ART AND AUDIENCE: THE MEDICI VENUS c. 1750–c. 1850
Author: Hale, J. R.
Source: Italian Studies, Volume 31, 1976 , pp. 37-58(22)
Publisher: Maney Publishing
Abstract:This essay gives some account of reactions to a single work of art over a hundred years, from the middle of the eighteenth century, when Winckelmann was becoming the prophet of a deliberate Neoclassicism, to the middle of the nineteenth, when Ruskin was proclaiming the moral superiority of medieval to classical and to classicizing art. I have chosen a statue, because sculpture, for most of this period, provoked stronger reactions than painting; a classical one, because the notion of the Ideal in art — a staple of discussion among theorists throughout the period — was rooted in the treatment by the ancients of the human body; a female figure because, in a world whose opinions were dominated by men, the sexual element, seldom absent from (though usually voiceless amid) art theory and appreciation, emerges most clearly from watching reactions to statues of women; the Medici Venus because it was the most famous, the most looked-at of such statues, and, being undraped, drew full attention to the relationship between — to use Lord Clark's useful distinction — the naked and the nude, or between nature and art. And I have concentrated on the reactions of tourists. It is, surely, no longer controversial to suggest that there is some connexion between works of art and theories of art, and the society that pays for, looks at, and reads about paintings and sculptures. Yet art history, when it does pay attention to art's audience, tends to see it in abstract terms, as a social, political or economic whole. Maimed as they are by self-consciousness and prior conditioning, the expressions of personal feeling I shall use are, I think, important as filling a gap in our understanding of art's significance at a given period, and of the nature of that significance. But before reviewing them in narrative form, let us look at the philosophical stances that bracket them.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 1976