This feature is translated from the French original
Coventry is inspired by Geneva
[Journal de Genève, 18-19 august 1951]
Within a few months, the city of Coventry, totally destroyed by the bombing of the Luftwaffe in 1940 – especially during the night of 14 November – will have a beautiful mosaic, executed by the master mosaicist R. Antonietti. Geneva similarly has mosaics that notably decorate our Old Arsenal, the surroundings of the temple of Cologny, the choir of the church of Chêne-Bourg, respectively designed by Alexandre Cingria, Madame Marguerite Naville and the young painter Strijensky.
Now, how did our city inspire the Coventry regenerators in the arts? How did it give them the idea of decorating one or more of their public buildings with mosaics designed in the same spirit as those, banished from the court of our Hotel de Ville, now placed at the Old Arsenal, and the object of the admiration of all foreign tourists. Admiration which contrasts sharply with the ostracism of which they were formerly the object?
It happened that last year, Mr. Donald Gibson, CBE, architect of the city of Coventry – an official with an extremely heavy workload, since it is his task to rebuild a city with 300,000 inhabitants – During a trip to Switzerland, noticed the mosaics of the Old Arsenal. Mr Gibson moved heaven and earth to find out who had created this work. Having finally discovered the interpreter of it (as alas, its original creator, A. Cingria died in 1945), he asked him if he would like to create one or more mosaics in Coventry. Mr. R. Antonietti agreed. A year has since passed. It was not until the last few days that the Director of the Coventry School of Fine Arts, Mr H.R. Hosking, arrived in Geneva, sent by Mr Gibson. He is in charge of making the boxes for the mosaics at Coventry and running the project on site. We talked for a long time with Mr. Hosking, who from the start was enthusiastic.
– What will be the theme of your project?
A difficult theme. It will be a question of representing eleven martyrs of the Reformation, eleven persons who perished for their faith, when England turned away from Rome. The difficulty will not lie in the fact that these martyrs died for the Reformation, because the essential thing is to know how to die well for one’s convictions. The problem is primarily artistic, but I know that Mr. Antonietti will collaborate with me and help me. What I saw of him amply proves it … “We shall work fifty-fifty!”.
– I think Coventry must be almost completely rebuilt today?
Alas! no … The destruction was such that we do not know how we will have enough manpower, enough materials … It will take us ten to twenty years, before our city looks a little like yours …
– Yet in Italy, in Germany, in France, for five to six years, the record of the ravages has almost disappeared everywhere.
Yes … But we rely only on ourselves, in England. We believe, however, that we need to enrich ourselves artistically; despite our limited means, we want to make a contribution to beauty. That’s why I was sent here by Mr. Gibson, in an official capacity. I was, I confess, a little worried, before arriving, but now that I have seen and understood the spirit in which the art of mosaic was conceived, at your Arsenal and the church Chêne-Bourg, I’m calm, because I now know what to do … Your beautiful city, once again, will have shown how to go about solving problems, problems that this time are not only humanitarian, but artistic …