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By Richard Woodﬁeld It is customary, in reading art historical surveys, to come across a conflation of
artistic styles and historical periods: 'Gothic', ' Renaissance', ‘Baroque’, ‘Romantic’ and so on. Sometimes the label might be more hesitant, like 'The Age of Baroque ' out of recognition that there might be difficulties in finding complete consistency. Not only did the seventeenth century produce Rubens, Poussin, Rembrandt and Jan Steen but it also witnessed the absolutism of Louis XIV, the English Interregnum and also the rise of the Dutch Republic. One way of handling such labels is to suggest that while having the appearance of labels, they don't actually label anything: the Baroque is not just an abstract entity, it is a non-existent entity. There is no such thing as the Baroque. Nor is there such a thing as history, which progresses, like a boat down a river, identifiable at any given point. If it makes sense at all to talk about progress, as we all do, it would be better to think of a flotilla composed of canoes, steamers, submarines, luxury cruisers, barges and rafts, all having different things going on, crashing into each other and occasionally sinking in places. Another way of looking at such labels is to see them as marking episodes in a well-constructed narrative. The historian cannot describe everything that went on in the past. Selectivity is necessary as is the necessity to make connections and connections cannot be made amongst atomized phenomena. The question is whether one establishes such connections intuitively, as if certain things sound as if they belong together, or whether one does it causally. If there are causal connections, this does not mean that the historian has to produce laws, simply that he gives intelligible accounts of specific phenomena.1 Both in the Morris Review of 1949 and in a paper presented at the Erasmus Symposium in 1988, Gombrich described what would count as a good explanation.2 Historical description is chronicle; the academic study of history is concerned with explanation, art history ‘the causes and roots of style’.3 Suggesting analogies between Einstein's theory of Relativity and Cubism does nothing to explain why Cubism
happened. Suggesting that both Relativity and Cubism are to be explained by appeal to the zeitgeist is simply an appeal to what dramatists called a deus ex machina. This is a point that George Boas made, with great effect, in an article on historical periods: If one can find modal patterns, styles, ideas, and the like in any chronological period, it is useful to discover them. The trouble arises when after their discovery they are erected into an explanatory principle and used to interpret what was actually written or intended to have been written. If you find a spirit of rationalism in a period, like that of eighteenth century England, you simply find it wherever it exists. It does not exist, as far as anyone knows, in any unconscious or subconscious or abstract or metaphysical sense during the period. Therefore one cannot say that Pope wrote as he did because of the rationalism of his age. The age was rationalistic, in so far as it was rationalistic, because Pope wrote the way he did. Consequently when one comes upon someone like Thomson or Collins whose rationalism is not that of Pope, one need not look for a hidden rationalism in their works nor yet wonder why they were not rationalistic.4 Erwin Panofsky no doubt felt that the point had been made against him and replied, in his book Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art,5 that the Renaissance: ay be said to possess a ‘physiognomy’ no less definite, though no less difficult m to describe in a satisfactory manner, than a human individual. There can be legitimate disagreement as to when a human individual comes into being ...; when he comes to an end (with the last breath? with the last pulse? with the cessation of metabolism? with the complete decomposition of the body?); when he begins to be a boy, rather than an infant, ... how many characteristics he may owe to his father, his mother... or any of his ancestors. Yet, when we meet him at a given moment within a given group, we shall not fail to distinguish him from his companions ... and ultimately to form an impression of his total and unique personality.6
This is not the first time that rhetoric has replied to logic and Panofsky’s retort is simply not acceptable. The idea that an ‘age’ has a physiognomy is asserted and not proved and for every feature which is supposed to be an individuating characteristic, some other can be found which imposes a different physiognomic stamp. The same person can hardly have a choleric and sanguine disposition at the same time. While it is true to say that at a particular moment of time people might have much in common, the same people may disagree with each other profoundly. The suggestion that unanimity rules out difference is not much better than saying that all Chinese look alike, which is simply vacuous. The analogy of historical periods with human bodies - being born and passing through infancy into adulthood, middle age and then fading away - may be very attractive but it is fundamentally misleading as it offers fallacious unities through the assumption of structural unity. Gombrich has another way of dealing with the matter, drawing attention to the fact that Hegel and his successors adopted a hermeneutic approach to history. The exegetical approach, which is shared by historians like Panofsky: ases its interpretations on the detection of that kind of 'likeness' that leads the b interpreters of scriptures to link the passage of the Jews through the Red Sea with the Baptism of Christ. Hegel, it will be remembered, saw in the Egyptian sphinx an essential likeness with the position of Egyptian culture in which the Spirit began to emerge from an animal nature, and carried the same metaphor through in his discussion of Egyptian religion and Egyptian hieroglyphics. The assumption is always that some essential structural similarity must be detected which permits the interpreter to subsume the various aspects of a culture under one formula. The art of van Eyck in Huizinga's persuasive morphology is not only to be connected with the theology and literature of the time but it must be shown to share some of their fundamental characteristics.7 The problem is that there is an a priori assumption of necessity and there is no iron law of such isomorphism.8 As Jaques Barzun wondered ‘why did the geometrical Spinoza
languish in the century of geometry and flourish in the biological century of Goethe?’9 If, on the other hand, one starts with human beings, as opposed to hypothetical spirits of the age, one can immediately recognize the importance of movements which claim recognizable allegiances: ovements, as distinct from periods, are started by people. Some of them are M abortive, others catch on. Each movement has a core of dedicated souls, a crowd of hangers on, not to forget a lunatic fringe. There is a whole spectrum of attitudes and degrees of conversion. Even within an individual there may be various levels of conviction, various conscious and unconscious fluctuations in loyalty. What seemed acceptable during a mass rally or revivalist meeting may look pretty crazy on the way home. The Renaissance, for instance, certainly had all the characteristics of a movement. It gradually captured the most articulate sections of society and influenced their attitude in various but uneven ways.10 The movement started with Petrarch, the poet who ‘longed for a revival not only of the power and glory of Rome, but of the beautiful language of Vergil, of Horace and of Cicero.’11 He was the first of the new humanists who searched for and cultivated the study of the classics and who, by careful analysis of their language, purified corrupt texts. In the spirit of emulating antique praise of the visual arts, his friend Bocaccio wrote of Giotto: he genius of Giotto was of such excellence that there was nothing (produced) T by nature, the mother and operator of all things, ... which he did not depict by means of stylus, pen or brush with such truthfulness that the result seemed to be not so much similar to one of her works as a work of her own. Wherefore the human sense of sight was often deceived by his works and took for real what was only painted. Thus he restored to light this art which for many centuries had been buried under the errors of some who painted in order to please the eyes of the ignorant rather than satisfy the intelligence of the experts, and he may
rightly be called one of the lights of the glory of Florence. Just as the humanisti started to purge contemporary Latin of its corruptions so Giotto extracted the naturalistic schemata which lay dormant in Byzantine mosaics to create a new form of imagery which reinstated the naturalism praised by the writers of classical artiquity.12 Perhaps this gives sense to Cennini's later observation that ‘It was Giotto who transferred the art of painting from Greek into Latin and made it new.’13 But there is no reason to suspect that Giotto was, or needed to be, motivated by
the desire to return to an antique way of working himself. In his day the popularity of the teachings of St. Francis meant that a new kind of religious art was in demand, an art which was based on an imaginative contact with a living Christ, and he satisfied that demand: e followed the advice of the friars who exhorted the people in their sermons to H visualize in their mind, when reading the Bible and the legends of the Saints, what it must have looked like when a carpenter's family fled to Egypt or when the Lord was nailed to the cross. He did not rest till he had thought it all out afresh: how would a man stand, how would he act, how would he move, if he took part in such an event? Moreover, how would such a gesture or movement present itself to our eyes? 14 It was only in hindsight that Giotto was incorporated into the story of the rise of art that led to the summits of Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo. One has to wait for the circle of artists praised in the Prologue to Alberti's Della Pittura15 to gain a sense of a group of practitioners who shared mutual interests with the work of the humanists. We do not, in fact, know how Brunelleschi, Donatello, Ghiberti, Lucca della Robbia and Masaccio got on together, as literary testimony is thin on the ground. We do know, however, that Ghiberti not only read classical texts, as he incorporated them into his literary work, the Commentarii, but he saw himself as emulating the artists of antiquity. And he was personally mentioned as a member of a codex-swapping crowd by Aurispa ‘the great collector of Greek manuscripts.’16
Gombrich made considerably more out of the difference between Ghiberti's first
and second sets of Baptistry doors than other commentators. They witness, for him, the birth of renaissance ideals in the visual arts: specifically, the renaissance ideal of artistic progress. The first repeated the model of Andrea Pisano's doors; the second dramatically, and self-consciously, excelled them through the adoption of radically different visual devices. This wasn't simply a matter of one craftsman improving on another craftsman's work; it was more a matter of changing the nature of the competitive game. Ghiberti was familiar with Pliny's account of the growth of the visual arts in the Naturalis Historiae: art progresses by problem-solving. The ultimate ideal is to create a work which is breathlessly natural, embodying ideals of grace, proportion and harmony exemplifying those skills which are appropriate to the medium. Ghiberti repeatedly mentioned the importance of ‘theory’. The sculptors and painters of antiquity ‘(f)rom their knowledge ... wrote commentaries and an infinity of books which have illuminated the path of their successors. They formulated the art by the measure of Nature, and thus reached such heights that neither before nor since have there been created works of such genius and such perfection.’17 Ghiberti's aesthetic refinements followed Pliny as did the embodiment in his work of theory, resulting in optically corrected and technically sophisticated relief sculpture.18 The second Baptistry doors represent a new conception of artistic activity: In the Middle Ages, as social historians always remind us, the artist was really a craftsman, or rather - since this word has acquired a certain Romantic lustre - a tradesman who made paintings and sculptures to order and whose standards were those of the guild. The idea of progress brings in an entirely new element. ... the artist had not only to think of his commission but of his mission. The mission was to add to the glory of the age through the progress of art.19 The underlying idea of art as a demonstration of the skills of problem solving reached a head in the cinquecento with the emergence of the style known as Mannerism which, on Gombrich's reading, was a style representing ‘a crisis in the conception of art rather
than one rooted in the 'spirit of the age'.’20 Ghiberti also knew Niccolo Niccoli who, in turn, was familiar with many Florentine artists: he was a humanist, collector of antiquities and a major protagonist in debates over style. He promoted the idea of the reform of Latin by attention to detail and wrote an Orthography which, in the words of a protagonist, Guarino: hows that it is the author who is a small boy and is not ashamed, against all s rules, to spell syllables which are contracted by nature with dipthongs. ... This white-haired man does not blush to adduce the testimony of bronze and silver coins, of marbles and of Greek manuscripts in cases where the rod offers no problems. ... Let this Solon tell us, if he can, which living author of his age he does not find fault with.21 The hostility to Niccoli's reforms created a polarising effect22 and the debate on correct literary style formed the focus for the spread of humanism: he movement which Niccolo Niccoli represents may have owed some of its t dynamism to what Potter calls 'one-upmanship'. The humanists were reformers of style and language and in this field they could show their demonstrable superiority over the old men who still betrayed their ignorance by spelling nichil instead of nihil or autor instead of aucto.23 When the renaissance spread to northern Europe, the humanist Conrad Celtes wondered how it was possible that: n all these centuries, in all the many schools in Germany, with their scholastic i clamour, all of which pretend to learning, nobody has been found who could write letters or speeches or histories in a civilized and polished way - as it is the custom in Italy, where there are fewer but much more learned universities. Thus [he continues] I was sorry for my Germany because in all its schools I have seen no one to expound Cicero.24
The quarrel between the humanists and scholastics was one of language rather than metaphysics. The humanists argued correctly that the philosophers were hardly in a position to say what Aristotle meant when they were using corrupt texts.25 The reform of Latin spread through Europe. It is unsurprising that these kinds of concern with style were shared by the artists Brunelleschi, Donatello, Luca della Robbia and Ghiberti, particularly as they were Niccoli's friends and he shared their interests. Guarino wrote: Who could help bursting with laughter when this man, in order to appear also to expound the laws of architecture, bares his arms and probes ancient buildings, surveys the walls, diligently explains the ruins and half-collapsed vaults of destroyed cities, how many steps there were in the ruined theatre, how many columns either lie dispersed in the square or still stand erect, how many feet the basis is wide, how high the point of the obelisque rises. In truth mortals are smitten with blindness. He thinks he will please the people while they everywhere make fun of him.26 While it may be a tall order to ask artists to recreate the style of antiquity, it makes much more sense to work by corrections, the first target being the pointed arch. In the words of Giovanni Rucellai, Brunelleschi was the ‘reviver of ancient building in the Roman manner’. Close examination of his buildings shows the extent to which his work displays the spirit of reform, and of reform rather than revolution: runelleschi's reform parallels the humanist reforms also in that respect that it is B more concerned with the weeding out of corrupt practices than with an entirely fresh beginning. What strikes us, in the vocabulary of quattrocento architecture, is less its classical character than its link with the medieval past.27 There is an analogy between Brunelleschi's forms and Niccoli's development of a new style of writing. Niccoli felt compelled not only to eliminate barbarisms from classical texts but to develop a more appropriate way of writing those texts. Not only language but calligraphy formed a focus for reform with the development of littera antiqua; this was
one of those attendant matters which follow the formation of a movement.28 The contemporary style did not capture the effects of antiquity so a more antique style of writing was sought. It was found in the carolingian miniscule, which Niccolo Niccoli took to be older than it was. The same kind of process affected art: the gradual reconstruction of an antique style. Gombrich opened his essay ‘The Style all'antica: Imitation and Assimilation’29 with the observation that: hen Dürer was told in Venice that his work was 'not in the ancient manner and W therefore no good’, he was confronted with the main criterion of exclusion that marks Renaissance criticism in art and letters. To specify the criteria of inclusion that links Renaissance works with Greek and Roman products as a definable family of forms has proved much less easy.30 The purification of style was marked initially by the elimination of conspicuous 'faults'. The creation of a classical style was due, in the first place, to the use of resources carried by medieval art. It was only through the course of the fifteenth century that the imitation of classic motifs developed into a classicising style. Gombrich raised the question of how this was achieved: ow does an artist make this decisive step from the pastiche to the free mastery H of a style? What enabled Raphael and his pupils to generalize on their knowledge of a few ancient monuments and create the dazzling variety of the Loggie? How did Polidoro da Caravaggio advance from the study of classical monuments to his famous improvisations all'antica, which served in their turn as models for countless imitators and emulators? 31 The answer is not straightforward. It is easy enough to suggest that antique art offered an ideal to aim at but it is one thing to admire skill of execution and quite another to achieve it oneself. Antique art offered solutions to the portrayal of complex poses but, remembering that renaissance artists had their own subjects to paint, the conversion of
motifs into fully articulated compositions involved a struggle. It wasn't that the style all'antica simply required fidelity to nature. It had, to use Gombrich's words, a ‘higher fascination: the illusion of movement and life.’32 This was a characteristic that marked the naturalism of the renaissance off from the naturalism of northern Europe.
The humanists offered a set of conceptions about artistic practice by which artists could define their ambitions. This followed both from their knowledge of the kinds of things that interested classical writers in works of art and also the assimilation of painting to rhetoric by Alberti in De pictura. By suggesting that the production of a painting was like the development of a well-constructed sentence, he opened another way to thought about visual imagery. This had its precedents in the ways in which the Roman rhetoricians and poets used analogies with the visual arts to demonstrate points about their own subjects.
It is fascinating to follow the career of humanist praise of contemporary artists. Alberti was famous, of course, for his praise of Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Ghiberti, Donatello and Luca della Robbia. But it is interesting that Pisanello received more praise from humanists than any other artist of the early fifteenth century.33 The rhetorical description of works of art, ekphrasis, could be understood in at least two ways: one with an emphasis on variety, the other with an emphasis on copiousness. Masaccio demonstrated the first and Pisanello the second. So a variety of practices could be matched with humanist interests.
In his essay ‘Apollonio di Giovanni: A Florentine cassone workshop seen through the eyes of a humanist poet’ Gombrich pointed out that:
.. Apollonio's style continued the Gothic tradition, (and) the same was true of . Gozzoli, then decorating the Medici chapel. Moreover, Facius' famous praise of Van Eyck, Rogier, Gentile da Fabriano and Pisanello warns us against identifying the tastes of the humanists with an art all'antica. If it seems strange to us to hear Apollonio praised as 'a second Apelles' it may be well to remember that two other Florentines who had this label affixed to them in Latin epigrams were Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli.
One could argue that the humanists were indiscriminate with their praise, but this is hindsight and a reading into the Renaissance of a backward linear progression from Michaelangelo and Raphael into Masaccio, Ghiberti, Donatello and Luca della Robbia. The humanists could have no conception of what might ultimately emerge from their effect on artists and, as Gombrich ended his essay: Ugolino Vero ... lived to welcome his former pupil Leo X back in Florence late in 1515. It has been conjectured that the Pope's entourage at the time included Raphael, who had just completed his Incendio del Borgo with its many Virgilian reminiscences. One wonders what the aged humanist thought when he looked through his juvenilia and came across his epigram in praise of Apollonio, tuscus Apelles.35 The fact is that our picture of renaissance art is based upon a global effect produced by the selection of a few individual works. Once one realises that Pisanello's painting was utterly apt for ekphrastic description by the humanist Guarino, the difficulties of identifying a renaissance style begin to emerge. This rebounds back again on the problem of what it was to adopt an artique style because if a learned humanist, like Guarino, felt that a particular artist, like Pisanello, had satisfied antique norms of artistic ability, there would be little reason for him to emulate antique works. This is a difficulty which is only glossed over by the identification of regional styles. The question of how Titian participated in the renaissance movement is not explained by putting him in the renaissance period. The various towns and cities of Italy, and indeed Europe, were not hermetically sealed. Artists moved around as did works of art and both carried their values with them. There was greater connection between North and South than is commonly admitted. The idea of zeitgeist makes the idea of northern tapestries hanging on the walls of the Medici houses sound as it they were just a foreign import but the notion of foreign manufacture can be overdone. It could be argued that what creates a culture are the things found valuable within it. The Elgin marbles, like all of our neo-Palladian villas are as much a part of British culture as fish and chips and Christmas.
The renaissance movement developed, of course: When Vasari identified the history of art almost entirely with the history of art in Florence (allowing for such tangible contributions from the North as the 'invention' of oil painting), he was not only prompted by a parochial patriotism. he was writing the history of the new game that had actually sprung up in Florence. And this new momentum acted like a vortex with ever widening range and momentum. The Siennese school, for instance, ceased to preoccupy itself with the problems of the centre and it became provincial, a backwater, very charming no doubt, on the surface, but paying for its refusal to go Florentine as Urbino had done, by being unhitched from the train of progress. Venice, it is true, refused to knuckle under, but then it created its own ideology, its own specific contribution to colour which the Keepers of the Book of Rules grudgingly admitted, even though this variety had to take its place below the more intellectual, and therefore more 'noble' contribution to problems of 'disegno'.36
Mentioning Venice brings to mind Titian, and he had a very important role to play in the development of the nude. I am not sure whether medieval representations of the nude tempted anyone with lustful thoughts. Gombrich remarked that the Bamberg Eve is, in effect Adam, ‘just distinguished by an addition of two small symbolic breasts.’37 Botticelli's Venus, from The Birth of Venus, is an improvement, though from his pentimenti it seems that Botticelli was not all that comfortable with the female form. Raphael's Galatea was even better still but decidedly trumped by Titian's Europa. The creation of an image of ideal feminine beauty to the point, even, of inspiring the spectator with lustful thoughts, was one of the legacies of classical antiquity.38 The nude eventually became an identifiable genre and it was Pliny's mention of different kinds of painter that led to the expansion of genres within renaissance art. As Gombrich remarked: t might be quite a rewarding subject for a doctoral thesis to trace the I application of Pliny's sobriquets to one new artist after another in the literature of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.39 Even the identification of Pyreicus as the rhyparographos (filth- painter) could serve a legitimating function: f a painter such as Pieter van Laer was ready to put up with this identification I with the mythical Pyreicus, his position in the world of art was assured. For does not Pliny concede that his works were full of gay vitality and that they achieved a higher price than the greatest works of many other painters? 40 Within such a context it is not surprising to find Annibale Carracci, the great classicist, painting a butcher's shop in his early years. As Gombrich argued in his unpublished book on secular iconography: . Wölff1in's carefully balanced formula of historical approach to art ‘Not H everything is possible in every period’ applies to iconographical no less than to stylistic questions. As far as illustrative subjects are concerned this fact is too obvious to be discussed. We can not expect to find a Shakespeare-Illustration in the oeuvre of Raphael or an Indian or Old-Nordic myth in the work of Dürer. But that the same statement holds equally true for non illustrative subjects is perhaps more surprising. A beggar-boy by Simone Martini or a flower-piece by Michelangelo is equally absurd an idea as any of the above mentioned incongruities. When a few years ago a still-life in the style of Netherlandish art round 1450 turned up it could not but baffle the experts a good deal. A still-life at this time would have been absolutely isolated, and the style did not allow of much later a date. As a kind of lame compromise between stylistic and iconographical considerations one put it into Quentin Massys’ period. But the real solution which was found soon afterwards was much simpler: The painting was in fact to be dated around 1450, but it was no still-life. It was a fragment of an altar panel by the Master of the Annunciation of Aix and was destined to form the background to a figure of a saint.’41
The idea that something which had previously been located as background and then assumed significance as foreground was brought out in a striking way in his essay ‘The Renaissance Theory of Art and the Rise of Landscape’42 where Gombrich offered an analysis, in miniature, of the ways in which classical discussions of art could effect the emergence of new artistic genres. The point has first to be made, though, that contrary to Plato's description of the work of art being like a mirror held up to nature, the range of artistic subject matter is really quite limited.43 Art is classifiable into ranges of conventional subject matter and when a new subject matter emerges it is legitimate to ask why and how it has. The fascination of landscape painting, as an independent genre, is that it seemed to appear in texts before it appeared in reality. The Anonimo mentioned molte tavolette de paesi and described Giogione's tempesta as ‘a small landscape (paesetto), on canvas, with a thunderstorm, a gipsy and a soldier’.44 In these cases the landscapes were part of the backgrounds of images and did not constitute the subject of the image as they would do in the seventeenth century. The switch occurred through Northern artists satisfying a demand from the South for the kind of painting mentioned in classical texts. In Alberti's dedication of Della pittura to Brunelleschi, he remarked that amongst him and his friends there was ‘a genius for every laudable enterprise in no way inferior to any of the ancients who gained fame in these arts’ without, it must be added, ‘preceptors and without any model to imitate’.45 This should give pause to any suggestion that the Florentine renaissance was a product of its artists copying the relics of classical antiquity. One point linear perspective was invented by Brunelleschi himself, although it was applied by Masaccio to create images which would satisfy the classical demand for realistic imagery. Artists had previously copied motifs from classical remains but it was only very gradually that a secular imagery emerged which tried to capture the spirit of antiquity itself. Architecture was the first to turn classical, followed by sculpture and then painting; this was reflected by the imagery of architecture and sculpture in painting, which provided classical contexts for religious scenes. As Martin Kemp observed: lberti's detailed analysis of classical subjects, such as the 'Three Graces' or the A
'Death of Iphigenia', and his recommendation of Apelles's 'Calumny' as an exemplary historia, seem to have born full fruit later in the century in the practice of Mantegna and Botticelli, both of whom were employed by patrons who were fully cognizant of Alberti 's significance.46 Dürer's visit to Italy bore fruit in his being able to produce more convincing representations of religious scenes than his Northern predecessors. For him, renaissance artists offered a standard against which he could match his own shortcomings, a standard, more over, which was open to rational criticism: p to now many able boys in our German lands were placed with a painter to U learn the art, where, however, they were taught without any rational principle and solely according to current usage. And thus they grew up in ignorance, like a wild and unpruned tree.47 The renaissance movement in the visual arts consisted in problem solving and science played an important, but not exclusive, role in it. Its imagery was intended to be pleasing or striking or stunning to the eye. Cicero and the rhetoricians divided oratory into five parts - inventio, collocatio, elecutio, actio and memoria - and the finest orator was the one whose speech demonstrated ability in all five areas. Vasari also listed five categories which needed to be satisfied by the perfect work of art: regola, ordine, misura, disegno and maniera.48 Like any object which is designed to meet a range of requirements, a work of art may excel in those requirements to different degrees. Along with a perfect balance there may be a perfect imbalance. Dischords may make harmonies sweeter and it is along those lines that we might find our bearings with mannerism. As Gombrich pointed out, there is nothing anti-classical about Mannerist art. Certainly the Mannerists did not see themselves working against either the spirit of classical art49 or the accomplishment of its intellectual ambitions. Alberti's De pictura and its Italian translation were printed in Venice in 1547 and in Florence and Venice in 1568. These publications were not produced, I was about to
write, out of academic interest. Of course that period witnessed the foundation of the academies. They were produced because it was felt that they had something genuine and vital to say about artistic practice. If the Renaissance and Mannerism were separate and distinct historical periods, there could have been little reason for Alberti's work to be so popular at both times. The fact was that he spoke to a continuity of the Renaissance ideal, from the 1430's into the sixteenth century and then upwards into northern Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.50 The connection between artists and humanists is an essential ingredient in the spread of renaissance ideals for the ways in which artists took upon themselves the importance of self-development. This had both intellectual and social consequences. At the beginning of his Commentarii, Ghiberti argued from Vitruvius that: he sculptor or painter should be instructed in all the Liberal Arts: in Grammar, T Geometry, Philosophy, Medicine, Astrology, Perspective, History, Anatomy, Theory of Design and Arithmetic. ... For unlettered sculptors and painters work, as it were, with their hands alone and so lack the authority which would enable them to bring their tasks to a successful conclusion, while those who rely upon theory and letters alone possess the shadow but not the substance. Those, however, who master both are fully armed and reach their goal with far greater speed.51 The fact is that the artists of the Italian renaissance possessed forms of visual knowledge which were the envy of the rest of Europe, particularly perspective and the nude. This was the knowledge that Dürer wished to obtain in his visit to Italy. They also wanted to improve their position in the social pecking- order, by moving from being practitioners of the mechanical arts to becoming liberal artists.52 As Dürer famously wrote to his friend Pirckheimer from Italy ‘How shall I long for the sun in the cold; here I am a gentleman, at home I am a parasite.’53 1. It was lack of intelligibility which lay at the heart of Gombrich's criticism of
Dvořák’s followers in his school-leaving Hausarbeit of 1928. 2. The Morris Review was reprinted in Reﬂections on the History of Art, Oxford 1987 and the Introductory remarks given at the Erasmus Symposium in Holland were reprinted as ‘Approaches to the History of Art: Three Points for Discussion’ in Topics of our Time, London 1991. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 1435. 16. 17. ‘The Renaissance Conception of Artistic Progress and its Consequences’, Norm and Form, London 1966, p. 5. From The Commentaries of Lorenzo Ghiberti, published by the Courtauld Institute of Art n.d. based on Schlosser's edition of the original text in Lorenzo Ghiberti's Denwurdigkeiten, 2 vols., Berlin 1912. 18. ‘I strove in all the measure to imitate nature as far as I could with all the lines that result in it ... they are all in frames so that the eye measures them and so true that standing at a distance they appear to be in the round. They are in very low relief, and in the plane the figures which are near appear to be larger ‘Approaches...’, loc. cit., p. 63. ‘Historical Periods’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 11 (1952-3), p. 249. Uppsala, 1965; reprinted London 1970. Loc. cit., p. 4. ‘In Search of Cultural History’, Ideals and Idols, p. 47. Ibid. ‘Cultural History: A Synthesis’ in The Varieties of History ed. F Stern, London Ibid, p. 51. See also ‘The Renaissance - Period or Movement’ in Background to the English Renaissance, ed. JB Trapp, London 1974. Background to the English Renaissance, p. 10. The Story of Art, 15th edn. 1989, p. 150. Quoted by Gombrich in ‘Light, Form and Texture in Fifteenth-Century Painting’, The Heritage of Apelles, Oxford 1976, p. 24. The Story of Art, ed. cit., pp. 151-2. Translated by Alberti himself from De pictura, which was written a year earlier in
1970, p. 402.
and those which are far off smaller, as in real nature. And I carried through the whole work with these measurements.’ Quoted by Gombrich, ‘The Renaissance Conception of Progress’, p. 7. 19. 20. 21. 22. Ibid, p. 3. Ibid, p. 9. ‘From the Revival of Letters to the Reform of the Arts: Niccolo Niccoli and Filippo Brunelleschi’, The Heritage of Apelles, Oxford 1976, p. 98. Which Gombrich analysed at length in ‘The Logic of Vanity Fair: Alternatives to Historicism in the Study of Fashions, Style and Taste’, a contribution to Popper's festschrift reprinted in Ideals and Idols. 23. 24. 25. Ibid, p. 100. ‘The Renaissance - Period or Movement?’, loc. cit., p. 14. I follow Kristeller in seeing humanism and scholasticism as contemporary phenomena; it is hardly right to say that the first replaced the second when their concerns were different. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. Ibid, p. 103. Ibid, p. 106. See In Search of Cultural History section V ‘Symptoms and Syndromes’. Reprinted in Norm and Form. Ibid, p.122. Ibid, p.127. Ibid, p.128. M Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators, Oxford 1971: t is one of the more disconcerting facts of Quattrocento art history that more I praise was addressed by humanists to Pisanello than to any other artist of the first half of the century; in this sense - and it seems a reasonably substantial one - Pisanello, not Masaccio, is the 'humanist' artist.’ (p. 91.) 34. 35. 36. 37. Op. cit., Norm and Form, p. 20. Ibid, p. 26. ‘The Renaissance Conception of Artistic Progress’, Norm and Form, pp. 9-10 ‘Psycho-Analysis and the History of Art’, Meditations on a Hobby-Horse, p. 34.
The following comments are based on pp. 34-5. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. See Pliny, Historia Naturalis, XXXVI, 20 on Praxiteles' Aphrodite and compare Aretino's notorious letter to the Duke of Mantua. ‘The Renaissance Theory of Art and the Rise of Landscape’ in Norm and Form, pp. Ibid, p. 113. Ms. undated, probably 1938: ‘The Rise of the Genres’ p. 1. Loc. cit. As Linda A. Stone-Ferrier observed, in her introductory essay to the exhibition catalogue Dutch Prints of Daily Life, Lawrence, Kansas 1983: .. studies of Dutch art that have characterized its overall nature and the way the . imagery should be generally interpreted often overlook what the art excludes. The Star of the Kings procession was clearly a popular subject for seventeenthcentury Dutch artists, but there were aspects of the procession that were never depicted, such as the drawing of lots by prominent towns-people to determine which would have the honor of carrying the star in the procession. Although all aspects of the Star of the Kings procession were not depicted, no aspects of certain activities were ever pictured by Dutch artists. The brewer, for example, whose industry was extremely importart to the economy of Haarlem, was almost never depicted except in portraits. A rare drawing on panel presents a view of a brewer's country home and brewery. However, the Haarlem brewers' fellow townsmen - the weavers - were repeatedly depicted by Haarlem artists in paintings, etchings and drawings.’(p.6.) iven the reputation that Dutch artists have for portraying the most common G and mundane aspects of the real work, it is interesting to discover that principles of selection are still alive and well. The invention of the camera has, of course, changed the situation though we can still imagine pictures we would not see, like a photograph of the Pope sitting on a lavatory. The invention of the digitised image will change that. 44. 45. Loc. cit., Norm and Form, p. 109. Leon Battista Alberti: On Painting, trans. Grayson, Harmondsworth 1991, p. 112-3.
34. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. Ibid, p. 23. Dürer, quoted by Gombrich ‘The Leaven of Criticism in Renaissance Art’, in The See ‘Raphael's 'Madonna della Sedia', Norm and Form, pp. 75-6. See Gombrich's analysis of the example of Giulio Romano in ‘The Style all'antica: Imitation and Assimilation’ in Norm and Form. For the diffusion of Alberti's text see Julius von Schlosser, La Littérature Artistique (préface d'André Chastel), Paris 1984, pp. 157 ff. The French edition continued Otto Kurz's work of keeping the bibliographical details of Schlosser's original Die Kunstliteratur up to date. 51. 52. From The Commentaries of Lorenzo Ghiberti, ed. cit. On this subject see the excellent essay by Ernst Robert Curtius ‘Calderon's Theory of Art and the Artes Liberales’, excursus XXIII in European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (trans. Willard R. Trask), London 1953. Calderon wrote a ‘Tractate in Defence of the Nobility of Painting’ as an expert opinion in a conflict between Madrid painters and the tax office: ‘That Spanish art theory went to school to Italian art theory is obvious.’ (p. 560.) The social niceties of being an artist were still being argued in England in the eighteenth century: see Jonathan Richardson, An Essay on the Theory of Painting, 1725 ed. Richard Woodfield, Menston 1971. 53. 9. Quoted by Erwin Panofsky, The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer, Princeton 1971, p.
Heritage of Apelles, p. 112.
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