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Account For The Centrality Of Ancient Sculpture To The Canon Of Art In Western Europe Between The Renaissance And The Early Nineteenth Century.

1240 words - 5 pages

The sculptures of the Pantheon were often seen as the best examples of the 'highclassical style' Greek art. They consisted of one long frieze, several square panels andtwo huge triangular compositions which were taken from the main temple of thegoddess Athene in Athens built c550 BCE. However the Pantheon marbles did notarrive in the West until the first half of the nineteenth Century and although ancientsculpture was central to the canon during the Renaissance, most examples were eitherRoman copies of Greek works or Hellenistic.Art theorist Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1615-96) made a significant contribution to thedevelopment of the canon by looking closely at ancient sculpture and using it to applyto modern standards of painting. His main point from the extracts of his book Lives ofthe Modern Painters, Sculptors & Architects 1672 is that perfect beauty does notexist in nature, therefore the realm of Ideas should be used to overcome naturaldeformities and disproportion. Bellori, sites Cicero as a perfect exemplar, as when hecalved the sculptures of Jupiter and Minerva he "did not contemplate any object fromwhich to take likeness, but considered in his mind a form full of beauty on which heconcentrated..." (Fernie, p64) Bellori likened the Ideal as a reflection of the firstperfect creation, thus giving it Godly significance.Bellori's arguments were based on the ideas of a number writers from antiquity as wellas Vasari's The Lives of Artists (1568). He was lead to the concluded that artistsshould seek out the works that best showed the Ideal beauty and strive to attain thesequalities in their own works. Thus he defended the art of Raphael and others whencritics said they were merely "imitators of antiquity" (Ferni, p61).Bellori's book had a significant impact on the development of the canon from theRenaissance until the early nineteenth century. By being championed by artists such asPoussin (1594-1665) and Le Brun (1619-90) who achieved canonical status duringtheir own lifetime, the classical style which focused on achieving Ideal beauty becamethe institutionalised norm, whilst artist like Caravagio were snubbed by critics for beingtoo realistic.Later writers such as Johann Winckelmann (1764) also expressed great admiration forthe famous antique sculptures, but he emphasised Greek art as the high point ofclassical art. This in the long run helped to establish the their pre-eminence. He statedexplicitly that ancient art was superior to that of his own day because ancient art wasdrawn from "Ideal beauty" (Fernie, p76), while contemporary art was based on thebeauty of the "individual"(ibid). In addition he echoed Bellori's advice to study theancient sculptures first hand, and even suggested residing in Rome for at least twoyears.This shows ancient sculpture must have been central to the study of art and art historywhich in turn influenced the development of the canon. Indeed copying fromancient sculpture remained a central part of the education of...

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