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The art behind the words

Exploring the gap between criticism and the paintings

Hans Raben • Boek • paperback

  • Samenvatting
    As a painting leaves the artist’s workshop it becomes a focus of various sentiments and thoughts... It will be admired or disliked, it will be analyzed on technical grounds and commented upon.
    It took a long time for this process to become visible. This study examines some examples of the manner in which critical reactions began to manifest themselves in an age in which writing about works of art was leaving the tradition of ex cathedra declarations. The views of three art lovers from that typical transitory period at the end of the sixteenth century are analyzed in opposition to the common modern assumption of a style revolution taking place in those days. Next, the dilemmas of an outspoken critic as Giovan Pietro Bellori from the middle of the seventeenth century are deciphered. And finally, the thoughts of one of the first painters to claim a personal interpretation of his works, the great Nicolas Poussin, are reconstructed by means of a close reading of his own notes and critical reactions on remarks of his patrons.
  • Productinformatie
    Binding : Paperback
    Distributievorm : Boek (print, druk)
    Formaat : 140mm x 204mm
    Aantal pagina's : 240
    Uitgeverij : Raben
    ISBN : 9789464065923
    Datum publicatie : 03-2021
  • Inhoudsopgave

    Preface 9

    PART I – Introduction
    ‘Prima l’immagine, poi le parole’  11

    PART II – The revolution that was not
    The traditional view  17
    Painting in Rome after 1550 19
    The Counter-Reformation  20

    PART III – The witnesses
    Van Mander, Mancini, Baglione 27
    Theory or Taste? 32
    A selective approach 38
    Considerable reservations 41
    From reservations to disregard 47
    A younger generation 54
    Towards the new century 63

    PART IV – Landscape painting, a symptom of change
    The lure of landscape 81
    Recovery of space and nature 82
    After the paintings the painters 88
    The Counter-Reformation 90
    The market 92
    Praise and criticism 94

    PART V – Roundup
    Roundup 103

    PART VI – The critic behind the words
    The critic speaks 107
    Art and theory 108
    Bellori’s Rome 112
    Who is missing? 117
    A personal choice 117

    Case studies
    Annibale and the Farnese puzzle 121
    A testcase 124
    The limits of lightheartedness 126
    Caravaggio 127
    Color and light 130
    Painting and politics 131
    A revelatory riddle 132
    Conclusion 135
    Appendix 138

    PART VII – The painter behind the words
    ‘An Oracle of Painting’ 151
    Positioning Poussin 153
    Rules and the Man 159
    Poussin’s “Modes” 161
    The painter speaks  170
    A swan song  173
    The painter and his literature  175
    No doctrine 180
    Finishing touches 181
    Appendix 184

    Epilogue 195
    References 199
    Index 223
    List of illustrations  235
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‘Prima l’immagine, poi le parole’

There is an inseparable link between an image and the beholder’s reaction. As an artist, Marlene Dumas even speaks of ‘an eternal struggle between words, images and gestures’. It is a phenomenon common to every age, but one that takes on many forms, depending on cultural context, personal qualities and technical possibilities. So when a few examples of this process, taken from painting in Rome of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, are analyzed in depth in the following studies, the findings say as much about the background of those commentaries as about the works of art in question.
A brief review of a few historical examples of society’s reaction are sufficient to illustrate the wide variety of forms that this can take on. It is known from as far back as deepest antiquity how the naturalistic innovations in the public statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV
Ekhnaton (14th century bc) were rejected by the Egyptians and destroyed immediately after his death. It was to be many centuries before there was a greater understanding of the interplay between artwork and beholder. In the first place it is thanks to Pliny the Elder (ad 23 – 79) that we can gain an insight into the practice in classical Greek society. He mentions how sensitive the painter Apelles (352 – 305 bc) was to public criticism about his works that he took to skulking out of sight so that he could hear, incognito, what people were saying However, there were limits to his readiness to accept criticism, as is clear from the anecdote about the remarks made by a passing cobbler.3
This story and others like it indicate that there was a lively relationship between a work of art and criticism in those days, although we are not given a clear idea of the reasons for the criticism. The only clue is the widespread demand that depictions had to be lifelike. It turns out much later that Sophist orators like Philoctetus (c. ad 300) had developed an advanced vocabulary for their extensive descriptions of the beauty of real and above all fictitious works of art. However, those writings were intended solely to demonstrate the rhetorical skills of the authors. The beauty of the work of art in question was taken for granted. They are therefore examples of the authors’ ability to describe beauty, not of the criticism per se. [...] ×