Commentary on Understanding the History of Art: Part IV

Tomba Luigi Lanzi from Wikimedia commons by Saiiko
Tomba Luigi Lanzi from Wikimedia commons by Saiiko

(Photo of Luigi Lanzi’s tomb from Wikimedia commons, contributed by Saiiko)

As I mentioned in Part 1 of the article, I came across a fascinating four-page article in Ilsole24Ore with a very interesting angle on the topic of the history of art. Here is the fourth part of the article that I have adapted to a blog format.

To repeat: The synopsis of the article is essentially the posing the question about how the history of art has been formed, tracing a history of some important events in the evolution of that history, and finishing with a reflection on the original question.

Here is my translation from Italian of the fourth part of the article, which continues with more of the key points in the commentary about the history of art:

A narrative that absorbed individual biographies within the broad frame of a unified artistic development first took place with the Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums by J. J. Winckelmann (1764). The theoretical aspect is remarkable, but perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that, although limited to the history of ancient art, this work marked the birth of a new type of art history. This new genre included the ancient history but was not limited solely to that period, and was nourished by antiquarian scholarship. It was inspired by ethical and pedagogical pursuits that found wide resonance throughout Europe.

In fact, the vast fresco, organized by the schools within the history of Italian painting by Luigi Lanzi (1792-96) owes much the intersection between Vasari and Winckelmann. From that point forward, the evolutionary lines of Art History intersect with what we know today.

But the history of art was born neither with Winckelmann, Vasari, nor with Ghiberti. Through Pliny, all of these authors (and many others) derive back to the model of the oldest literature of "art history", which was born in classical Greece in the form of treaties and technical evidence (for example the Treaty for the Parthenon for its architect , Ictinus, or the attribution to Policleto of a statue known as Canon), and also with books on painting and sculpture, sometimes written by the artists (such as Xenocrates in Athens), other times by intellectual "experts" (for example, Duris of Samos). In this way the discourse on art, which had developed in the workshops of artists, entered the literary space, appealing to a potential audience comprised not only of artists, their exhibitions and conventions, but to a wider audience. This was accomplished by adopting technical phraseology derived from the dominant technique used in the contemporary culture: rhetoric .

Just to keep in mind where the article ends up, here is my translation again of one of the main points of the conclusion:

Let us ask, finally, what is the purpose of art history. The answer is simple: like all sciences (and particularly the historical sciences) it helps us understand.

Stay tuned for the fifth and final part of the article coming soon.

Ci sentiamo presto, Lina

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