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art history and its methods

~~a critical anthology

selection and commentary by eric fernie


Phaidon Press Limited
Regent's Wharf
All Saints Street
London NI 9PA

First published 1995


© Phaidon Press Limited

ISBN 0 7148 2991 9

A CIP catalogue record for this book


is available from the British Library

All rights reserved. No part of this publication


may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system or transmitted, in any form or by any
means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or othervvise, without the
prior permission of Phaidon Press Limited.

Printed in Hong Kong


Contents

PART I

Introduction:
A History of Methods
10

From Antiquity to the Renaissance:


Piecemeal Beginnings
10
The Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries: Biographies
II
The Eighteenth Century:
Cultural History, and the Cycle
12
The Nineteenth Century: Empiricism,
Metaphysics and Cultural History
13
The Early Twentieth Century:
Responses to Modernism
15
The Mid-Twentieth Century:
Cumulative Variety
17
The Late Twentieth Century:
New Art Histories
18
The Present: Versatility and Potential
21
ART HISTORY AND ITS METHODS

PART II 10 I Heinrich Wolfflin


Principles ofArt History, 1915
Texts 127

I Giorgio Vasari II I Paul Frankl


The Lives of the Artists, 15 68 Principles of Architectural History, 1914
22 152

2 I Karel van Mander 12 I Roger Fry


The Pointer's Book, 1604 Vision and Design, 1920
43 157

3 Giovanni Bellori 13 I Henri Focillon


Lives of the Modern Pointers, The Life of Forms in Art, 1934
Sculptors and Architects, 1672 168
58
14 Alfred H. Barr
4 I Johann Joachim Winckelmann 'The Development of Abstract
The History ofAncient Art, 17 64 Art', 1936
68 179

5 IJohann Wolfgang von Goethe 15 Erwin Panofsky


Of Germon Architecture, 1772 'The Histoiy of Art as a Humanistic
77 Discipline', 1940
181
6 IJacob Burckhardt
Reflections on History, 1872 16 I Nikolaus Pevsner
85 An Outline of European Architecture, 1943
196
7 I William Morris
'The Revival of Architecture', 1888 17 I Arnold Hauser
92 The Philosophy ofArt History, 1959
201
8 I Giovanni Morelli
Italian Pointers, 1890 18 I Susan Sontag
I03 'Against Interpretation', 1964
214
9 I Alois Riegl
Late Romon Art Industry, 190 I 19 I E.H. Gombrich
116 'In Search of Cultural Histoiy', 1967
223
CONTENTS

20 William Fagg PART Ill

Search of Meaning 1n African


Art', 1973 Glossary of Concepts
237 analysis/synthesis, anthropology,
antiquarianism, archaeology,
21 T.J.Clark architecture, art, art history,
The Conditions of Artistic Creation', avant-garde, beauty, biography,
1974 canon, classic, connoisseurship,
245 cultural history, culture, cycles,
design history, discourse analysis,
22 John Onians empiricism, evolution, feminism,
'Art History, Kunstgeschichte and forms, geography, hegelianism, _
Historia', 1978 history, humanism, iconography,
254 ideology, intention, marxism,
modernism, patronage, periods,
23 Michael Baldwin, Charles politics, post-, postmodemism,
Harrison and Mel Ramsden poststnucturalism, progress,
'Art History, Art Criticism and psychoanalysis, psychology,
Explanation', 1981 quaIity, reception theory,
259 representation, semiotics,
sources/influences, style, subjects/
24 Svetlana Alpers disciplines, teleology, theory,
'Interpretation without typology, vocabulary
Representation, or, The Viewing 323
of Los Meninos', 1983
281 Select Bibliography
I 369
25 I Hans Belting
The End of the History ofArt?, 1984 Index
291 I 370

26 Griselda Pollock Acknowledgements


'Feminist Interventions in the I 384
Histories of Art', 1988
296

27 I Olu Oguibe
'In the "Heart of Darkness"', 1993
314
5

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ( 1749-1832) is one of the giants of German culture, being at 77
various times poet, novelist, dramatist, scientist philosopher, statesman and administrator-a pro-
lific writer whose collected works number over a hundred volumes. He was born in Frankfurt and
studied at Leipzig and Strasbourg, after which he lived in Weimar, except for an important visit to
Italy in the 1780s. His insight and energy had profound effects in many fields, from the physics of
colour theory to the development of the artistic and literary movements of his time. In this last
regard his greatest influence was on Genman Neoclassicism and Romanticism, but his all-encom-
passing range of interests also included Gothic architecture, which he encountered during a visit to
Strasbourg Cathedral in his student days. This is the subject of the essay reprinted here, which was
originally published by Johann von Herder ( 1744-1803), the leading scholar in Goethe's circle of
friends whose views on Gothic rendered Goethe sensitive to the style in the first place. 1 Had it
been left to Goethe it would almost certainly not have seen the light of day, as within a few months
he had re1ected the Gothic and moved on to an involvement with the classical. Yet his influence
was such that the essay can be considered one of the main causes of the Gothic revival in
Germany, d1scourag1ng the fantasizing form of the 'Gothick', and encouraging people to approach
the style with the same seriousness as they would the classical. Thus the Gothic is as great as the
classical, 1n the same way as, for Herder, Shakespeare is as great as Sophocles, because he is com-
pletely different. 2

The essay is more a hymn of praise to a work of genius than a discussion of the methods of
the history of art. It has nevertheless been included here because of the self-awareness with
which Goethe contrasts his expectations of the style with his experience of it and because
it marks a fundamental change in the status of the medieval element 1n Vasari's ·cycle and hence
1n the shape of art-historical writing. Since the time of Vasari, if not earlier, medieval architecture
in the form of the Gothic style had been seen as the epitome of the barbaric, and was re1ected
(and sometimes supported) accordingly. Goethe's experience before the fa~ade of Strasbourg
Cathedral led him to the contrary view that the principles underlying its design were the reverse
of barbaric (fig. 13).

The Gothic style which he had expected to encounter at the Cathedral was the embodiment
of the irrational, that is, the grotesque, arbitrary, confused, unregulated, unnatural, botched
and overladen, like 'some malformed, curly-bristled ogre'. Instead he says he experienced a
ART HISTORY AND ITS METHODS

78

13 Strasbourg Cathedral, south doorway of the


West fa1=ade, late thirteenth century.
This portal is part of the fa1=ade which prompted
Goethe's realization that the Gothic was not the
random and irrational style he had expected, but
one of structural logic and clarity.
GOETHE

sensation of wholeness, 1n which all details were harmonized and all masses present because they
were necessary.

The relationship between the concepts of Gothic and of nature is a complicated one in Goethe's
text. It 1s ironic that he exhorts the architect, Erwin, to make his building rise heavenwards like a
tree, with boughs, twigs and leaves, since the old view of Gothic as barbaric was closely connected
with the belief that it had arisen among the Goths in Spain as a substitute for their abandoned
northern forest glades. He also describes the irrational Gothic which he expected to find as
'unnatural', whereas the supporters of the irrational view of Gothic considered the style the
epitome of the natural. This contradiction illustrates the protean form which the idea of nature
enjoyed in the eighteenth century, being simultaneously the touchstone of beauty and the essence
of the functional, the inrational and the non-rat1onal. 3

I Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Of Germon Architecture ( 1772), translated by Geoffrey Gngson as 'Goethe and
Strassburg', Architectural Review, 98, 1945, pp. 156-9. Other translations are available 1n john Gdge, Goethe on Art
79
London. 1980, pp. I 03-12, and E.G. Holt, A Documentary History of Art. II Michelangelo and the Mannerrsts, the Baroque
and the Eighteenth Century, Garden City, NY. 1958. pp 361-9
2 'Goethe and Strassburg', op. cit .. p. 156.
3 See Nikolaus Pevsner, 'Goethe and Architecture', 1n Studies 1n Art Architecture and Design, vol. I, London, 1968,
p. 167.
5 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Of German Architecture, 1772

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Vim de11tscher


Ba11k11nst, n.p., I 772. Excerpt from 'Goethe and
Strassburg', translated from Von deutscher
Bauk1mst by Geoffrey Grigson, Architectural
Review, 98, 1945, pp. 156-9.

80 I wandered round thy grave, noble Erwin, and searched for thy tombstone, to
have revealed to inc 'anno do mini 13 r 8 xvr Kai. Feb. obiit Magistcr Ervinius,
Gubcrnator Fabricae Ecclesiae Argentinensis' [the year of our lord 1318, 17
January, died Master Erwin, director of the fabric of the church of Strasbourg].
And I could not find it, and none of thy countrymen could show it me, that my
veneration might be poured out at the holy place; and I was deeply sad in my soul;
and my heart, younger, warmer, more innocent, better than now, vowed thee a
memorial so soon as I attained the quiet enjoyment of my possessions - of marble
or of sandstone as I might afford.
Y ct why needst memorial! Thou hast set up to thyself one most glorious. And
ifthe ants crawl round and care not for they name, thou sharest the destiny of that
architect who piled mountains into the clouds.
It has been granted to few to create a Babel-thought within their souls, whole
and great, and by necessity beautiful to the smallest part, like the trees of God. To
fewer it has been granted to meet a thousand proffered hands to carve out the
rock-ground, to charm steep cliffs thereon, and then dying, to say to their sons 'I
abide with you in the works of my spirit: complete to the clouds that which is
begun.'
Why needst memorial! And from me! It is superstition or blasphemy, when the
rabble pronounces sacred names. Before thy colossus, the weak mannikins of taste
reel giddily, and spirits that are whole will know thee without interpreter. Only,
0 excellent man, thus, before I venture my patched-up skiff back upon the
Ocean, more likely toward death than prize - behold: here in this sacred copse,
where all around the names of my beloved are in leaf, I cut thine into a beech-tree
rising slenderly like thy spire, and hang up by its four corners this handkerchief
with gifts - not unlike that cloth which was let down from the clouds to the holy
apostle, full of clean and unclean beasts: so also full of plants, blossoms, leaves, and
maybe dry grass and moss and night-grown toadstools - all that I have collected
on a walk through insignificant regions, coldly botanising for my pastime - I ded-
icate in thy honour to decay.
In a small taste, says the Italian, and goes by. Childish things, babbles the
Frenchman after him; and clicks open his snuff-box a la Grecque, in triumph.
GOETHE

What have ye done, that ye dare despise! Has not the Genius of the Ancients,
rising from its tomb, chained thine, 0 Latin foreigner! Creeper in the mighty
fragments to cadge proportions, cobbler of summer houses out of the holy wreck-
age, looking upon thyself as guardian of the mysteries of Art because thou canst
account, to inch and to fraction, for gigantic buildings! Hadst though but felt,
more than measured - had the spirit of the masses thou gap est at come upon thee,
then hadst thou not imitated only because they did it and it is beautiful. Then by
necessity and truth hadst thou created thy designs, and living beauty might plasti-
cally have welled from them.
'-so upon thy wants thou hast whited a show of truth and beauty. The splendour
of the effect of columns struck thee; thou, too, didst want to use them, didst wall
them in; thou, too, didst want colonnades, and didst circle the forecourt of St
Peter's with marble walks, which lead nowhere from nowhere; so that Mother
Nature, who despises the improper and unneccessary, drove thy rabble to prosti-
tute this splendour to public cloacae, so that men turn away their eyes and hold 81
their noses before the Wonder of the W odd.
This is the way things wag: the artist's whim serves the rich man's wilfulness:
the topographer gapes, and our dilettanti, called philosophers, lathe out of proto-
plastic fables rules and history of the fine arts down to now, and true men arc mur-
dered by the evil Genius in the forecourt of the mysteries.
Rules, nmre than examples, harm the man of genius. Before his day, a few
people may have worked our a few parts. He is the first, from whose soul ernerge
the parts grown together into one eternal whole. But school and rule fetter all
power of perceiving and acting. What does it profit us, 0 neo-French philoso-
phizing connoisseurs, that the first man who sensed his needs, rammed in four
tree-trunks, joined up four poles on top, and topped all with branches and moss?
From that thou dost decide what is proper for our needs today, as if thy new
Babylon were to be ruled by thee with innocent patriarchal fatherliness.
And it is, moreover, wrong, that thy hut is the world's first-born. Two poles
crossed at the top at the one end, two at the other, and one pole across, as a ridge,
and that indeed, as thou canst see every day in the huts of field and vineyard, is an
invention much more primeval, from which thou canst not even deduct thy pig
sty es' rule.
So not one of thy conclusions can soar into the region of truth: all float in thy
systcrn's atmosphere. Thou wouldst teach us that which we should need, because
by thy principles that which we do need cannot be justified.
The column thou hast close to thy heart; and in another region of the world
wouldst be a prophet. Thou sayest: the column is the first essential component of
the building, and the most beautiful. What sublime elegance of form, what pure
manifold greatness, when they stand there in rows' But take care not to use them
with impropriety. Their nature is, to stand detached. And woe to the wretches
who have riveted their slender shoots to lumpish walls!
And yet, my dear Abbe, it seems to me, that repeating often this impropriety of
walling columns in, which made the moderns stuff masonry even into the inter-
columnia of ancient temples - that his might have roused some thought in thee. If
thine ear were not deaf to truth, those stones might yet have sermonized it to thee.
ART HISTORY AND ITS METHODS

Column in no manner is a component of our dwellings. Rather, it speaks


against the essence of all our building. Our houses do not arise out of four
columns in four corners; but from four walls and four sides, which are there
instead of all columns, exclude all columns, and where men stick them on, they
are a burdening superfluity. The very same holds true of our palaces and our
churches, a few excepted, which I need not heed.
Your buildings thus describe planes, and the more widely they stretch, the more
boldly they rise to heaven, the more unendurably must their uniformity press
upon the soul. Ah, but the genius came to our help! That genius which ministered
thus to Erwin of Steinbach, saying 'Make variform the vast wall, which thou must
carry heavenwards, so that it rises like a most sublime, wide-arching Tree of God,
who, with a thousand of boughs, a million of twigs, and leafage like the sands of
the sea, tells forth to the neighbourhood and glory of the Lord, his master.'
When for the first time I went towards the Minster, general notions of Taste
82 filled my head. By hearsay, I honoured the harmony of the masses, the purity of the
forms, was a sworn enemy of the tangled arbitrarinesses of Gothic ornament.
Under the Gothic heading, I piled up, like the article in a dictionary, all the syn-
onymous misunderstandings of the confused, the unregulated, the unnatural, the
patched-up, the botched, the overladen, which had ever passed through my head.
Foolishly as a people, which calls the foreign world barbaric, I named Gothic all
that did not fit into my system, from the neatly-turned, gay-coloured cherub-dolls
and painting our bourgeois nobility adorn their houses with, to the solemn rem-
nants of older German Architecture, whose few fantastical frettings made me join
in the universal song: 'Quite squashed with ornament.' And so, as I walked towards
the Minster, I shuddered in prospect of some malformed, curly-bristled ogre.
With what unlooked-for emotions did the sight surprise me, when I stepped
before it! A sensation of wholeness, greatness, filled my soul; which, composed of
a thousand harmonizing details, I could savour and enjoy, yet by no means under-
stand or explain. So it is, men say, with the bliss of Heaven. How often have I
come back to enjoy this sacredly profane bliss, to enjoy the gigantic spirit of our
elder brethren in their works. How often have I come back, to behold, from
every side, from far and near, in every differing light, its dignity and glory. Heavy
it is on the spirit of Man, when his brother's work is so sublimely reared, that he
must only bend and worship. How often has the twilight, with its friendly still-
ness, refreshed my eye wearied with wide-eyed exploration, when it made the
numberless parts melt into whole masses; and now, simple and great, these masses
stood before my soul, and my power rapturously unfolded in enjoyment and
understanding. Then was manifested in me, in faint diving, the genius of the great
master mason. 'Why art thou astonished?' he whispers towards me. 'All these
masses are there of necessity, and dost thou not see them in all the older churches
of my town? Only I have raised their arbitrary proportions into harmony. How
above the main porch, which lords over two smaller ones to either side, the wide
rose-window opens, answering to the nave; and commonly but a hole for day-
light, how, high above, the bell-loft asked for the smaller windows! All that was
necessary; and I shaped it into beauty. But, ah, when I hover through the dark,
sublime openings, which seem to gape there empty and vain! In their brave
GOETHE

slender form have I hidden the mysterious forces which were to raise high into
the air those two spires, of which, alas, only one now sadly stands, lacking the
five-pinnacled crown I destined for it, so that the provinces about should do
homage to it and its kingly brother.' And so he parted from me, and I sank down
into a sadness of compassion, until the birds of morning, which haunt its thousand
openings, made jubilee towards the sun, and roused me from my slumber. How
freshly it sparkled in the morning-scented brilliance! How jocundly could I
stretch out my arms towards it, open my eyes to the great harmonious masses,
quickened into numberless small parts! As in works of eternal Nature, down to
the minutest fibril, all is shape, all purposes to the whole. How the firm-grounded
gigantic building lightly rears itself into the air! How filagree' d, all of it, and yet
for eternity! To thy teaching, genius, I owe it that I reel no longer at thy depths,
that into my soul distils a drop of that blissful stillness of the spirit, which can look
down upon its own creation, and like God, can say that it is good!
And now shall I not rage, 0 Holy Erwin, ifthe German learned in art listens to 83
envious neighbours and misjudges his advantage over them, and misunderstand-
ing the word Gothic, belittles thy work, when he should thank God he can
announce loudly: This is German architecture, this is ours, when the Italian can
boast none of his, and even less the Frenchman.
And if thou wantest not to concede this advantage, then prove to us that the
Goth already built like this - thou wilt have difficulty. And, beyond all, if thou
canst not demonstrate that there went a Homer before Homer, willingly will we
leave to thee the story of little efforts that succeed or fail, and tread in worship
before the work of the master who first created from the scattered elements a
living whole. And thou, my dear brother in the spirit of seeking after truth and
beauty, shut thine ears to all word-strutting about fine art, come, enjoy, open
thine eyes. Beware. Desecrate not the name of thy most noble artist, and hurry,
come close, and behold his glorious work. Be the impression on thee loathsome,
or none, then fare thee well, harness up, and begone to Paris.
But I join thee, dear youth, standing there moved, unable to blend the contra-
dictions crossing in thy soul, feeling now the resistless might of the great unity,
now scolding me for a dreamer who sees beauty where thou seest only strength
and roughness. Let no misunderstanding divide us, be not girled for rough great-
ness by the soft doctrine of modern beauty-lisping, lest thy sick sentiment in the
end can hear only with smooth littleness. They would make thee believe the fine
arts have sprung from that bent presumed in us for beautifying all things around.
Untrue! In that sense by which it might be true, the genteel and the artisan might
use the words, but no philosopher.
Art is plastic long before art refines; and yet is great true art, yes, greater and
truer than the very fine. For in man is a plastic nature, which at once, when his
existence is secure, proves active. As soon as man has nothing to worry him or to
make him fear, the demi-god gropes round for matter to breathe his spirit into,
quickening in his own peace. And thus with fantastical strokes, with horrid shapes,
high colours, the savage decorates his cocoa-shell, his feathers and his body. Let
the plastic art be composed of the most arbitrary forms, still it will cohere, without
proportions of form; for One Feeling worked it into a characteristic whole.
ART HISTORY AND ITS METHODS

Now this characteristic art is the only true art. If, out of ardent, united, indi-
vidual, independent feeling, it quickens, unconcerned, yet, unconscious, of all
that is strange, then born whether of rough savageness or civilized sensibility, it is
whole and living. Countless degrees of this may be seen among nations and indi-
vidual men. The more the soul rises to the sense of those proportions which alone
are beautiful and of Eternity, whose main chords can be proved, whose secrets
only felt, in which alone the life of God-like genius wallows in blessed melodics;
the more this beauty enters into the essence of a mind so that mind and beauty
appear to have sprung forth together, so that nothing can satisfy them but each
other; so that the mind can quicken nothing but out of beauty, the happier is the
artist and the more glorious, the deeper do we bend and worship God's anointed.
And from the rung to which Erwin has mounted up none shall push him
down. Here stands his work: step hither, and discern the deepest sense of truth
and beauty of proportions, quickening out of strong, rough, German soul, out of
84 the strait, gloomy pope-ridden stage of the medium ac1m111.
And our aev11111? It has renonnced its genius, it has sent its sons round to collect
strange growths for their damnation. The light Frenchman, who makes still worse
a patchwork - he has at least a kind of cunning to fit together his plunder into one
whole, he builds out of Greek columns and German vaults his Magdalene's
wonder-temple. And from one of our artists, when he was asked to invent a porch
for one of our old German churches, has come, to my seeing, a model of stately
antique column-work.
I will not recite how hateful are our painters of rouged dummies and cherubs.
They have taken the eyes of the women by their stagey postures, their lying com-
plexion, their gay-coloured dress. Manly Albrecht Diirer, jest of our new hands,
how dearer to me thy most wooden carved form!
And you, you excellent men, to whom it was given to enjoy the highest
beauty, who now have descended to give tidings of your bliss - even you do harm
to genius. Genius will not be raised up and taken off on other's wings, even if they
be the wings of morning. It is its own powers which matter, which unfold in the
dreams of childhood, which work in the life of youth, until, strong and nimble
like the mountain-lion, it roves out for its prey. So genius is mostly reared by
Nature, since you pedagogues never can counterfeit that manifold arena, wherein
genius can act and find enjoyment to the immediate measure of its powers.
Hail to thee, boy, who art born with a sharp eye for proportions, to practise
deftly upon every form. When by and by there wakes around thee the joy oflifc,
and when thou feelest the jubilant pleasures of mankind after labour, feclest their
fear and hope, feelest the vintager's brave shout when the fullness of the autumn
swells his vats, the sickleman's lively dance when he has hung his idle instrument
high upon the beam. - then when the mighty hour of desires and sufferings lives
more manfully in thy brush, when thou hast aspired and suffered enough, enjoyed
enough, and art fulfilled with this world's beauty, and worthy to repose in the
arms of a goddess, worthy to feel at her breast that by which Hercules was new-
born and deified - Then, 0 thou mediatrix between Gods and men, 0 Divine
Beauty, receive him; and more than Prometheus will he bring down the bliss of
the Gods upon the earth.

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