Dictionary of Art and Artists



History of

Architecture and Sculpture


















SCULPTURE and ARCHITECTURE- Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCULPTURE and ARCHITECTURE - Part1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20



The history of the two movements to be dealt with in this chapter covers roughly a century, from about 1750 to 1850. Paradoxically, Neoclassicism has been seen as the opposite of Romanticism on the one hand and as no more than one aspect of it on the other. The difficulty is that the two terms are not evenly matched, any more than are "quadruped" and "carnivore." Neoclassicism is a new revival of classical antiquity, more consistent than earlier classicisms, and one that was linked, at least initially, to Enlightenment thought. Romanticism, in contrast, refers not to a specific style but to an attitude of mind that may reveal itself in any number of ways, including classicism. Romanticism, therefore, is a far broader concept and is correspondingly harder to define. To compound the difficulty, the Neoclassicists and early Romantics were exact contemporaries, who in turn overlapped the preceding generation of Rococo artists. David and Goya, for example, were born within a few years of each other. And in England the leading representatives of the Rococo, Neoclassicism, and RomanticismReynolds, West, and Fuselishared many of the same ideas, although they were otherwise separated by clear differences in style and approach.


The Enlightenment

If the modern era was born during the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789, these cataclysmic-events were preceded by a revolution of the mind that had begun half a century earlier. Its standard-bearers were those thinkers of the Enlightenment in England, France, and GermanyDavid Hume, Francois-Marie Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Heinrich Heine, and otherswho proclaimed that all human affairs ought to be ruled by reason and the common good, rather than by tradition and established authority. In the arts, as in economics, politics, and religion, this rationalist movement turned against the prevailing practice: the ornate and aristocratic Rococo. In the mid-eighteenth century, the call for a return to reason, nature, and morality in art meant a return to the ancients. After all, had not the classical philosophers been the original "apostles of reason"? The first to formulate this view was Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the German art historian and theorist who popularized the famous concept of the "noble simplicity and calm grandeur" of Greek art (in Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works .... published in 1755). His ideas deeply impressed two painters then living in Rome, the German Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779) and the Scotsman Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798). Both had strong antiquarian leanings but otherwise limited artistic powers. This may explain why they accepted Winckelmann's doctrine so readily. Mengs' importance lies principally in his role as a propagator of the "Winckelmann program," since his paintings amount to little more than weak paraphrases of Italian art. He left Rome in 1761 after executing his major work, a ceiling fresco of Parnassus inspired by Raphael, and went to Spain, where he vied with the aging Tiepolo.

It is a measure of Italy's decline that leadership should pass to the Northerners who gathered in Rome, which remained a magnet for artists from all over Europe. The only Roman painter who could compete on even terms with the foreigners was Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787), a splendid technician who continued the eclectic classicism of Carlo Maratta but is remembered today chiefly for portraits of his English patrons. This vacuum helps to account for the astonishing success of Mengs and Hamilton. Toward the end of Batonis career the Italian school was eclipsed once and for all by the French Academy in Rome under Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809), its head from 1775 to 1781. To French artists, a return to the classics meant, of course, the style and "academic" theory of Poussin, combined with a maximum of archaeological detail newly gleaned from ancient sculpture and the excavations of Pompeii. Vien himself Was a minor artist, who reduced history painting to genre scenes of ancient lite, but he was a gifted teacher, and it was his pupils who were to establish French painting as the inheritor and self-proclaimed guardian of the great tradition of Western art.



Jean-Baptiste Greuze.

In France, the anti-Rococo trend in painting was at first a matter of content rather than style, which accounts for the sudden tame around
1760 of Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805). The Village Bride (fig. 857), like his other pictures of those years, is a scene of lower-class family life. What distinguishes it from earlier genre paintings (compare fig. 803) is its contrived, stagelike character, borrowed from Hogarth's "dumb show" narratives (see figs. 839 and 840). But Greuze had neither wit nor satire. His pictorial sermon illustrates the social gospel of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that the poor, in contrast to the immoral aristocracy, arc full of "natural" virtue and honest sentiment. Everything is intended to remind us of this, from the declamatory gestures and expressions of the actors to the smallest detail, such as the hen with her chicks in the foreground: one chick has left the brood and sits alone on a saucer, like the bride who is about to leave her "brood." The Village Bride was acclaimed a masterpiece, and the loudest praise came from Denis Diderot, that apostle of Reason and Nature. Here at last was a painter with a social mission who appealed to the beholder's moral sense, instead of merely giving pleasure like the frivolous artists of the Rococo! In his first flush of enthusiasm, Diderot accepted the narrative of Greuze's pictures as "noble and serious human action" in Poussin's sense.

857. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. The Village Bride. 1761.
Oil on canvas, 91.3 x 118 cm. Musee du Louvre, Paris

Jacques-Louis David.

Diderot modified his views later, when a far more gifted and rigorous "Neo-Poussinist" appeared on the scene: Jacques-Louis David
(1748-1825). A disciple of Vien, David had developed his Neoclassical style in Rome during the years 1775-81. Upon his return to France, he quickly established himself as the leading Neoclassical painter, overshadowing all others by far, so that our conception of the movement is largely based on his accomplishments. In The Death of Socrates (fig. 858) of 1787, he seems more "Poussiniste" than Poussin himself (compare fig. 809). The composition unfolds parallel to the picture plane like a relief, and the figures are as solid and immobile as statues. David has added one unexpected element: the lighting, sharply focused and casting precise shadows. It is derived from Caravaggio, as is the firmly realistic detail. (Note the hands and feet, the furniture, the texture of the stone surfaces.) Consequently, the picture has a quality of life rather astonishing in so doctrinaire a statement of the new ideal style. The very harshness of the design suggests that its creator was passionately engaged in the issues of his age, artistic as well as political. Socrates, refusing to compromise his principles, was convicted of a trumped-up charge and sentenced to death. About to drink poison from the cup, he is shown not only as an example of Ancient Virtue, but also as the founder of the "religion of Reason." Here he is a Christlike figure amid his 12 disciples.

858. Jacques-Louis David. The Death of Socrates. 1787.
Oil on canvas,
129.5 x 196.2 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


David took an active part in the French Revolution, and for some years he had controlling power over the artistic affairs of the nation comparable only to Lebrun's a century before. During this time he painted his greatest picture.

The Death of Marat (fig. 859). David's deep emotion has made a masterpiece from a subject that would have embarrassed any lesser artist, tor Marat, one of the political leaders of the Revolution, had been murdered in his bathtub. A painful skin condition required immersion, and he did his work there, with a wooden board serving as his desk. One day a young woman named Charlotte Corday burst in with a personal petition, and plunged a knife into his chest while he read it. David has composed the scene with a stark directness that is awe-inspiring. In this canvas, which was planned as a public memorial to the martyred hero, classical art coincides with devotional image and historical account. However, classical art could offer little specific guidance here, even though the slain figure probably derives from an antique source, and the artist has drawn on the Caravaggesque tradition of religious art far more than in The Death of Socrates. It is no accident that his Marat reminds us so strongly of Zurbaran's St. Serapion (see fig. 775).

859. Jacques-Louis David. The Death of Marat. 1793.
Oil on canvas, 165 x 128.3 cm.
Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgiquc, Brussels


Benjamin West.

The martyrdom of a secular hero was first immortalized by Benjamin West
(1738-1820) in The Death of General Wolfe (fig. 860). West traveled to Rome from Pennsylvania in 1760 and caused something of a sensation, since no American painter had appeared in Europe before. He relished his role of frontiersman. On being shown the Apollo Belvedere (see fig. 209) he reportedly exclaimed, "How like a Mohawk warrior! " He also quickly assimilated the lessons of Neoclassicism, so that when he left a few years later, he was in command of the most up-to-date style. West stopped in London for what was intended to be a brief stay on his way home, but stayed on to became first a founding member of the Royal Academy, then, after the death of Reynolds, its president. His career was thus European rather than American, but he always took pride in his New World background.

We can sense this in The Death of General Wolfe, his most famous work. Wolfe's death in 1759, which occurred in the siege of Quebec during the French and Indian War, had aroused considerable feeling in London. When West, among others, decided to represent this event, two methods were open to him. He could give a factual account with the maximum of historic accuracy, or he could use "the grand manner," Poussin's ideal conception of history painting, with figures in "timeless" classical costume. Although he had absorbed the influence of Mengs and Hamilton, he did not follow them in this paintinghe knew the American scene too well for that. Instead, he merged the two approaches. His figures wear contemporary dress, and the conspicuous figure of the Indian places the event in the New World for those unfamiliar with the subject. Yet all the attitudes and expressions are "heroic." The composition, in fact, recalls an old and hallowed theme, the lamentation over the dead Christ (see fig. 522), dramatized by Baroque lighting (see fig. 777). West thus endowed the death of a modern military hero with both the rhetorical pathos of "noble and serious human actions," as defined by academic theory, and the trappings of a real event. He created an image that expresses a phenomenon basic to modern times: the shift of emotional allegiance from religion to nationalism. No wonder his picture had countless successors during the nineteenth century.

860. Benjamin West. The Death of General Wolfe. 1770.
Oil on canvas, 151 x 213.7 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

John Singleton Copley.

West's gifted compatriot, John Singleton Copley of Boston (1738-1815), moved to London just two years before the American Revolution. As New England's outstanding portrait painter, he had adapted the formulas of the British portrait tradition to the cultural climate of his hometown. In Europe, Copley was at last able to attain his ideal of history-painting in the manner of West. His most memorable work is Watson and the Shark (fig. 861). As a young man, Watson had been dramatically rescued from a shark attack while swimming in Havana harbor, but not until he met Copley did he decide to have this gruesome experience memorialized. Perhaps he-thought that only a painter newly arrived from America would do full justice to the exotic flavor of the incident. Copley, in turn, must have been fascinated by the task of translating the story into pictorial terms. Following West's example, he made every detail as authentic as possible (here the black man has the purpose of the Indian in The Death of General Wolfe) and utilized all the expressive resources of Baroque painting to invite the beholder's participation. Copley may have remembered representations of Jonah and the Whale, which include the elements of his scene, except that the action is reversed: the prophet is thrown overboard into the jaws of the sea monster. The shark becomes a monstrous embodiment of evil; the man with the boat hook recalls an Archangel Michael fighting Satan; and the nude youth, resembling a fallen gladiator, flounders helplessly between the forces of doom and salvation. This kind of moral allegory is typical of Neoclassicism as a whole, and despite its charged emotion, the picture has the same logic and clarity found in David's Death of Socrates.

861. John Singleton Copley. Watson and the Shark. 1778.
Oil on canvas, 182.9 x 229.2 cm. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Angelica Kauffmann.

One of the leading Neoclassicists in England was the Swiss-born painter Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807). A founding member of the Royal Academy, she spent 15 years in London among the group that included Reynolds and West, whom she had met in Winckelmann's circle in Rome. From the antique this disciple of Mengs developed a delicate style admirably suited to the interiors of Robert Adam, which she was often commissioned to adorn. Nevertheless, Kauffmann's most ambitious works are narrative paintings, of which the artist John Henry Fuseli (see page 673) observed, "Her heroines are herself." The Artist in the Character of Design Listening to the Inspiration of Poetry (fig. 862), one of her finest paintings, combines both aspects of her art. The subject must have held particular meaning for her. The prototype of the allegorical "friendship ' pictures showing two female figures that remained popular into the Romantic era (see fig. 911),
it is eloquent testimony to women's struggle to gain recognition in the arts. The artist has assumed the guise of Design, attesting to her strong sense of identification with the muse.

862. Angelica Kauffmann.
The Artist in the Character
of Design Listening to the Inspiration of Poetry.
Oil on canvas. The Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood London

George Stubbs.

George Stubbs
(1724-1806), who painted portraits of racehorses (and sometimes their owners) for a living, developed a new type of animal picture full of feeling for the grandeur and violence of nature. On a visit to North Africa, he is said to have seen a horse killed by a lion. Certainly this image haunted his imagination. Lion Attacking a Horse (fig. 863) can be seen as an animal counterpart to Copley's Watson and the Shark, and it has similar allegorical overtones as well. People have no place in this realm, and the artist identities himself emotionally with the horse, whose pure whiteness contrasts so dramaticallyand symbolicallywith the sinister rocks of the lion's domain. Thunderclouds racing across the sky reinforce the mood of doom. The poor horse, frightened also by the approaching storm, seems doubly defenseless against these forces of destruction. We respond to the horse in the same way as to the unfortunate Watson: with mixed fascination and horror.

Although it looks forward to Romanticism, Stubbs' effort at endowing his animals with nearly human action and emotion was the beginning of a larger investigation that was characteristic of the Enlightenment. He later made a series of drawings for a book of comparative anatomyincluding one that could well be used to illustrate Plato's dictum of human beings as featherless bipedswhich emphasizes the similarities in physiology and psychology between people and animals. His scientific curiosity and comprehensive approach relate him to the attempt by Diderot in his massive Encyclopedic to unite knowledge and philosophy into a single, coherent system.

863. George Stubbs. Lion Attacking a Horse. 1770.
Oil on canvas,
102 x 127.6 cm.

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut


Picturesque landscape painting was as distinctive to the Enlightenment as the English garden
, to which it was closely related. As the term implies, the picturesque was a way of looking at nature through the eyes of landscape painters. The scenery of Italy and the idyllic landscapes of Claude contributed to the English appreciation of nature. In articulating sentiments inspired by these examples, English nature poets such as lames Thompson further validated the aesthetic response to nature, often through references to mythology. The picturesque was soon joined by wilder scenes reflecting a taste for the sublimethat delicious sense of awe experienced before grandiose nature, as defined by Edmund Burke in Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful of 1756. After touring the rugged lake region of England in 1780, William Gilpin claimed, however, that the picturesque lay somewhere between Burkes extremes, since it is neither vast nor smooth but Unite and rough. The picturesque later came to include a topographical mode and a rustic mode, but remained fundamentally a way of manipulating nature to conform to artistic examples.

Alexander Cozens.

Alexander Cozens (c. 1717-1786), who helped to originate the picturesque, soon tired or these models, which he felt could produce only stereotyped variations on an established theme. The direct study of nature, important though it was, could not be the new starting point either, for it did not supply the imaginative, poetic quality that for him constituted the essence of landscape painting. As a teacher, Cozens developed what he called "a new method of assisting the invention in drawing original compositions of landscapes," which he published, with illustrations such as figure 864, shortly before his death. What was this method? Leonardo da Vinci, Cozens noted, had observed that an artist could stimulate his imagination by trying to find recognizable shapes in the stains on old walls. Why not then produce such chance effects on purpose, to be used in the same way? Crumple a sheet of paper, smooth it; then, while thinking generally of landscape, blot it with ink, using as little conscious control as possible. (Our example is such an "ink-blot landscape") With this as the point of departure, representational elements may be picked out in the configuration of blots, and then elaborated into a finished picture. Cozens' blotscape, then, is not a work of nature but a work of art. Even though only half-born, it shows, if nothing else, a highly individual graphic rhythm.

Because it relies on art, the Cozens method still falls within the pieturesque, while the sweeping nature of his attempt places it within the Enlightenment, with its love of systems. Needless to say. however, it has far-reaching implications, theoretical as well as practical, but these could hardly have been understood by his contemporaries, who regarded the "blot-master" as ridiculous. Nevertheless, the "method" was not forgotten, its memory kept alive partly by its very notoriety. The two great masters of Romantic landscape in England, John Constable and William Turner, both profited from it, although they differed in almost every other way.

864. Alexander Cozens.
A New Method of Assisting the Invention in
Drawing Original Composition of Landscape,
1784-86. Aquatint.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


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