism, but was largely lost in 'the West'. The aim of Études Traditionnelles was to recover it, and this work was regarded as strictly intellectual. Using a traditional Hindu understanding of religious paths, Guénon followed the way of knowledge (jñāna), not the way of devotion (bhakti) or the way of asceticism and practise (karma). Guénon, however, did not write as an academic. He presented the result of his researches in a rather blunt, take it or leave it, manner. Coomaraswamy on the other hand saw it as his particular role to influence the western intelligentsia, to correct the ideas of the 'orientalists', and therefore used all the machinery of his wide-ranging erudition across several different religious traditions, with detailed footnotes often reinforcing an argument derived from one particular religious tradition with quotations from central figures in other religious traditions. Within Christianity he had a special fondness for the scholastic philosophers.

Gleizes himself was surprisingly well-read in these matters. He had access to a large theological library formerly belonging to his wife's great uncle, a Roman Catholic Bishop. But the esoteric truth that interested Gleizes was, he believed, expressed in the plastic act of the artist and craftsman, not in the arguments of the philosophers and theologians. In particular he distrusted scholastic philosophy, associating it with the art of the 'early Renaissance', when imitation of the external appearance of things in nature began to assert itself against the rhythmic spirals and arabesques of the Romanesque. La Forme et l'histoire almost seems to regard the emergence of any sort of literary culture as in itself a decadence of the religious mind, and insists that the new and necessary theologian will have to be formed not in the University but in the desert: 'the Theologian needs to be remade like everything else ... it is in the desert that he must forget rhetoric and philosophy, in the desert that he will once again find the simplicity to speak, simply and mysteriously ...' ('Forme et histoire', p.322).

Nonetheless, he could not help but be impressed by the quotations Coomaraswamy found in the scholastics, especially Thomas Aquinas's: 'Art does not imitate nature in its effects but in its mode of operation.' Both Gleizes and Coomaraswamy repeat this endlessly like a mantra through the 1930s but I do not think it appears in Gleizes's writings prior to his encounter with Coomaraswamy. We might also note the scholastic slogan Ars sine scientia nihil which appears as the motto to his essay written in homage to Coomaraswamy, Active tradition of East and West. Coomaraswamy also uses it, for example in his essay The Christian and oriental, or true, philosophy of art (p.29).

In the 1940s something resembling a schism appeared in Gleizes's immediate circle between what we might call Guénonians and anti-Guénonians. Pouyaud helped to found the journal L'Atelier de la rose as an equivalent of Études traditionnelles for the use of artists and craftsmen. [7] But the Benedictine monk, Dom Angelico Surchamp, who had joined up with Gleizes shortly after the end of the war, founded Zodiaque to give a more mainstream Roman Catholic viewpoint. [8] Zodiaque evolved into the great series of books celebrating Romanesque art throughout Europe but especially in France. Both sides claimed Gleizes for their own. The Australian potter Anne Dangar was very much on the Catholic side of the division and very hostile to the influence of Guénon which, she thought, was producing an atmosphere of intellectual and spiritual arrogance among those who claimed some knowledge of the true esoteric doctrine. She continued, however, to use and admire the writings of Coomaraswamy, especially those concerned with the need for a revival of craftsmanship.

[7]  An anthology of articles from L'Atelier de la rose, with an informative historical introduction by Henri Giriat, was published in 2008.

[8]  There is an account of the early history of Zodiaque in Surchamp 2001. For the view of Surchamp's friend and supporter Anne Dangar that it was a reaction to L'Atelier de la rose see Brooke 2001 p.261.