Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

The Men of Letters and the Teaching Artists: Guattani, Minardi, and the Discourse on Art at the Accademia Di San Luca in Rome in the Nineteenth Century

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

The Men of Letters and the Teaching Artists: Guattani, Minardi, and the Discourse on Art at the Accademia Di San Luca in Rome in the Nineteenth Century

Article excerpt

The argument of whether a non-artist was qualified to write about art famously dates back as far as the Renaissance.1 Through their writings, Cennino Cennini (c. 1360-before 1427), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), and Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) consolidated the auctoritas of artists by developing a theoretical discourse on art.2 Two centuries later, Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779), who was also Prince of the Accademia di San Luca between 1771 and 1772, even achieved the title of 'philosopher-painter.'3

As for men of letters, the classicist theory of the Horatian ut pictura poesis, the analogy of painting and poetry, allowed them to enter the field of art criticism. From the Renaissance onwards, the literary component came to prevail over the visual one. As Cristopher Braider writes, the two terms of the equation 'as painting, so poetry' were ultimately reversed in 'as poetry, so painting',4 and consequently 'it is to this reversal that we owe the most salient and far-reaching features of ut pictura aesthetics'.5 Invention, a purely intellectual operation of conceiving the subject (as in Aristotle's Poetics and Rhetoric), thus rests at the base of the creative process for both poetry and painting. Consequently, due to its complex inherent features, history painting became the highest form of invention and the pinnacle of painting genres, according to the Aristotelian scheme of the Poetics (ranging from the representation of the inanimate nature to that of the human actions) as applied to the visual arts.6

The statement of the 'right of the non-painter to judge painting',7 an assertive claim by the cultivated amateur Giulio Mancini (1559-1630), relied above all on the judgment of invention, which was used by non-practitioners to justify writing about art for centuries. In 1764 Winckelmann's Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums emerged as the seminal work for both archaeology and art history due to its integration of the philological method (which was distinctive to men of letters and antiquarians) with the formal analysis of works of art. In Italy, another man of letters, Luigi Lanzi, accomplished a similar achievement in the history of painting with his Storia pittorica della Italia (1795-1796). His methodology for understanding and explaining the different artistic manners derived from his background as an antiquarian and as a critic. Lanzi writes in the preface of the Storia pittorica:

my third object was to facilitate an acquaintance with the various styles of painting. The artist or amateur indeed, who has studied the manner of all ages and every school, on meeting with a picture can very readily assign it, if not to a particular master, at least to a certain style, much as antiquarians, from a consideration of the paper and the characters, are enabled to assign a manuscript to a particular era; or as critics conjecture the age and place in which an anonymous author flourished, from his phraseology.8

Similar to Luigi Lanzi (1732-1810), Giuseppe Antonio Guattani (1748-1830) was an antiquarian who was renowned for his periodical publication Memorie Enciclopediche Romane sulle Belle Arti, antichita (1806-1817). His election as Secretary and professor of history, mythology, and costumes at the newly reformed Roman Accademia di San Luca (1812) was clearly the result of a long-lasting relationship between scholars/antiquarians and artists within the institution as many of the academicians were members of the literary Accademia dell'Arcadia9. This peaceful relationship was interrupted abruptly when Guattani inserted himself into the fields of art criticism and art history with his La pittura comparata as well as with a controversial review of The Death of Antigone, an unfinished painting by the late Giuseppe Errante (1760-1821). Guattani's works were published around 1817, the year in which courses of art theory taught by artists were included in the curriculum of the Roman academy.

This paper will address the dispute that took place at the Accademia di San Luca in the first half of the nineteenth century between men of letters and artists regarding the control over the discourse on art and the aesthetic principles themselves of the academy. …

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