Works of art

The History of Ancient Art, published in 1764, was an attempt to provide a textbook for the observation of classical works of art. Some of Winckelmann's earlier essays can be understood as a preparation for this, and include the description of the 'Vestals', who wore their clothes with 'noble freedom and soft harmony of the whole, without hiding the beautiful contour of their nakedness'.29 The Apollo of Belvedere represented to him the highest ideal

Figure 3.4 The muscular body of the Torso of Belvedere was admired by many, including Michelangelo and J. J. Winckelmann. It was one of the statues to remain unrestored of art, and the artist had used the minimum amount of material to make its qualities visible. In the fragmented Torso of Belvedere, Winckelmann saw a resting Hercules: 'Each part of the body reveals . . . the whole hero engaged in a particular labour, and one sees here, as in the correct objectives of a rational construction of a palace, the use to which each part has been put.'30 A work of art was conceived as a whole where the idealized parts were brought together in a marvellous balance within a noble contour. He compared the muscled body of the Torso with the sea, where waves give birth to new ones beneath the surface. In the Laocoon, he admired the artist's capacity to have experienced the pain of the body and the greatness of the soul in order to be able to reflect it in marble. Winckelmann believed that artistic development had reached its peak in ancient Greece. It had resulted from a long development, finding its maturity in Phidias and its climax in Praxiteles, Lysippus and Apelles. After this, there had been a rapid decline; of the moderns, only a few such as Raphael and Michelangelo had reached the same perfection.

In the seventeenth century, restoration was not differentiated from normal artistic creation, and 'to restore' meant simply to remake broken parts and those missing due to age or accidents (Baldinucci, 1681). Orfeo Boselli (c. 1600-), disciple of Francis Duquesnoy, was one who had written a treatise on antique sculpture, presenting the principles of pose, proportions, and the iconography of antique sculpture. He regarded such analyses as an essential preparation for correct restoration, and admired the restorations by Bernini, Algardi and Duquesnoy, but he was concerned that good restoration was becoming little valued and poorly paid (Dent Weil, 1966). Winckelmann, instead, claimed that no one had ever properly described old statues, and that the description of a statue must demonstrate the reason for its beauty and indicate the particular features of the artistic style. He rested his judgement on facts that he had verified himself, on the basis of a comparative study, including an accurate analysis and a description of all types of works of art, and drawing on available written documents, especially from classical literature. He had also had the opportunity to study and publish (1760) the important collection of engraved gems of Baron Stosch in Florence, which gave him invaluable comparative material, and covered periods for which no other documents existed.

Though dealing mainly with sculpture, Winckelmann described all the antique paintings that were known in his time. In principle, he thought, all that he said about sculpture should be applicable to paintings; unfortunately, few antique paintings remained, none of them Greek. Thus, Winckelmann could only rely on writings; he wished there had been a Pausanius to make descriptions of the paintings he saw, as accurate as his own. On the basis of the fragments of Roman paintings, assuming that these were copies from or at least inspired by Greek works, Winckelmann could, however, have an idea of the excellence of Greek art.

Greek sculpture and painting had attained a certain maturity earlier than Greek architecture; Winckelmann explained this by noting that they could be developed more freely according to ideal principles, while buildings had to obey certain practical requirements, and could not imitate anything real. He was surprised that the scholars who had described so many architectural monuments had never considered this question. In fact, Winckelmann was the first to write a description of the temples of Paestum, published in 1762. He complained about the loss of so many monuments, even in fairly recent times, some of which had been recorded by artists like 'the famous Peiresc', but others had unfortunately disappeared without a trace.

Pliny had said that great artists never decorated walls with paintings in Greece, and Winckelmann believed that colour had a secondary role: 'Colour contributes to beauty, but it is not the beauty itself; it improves this and its forms. Considering that white is the colour that reflects light most and so is more sensitive; in the same way a beautiful body will be the more beautiful the whiter it is - in fact when naked it will look bigger than it is.'31 According to Winckelmann, coloured or other decorations in architectural ornaments when joined with simplicity, created beauty. 'The thing is good and beautiful, when it is, what it should be.'32 For this reason, he felt that architectural ornaments must be subordinated to the ultimate aims. Accordingly, they should be seen as an addition to a building, and should not alter its character or its use. Ornaments could be considered like a dress that served to cover nakedness; the larger the building, the less it needed ornaments. According to Winckelmann, older architecture as well as the oldest statues, were seldom ornamented.33

Proceeding through the description of works of art, Winckelmann had to distinguish between the original and genuine, and what had been added later. Working together with Raphael Mengs (1728-79), a German painter and one of the chief theorists of neo-classi-cism, he prepared an essay on integrations in sculpture, claiming that there were rules to distinguish with certainty the restored parts from the original, the pastiche from the real.34 This was not done in previous publications, and Winckelmann complained that Montfaucon, for example, had compiled his work mainly on existing prints and engravings, and had often been misled in his identification. He had taken a mediocre statue of Hercules and Antaeus, which was more than half new, to be a work of Polyclitus, a leading sculptor of the second half of the fifth century bc, similarly, he had identified a sleeping figure in black marble by Algardi as antique. Jonathan Richardson (1665-1745), a London portrait painter and writer on art, had described Roman palaces, villas, and statues as if in a dream; many buildings he had not even seen. Yet with all its mistakes this was still the best available publication.

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