Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Styles of Renaissance, Renaissances of Style

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Styles of Renaissance, Renaissances of Style

Article excerpt

Review of:

L'idée du style dans l'historiographie artistique. Variantes nationales et transmissions, edited by Sabine Frommel and Antonio Brucculeri, Roma: Campisano Editore, 2012, 343 pp, 91 b & w ills., euro 40,00, ISBN 9788888168982.

Was war Renaissance? Bilder einer Erzählform von Vasari bis Panofsky, edited by Hans Christian Hönes, Léa Kuhn, Elizabeth J. Petcu, Susanne Thüringen, with a foreword by Ulrich Pfisterer and Wolf Tegethoff, Passau: Dietmar Klinger Verlag, 2013,182 pp, 90 colour and b & w ills., $ 47,50, ISBN 9783863281212.

Since art history was founded as an autonomous discipline it has been intensely engaged with the notion of 'style'. It is often employed as the organic core of a narrative1 referred to as the biological life of styles, described according to the scheme birth-growthdecaydeath, or spring-summer-autumn-winter. In spite, or perhaps exactly because, of its status consubstantial with the history of art, the concept of 'style' has always been highly problematic for aesthetic, art-theoretical and art-historical discourses. Firstly, for the multiplicity of its meaning - evoking at the same time the unmistakable features (both concerning formal and iconographie options) of an individual artist (principium individuationis) and what is shared by such an individual with a group, a school, a movement, an epoch, a region, a culture, even a spirit of the time, a Zeitgeist in whose general frame the artistic style was conceived as a specific moment of a more complex lifestyle (what might be rather designed as principium dividuationis, a principle of sharing). At a closer look, the 'dividuation' actually affects the 'individuation' as well, since the whole corpus of a single artist that can be identified through his/her style is, again, a multiplicity of sensible manifestations: each of them expresses somehow the artisFs style, although no one can exhaust it or incarnate it. Each variation shares the theme, but the theme in itself is never given. Secondly, having a style sounds positive, as if an artist possessed his/her own irreducible expressive cipher; being in a style, meaning quite the opposite, when an artwork is realised without originality, in an imitative way.

Due to these and other reasons, after its glorious golden age, the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in which art history (Kunstgeschichte) was frequently identified with history of styles (Stilgeschichte), the notion of style was declared old-fashioned: after the 1950s, as Irving Lavin ironically remarked, 'style went out of style',2 surpassed by iconology and the social history of art. One might think of George Kubler's The Shape of Time, a book prepared in the late 1950s, in which the notion of style is critically understood (in order to be rejected) as a kind of illusionistically ordered constancy.

As a result of such a suspicious distrust, the recourse to the term as a technical concept and to the constellation of the stylistic categories progressively decreased in arthistorical discourse, almost up to disappearance. Still, in 1996, the first edition of the Critical Terms for Art History included not only the entry 'style', but even the intimately connected notions of 'form' and 'connoisseurship', as aptly remarked by Jás Eisner, who finally wrote the chapter 'Style' for the second edition of 2003: once 'king of the discipline', Eisner says, 'the father has been impossible to lay entirely to rest.'3 Indeed, it might not be accidental that a renewed attention in the art historiographical context for the notion of style started simultaneously with a revival of the interest in the notion of form in the aesthetic debate.4

The volume L'idée du style dans l'historiographie artistique. Variantes nationales et transmissions (The Idea of Style in Art Historiography. National Variants and Transmissions), edited by Sabine Frommel and Antonio Brucculeri, from the proceedings of the international conference organised by the École Pratique des Hautes Études of Paris and the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa and held in Cortona in 2007, testifies to the now solidly re-established acknowledgment of the crucial role played by such a category in shaping art historiographical, critical and theoretical discourses, and offers a very useful and stimulating reconstruction of some of the most important stations in the two hundred year old history of the Stilgeschichte from Winckelmann to Wölfflin. …

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