Classicism as Power Author(s): Henri Zerner Source: Art Journal, Vol. 47, No.
1, The Problem of Classicism: Ideology and Power (Spring, 1988), pp. 35-36 Published by: College Art Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/776903 . Accessed: 19/05/2011 17:12
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if we read S. The term "classical" primarily refers to GrecoRoman antiquity. which appears protoMannerist. Freedberg has gone as far as anyone else towards giving substance and precision to the concept of classicism in the case of the Italian Renaissance. or "classicizing" rather than properly classical. highclass music if they like it or boring.2 In the interest of precision. He is explicit about the Supper at Emmaus when he writes: "in the relation of each part to its including form there is a sense of lucid sequen-
. but I am struck by the success of W1olfflin's attempt and its impact on later literature. J.1 Today we view the art of Greece and Rome as totally disparate. or even the Transfiguration. however. woven out of the ornamental motifs." Although we do not use the same language in the visual arts. Even among the works of Raphael-surely the prototypical classical artist-there are exclusions. any hierarchy. The question here is not one of right or wrong-whether archaism is indeed a feature of classicism-but what it is that makes such an unexpected statement possible. at being precise. the Louvre would seem abnormal and therefore not classical. Bach. not to say perverse. There has been an effort to refine the use of the term by narrowingits application. sometimes excessive perhaps.Classicism as
By Henri Zerner There are many uses of the words "classical" and "classicism. Attempts at defining such a transhistorical classicism are generally unsuccessful and sometimes bizarre. What interests me here is as much their diversity-one might even say their incompatibility-as what they have in common. because it helps us to understand the situation. Delacroix thought that the art of classical antiquity was a unity: The antique is always even. I once read a list of the features of classicism that included "archaism. serene. complete in its details and of an ensemble which is virtually beyond reproach. Gombrich has criticized Wolfflin on the grounds that although he claimed to establish the Baroque on an equal footing with the classical art of the Renaissance. Today Bernini or Caravaggio are considered the equal of any artist. Freedberg's account of Caravaggio's work. This is all very well. And conversely. so to say. the meantime.3 Indeed W1olfflin described the classical in positive terms. especially the Italian Renaissance or the seventeenth century in France. as it does in Italian classicism. As late as the middle of the last century. Historians tend to restrict the classical to the late fifth and early fourth century in Greece and to Roman art of the Augustan period. The moment one attempts to generalize the notion of classicism outside a specific historical situation. classical music is what belongs to a specific tradition of music as "high art. We might say that in relation to precedents the Louvre is unclassical. We think of Lescot's facade of the Louvre as a model of French classicism. but do not take away from a single antique work that peculiar value which all of them owe to that unity of doctrine. he has narrowed the application to the point where there is little material that will fully qualify. But in France. like the Borghese Entombment. In Italy. for instance. In Italy.H. I shall return to this question below. the density of ornament is so great that it no longer serves. Despite these efforts. it is only the High Renaissance that now qualifies. Nevertheless.J. let us turn to the language used to describe music. to call the art of ancient Greece and its aftermaths "classical" is to say that this is the best. it becomes even more unmanageable. E. Whether it be Palestrina. when we step outside the Greco-Roman lineage we tend to extend the term "classical" to the art that is at the top of a hierarchy. One would think that its works were done by a single artist: the nuances of style differ in the various periods. whereas for the Baroque he used terms-like instability and absence of frame-that denote a want. But most people mean something entirely different by classical music: they mean serious. and it is extended to periods that draw their inspiration from this ancient classical world. it was so extensively used as a model that it became the most exemplary and consequently "classic" building of the century. and thereby may have betrayed a preference for the classical. the whole facade is. Beethoven." Each of us may approve or disapprove of one or the other." Now many of us would think of archaism as antithetical to classicism by definition. This is true even within a rather narrow definition. which is felt to go beyond the boundaries of the classical. And indeed. the highest art of all-something that was in fact taken for granted over a long period of time. pretentious music if they prefer rock. or Stockhausen. he really kept the classical as a norm. that is. Art historians understandablywish to be precise in their vocabulary. to that tradition of strength with reserve and simplicity which the moderns never attained in the arts of design nor perhaps in any of the other arts. More than that. the word "classical" tends to escape our control. but that later history has made it classical. In particular. where the Farnese Palace would be the norm. one anchored in the Greek model. Historians of music use the term "classical" in a reasonably precise manner to refer to the art of the late eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth even if they do not necessarily agree on the exact boundaries of the classical style. the use made of the classical repertory of forms at the Louvre is highly idiosyncratic. whereas many works of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are rejected as preclassical. as a way of accenting the architectonic organization. It used to be that all the art of antiquity from Myron to the late Roman Empire was considered classical. the archaic being precisely that which precedes a mature or classical phase. S. it is by no means presented as an anticlassical art. Mannerist. its vocabulary is borrowed from the tradition of Greco-Roman classicism as seen through the Italian Renaissance.
1983. of a hierarchy. lished. 63.Greece in the fifth century B. London. The power that become a type of classicism. authoritative art. Gombrich. principally the kind of naturalism first developed in ancient Greece. classicism. has become a ment. In reason to believe that classicism has any the process of being made the equal of meaning beyond this: the art of authoriclassicism. gives a chosen kind of art this authority Wolfflin's effort to revalue this kind of can be at its inception. I believe it has to do with the development of a particular kind of naturalism in fifth-century Greece and that this kind of naturalism is able to make one believe that the authority of this art is grounded in nature. insofar as the painting of Mondrian made claims to a new kind of classicism. And pears as classical. Freedberg. The content. while as a theoretical tool it has indefinitely expanded. High Renaissance Painting in Rome and Florence.u
. J. which come later. no reason why it should not be considKrazy Kat is a classic.. H. But the urge to naturalize power has favored certain forms of art. It would be my contention that. but that its authority is inscribed in nature herself? This rhetoric of nature is obviously present in the sculpture and painting of the Greco-Roman tradition. one reason may be comes to feel that can question. So that if a hieratic and think we are being ironic.because there have been times when the
. Why it is so remains an interesting Of course.C. What should be better for a power in place than to make us believe that it is not simply there by an act of force. it is strikplace. the classical implies the establishment and the association of this art with a of a norm. But once the classics are estab. 1961. but it can also defeated his own main purpose. The concept of simply the lasting power of authority. there ered classical in the wider sense of the is a difference between having estab.nal status may have been.A-
authority of Greek classicism disappeared. as in the art of art was so totally successful that it Julius II or Louis XIV. Walter Pach. Hart Schaffner & 36 Art Journal
Henri Zerner is Curator of Prints at the Fogg Art Museum. ready ing to what extent a particular type of enough to talk about Mayan art or As. and has time and again restored it to a position of authority. and stability of relationship strong as the original one of the classthat makes an order of an explicitly room-the classics being the great classical kind. classicism has become narrower and narrower. I would say this: as a descriptive term for specific historical phenomena. In the end." we may say it tongue-in-cheek and tendable. 93-94. Cambridge. Indeed. As a The art of Caravaggio had been suprahistoricalconcept. But takes is power. Then it should no longer surprise us that such an art would be resurrected under different circumstances. to hold large one. 2 S. then. there is might as well be in earnest.tiality. we begin to see how archaism can tals. and at that point classicism is in that has authority and power.art has been able to assume this role syrian reliefs as classical-which would (Fig. the step to classicism is not a very able.. Impressionist Classical as polar opposites. 1961. whatever its origiThe classical is the ultimate attain.
1 The Journal of Eugene Delacroix. p. in its various aftermaths.forms involved. trans. Mass. 1 Advertisement. 4 S. not as the representation of nature but as the direct result of the nature of the materials and the function of the building. It is worth pointing out that in our century the one kind of architecture that was. as a universal category rather than a specific historical occurrence. New York. 1). We may well where Brancusi is revered by the domiscavenge through comic strips and nant culture. Circa 1600. and it was always understood in its architecture as well. banks and government buildtury critic. Cycladic sculpture apdecide which are the "great" ones. his baroque style has in fact ty. passim. for instance. but in fact we archaic type of art is dominant. of power under whatever form. Cambridge. Similarly. the norm wherever a hierarchy is kind of Park Avenue classicism. Freedberg.
3 E. able to displace the Greco-Roman model-the modernist architecture sometimes called the International Style-makes a comparable claim to being grounded in nature. And established or imposed. and appropriate a body of was to establish the Baroque and the art that already exists. The connotation of class this is not enough as an explanation in the social sense in the word "classi. there is no despised as crude unartistic realism. If the classical is simply the art strip. J. It should not be too difficult to authority over long stretches of our culidentify a classical phase of the comic ture." in Norm and Form: Studies in the Art of the Renaissance."4 examples proposed to students. painting. for instance. We are. Of course. p. Mass. it was on the ground that it represented the underlying principles of nature. and in the whole image a clarity. capimind. seems indefinitely exsic. The fact remains that the art of lished classics and a concept of classihas been cism. classicism means nothing more than an assertion of authority. pp. 619.word. if not its appearance. at least temporarily. in America have greatly puzzled a nineteenth-cen. "Norm and Form:The Stylistic Categories of Art History and Their Origins in Renaissance Ideals. cal" goes a long way back and is as coherence. In modern times. We need to understand how it could reassert itself.especially. and pediments of the Greco-Roman be thought of as a possible feature of tradition with extraordinary assertiveness. anything One be called classical. and what this glorious moment of Greek history. And with these examples in ings have displayed the columns. the when we say that Krazy Kat is a "clas. 1966.