Forgery, Replica, Fiction: Temporalities of German Renaissance Art

By Grafton, Anthony | The Art Bulletin, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Forgery, Replica, Fiction: Temporalities of German Renaissance Art


Grafton, Anthony, The Art Bulletin


CHRISTOPHER S. WOOD Forgery, Replica, Fiction: Temporalities of German Renaissance Art Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. 398 pp., 116 b/w ills. $55.00

In 1944. Erwin Panofsky published his essay "Renaissance and Renascences" in the Kenyon Revino - the most famous, at the time, of the literary quarterlies, and one widely read by writers and humanists in many fields.1 It is not surprising that Panofsky wanted to address a large humanistic public on ths topic. By 1944, the Renaissance had become a highly controversial concept across the humanities. European medievalists had long since attacked Jacob Burckhardt. Modernity, they insisted, had flowered in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, far earlier than modernists realized, and after World War 1 their movement spread across the Atlantic. In 1927 Châties Hornet llaskins showed that twelfth-century Europe had experienced a renaissance of its own.2 In the 1940s the historian of science Lynn Thornclike was working on a multivolume History of Magic and Experimental Science, in which he claimed that the Renaissance humanists, who merely studied ancient texts, had conlribtiieel far less to Western thought than the more independent-minded and empirical scholastics of the medieval universities, whom they loved to deride. Once the war ended and travel eased, symposia from the Metropolitan Museum to Madison. Wisconsin, rang with regularly updated versions of these arguments.

An erudite and original student of medieval architecture, Panofsky might have been expected to side with what Wallace Ferguson called "the revolt of the medievalists." s However, Panofsky's true love was the Renaissance, northern and Italian alike - the time of his beloved Jan van Ey ck and Albrechl Dürer, Sancho Botticelli and Titian. He believed that the movement all of them belonged to had marked a change of statein European culture: die rise of a radically new vision of the past, especially the ancien l past. In an essay thai Panofsky wrote in the 1930s with Frit/ Saxl. director of the Warburg Institute. London, he had formulated what he called a "principle of disjunction." Long before. Aby Warburg himself had traced the way in which the ancient images of the planets had become separated from the ligures of die planets themselves, to be reunited with them by Francesco Cossa and other Renaissance artists on the walls of the Palaz/o Schifanoia in Ferrara. Generalizing from this case and many others, Panofsky and Saxl concluded that medieval artists had represented both classical subjects and classical forms, but always separately from one another. Goldsmiths and other craftsmen had faithfully reproduced ancient forms without knowing what they had originally represented. Meanwhile, manuscript illuminators, working from the texts they adorned, depicted genuine ancient heroes in the up-to-date garb of medieval kings and knights. The- Renaissance celebrated a second marriage of classical form and content.'

In 1944. Panofsky made a still sharper effort to define what was new in the fillecntli-ceiiturv Renaissance. He admitted that the earlier "renascences" of the Carolingian era and the twelfth century had brought hundreds of classical texts and ancient objects to light Nonetheless, only in the fifteenth century did scholars and artists come to see the ancient world from a "fixed, unalterable distance" in time.* Filippo Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti, the creators of linear perspective, learned how to depict the world as it appeared to an onlooker at a set point, using formal rules. In die same way, Alberti, Maniegna. and others devised a radically new historical perspective. They saw the ancient world as a whole, and did their best to represent it. as it was, no longer connecting texts and forms in the traditional anachronistic ways. The artists of the High Renaissance would both build on and transcend this achievement - as Panofsky explained in far more detail in Renaissance cititi Renascences in Western Art, the book in which lie elaborated on his original insight. …

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