New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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Similarly the references to art and beauty in the Middle Ages reveal an artistic and esthetic approach quite unlike ours: "What sort of admiration for the art of their time was felt by the men of the fifteenth century? Speaking generally, we may assert that two things impressed them especially: first, the dignity and sanctity of the subject; next, the astonishing mastery, the perfectly natural rendering of all the details." 28 Such facts surely prove that classical and medieval monuments cannot have the same signification for us that they had for their own civilizations; we cannot possibly experience and hence cannot value them in the same manner.
Even in the Renaissancea period much closer to our own in all waysthe best writers base their criticism upon an esthetic quite unacceptable to most of us. Alberti and Leonardo, the leading theorists of the fifteenth century, stress the importance in painting of a literal imitation of nature;29 and from the middle of the sixteenth until the middle of the eighteenth century, critics in France and in Italy, profoundly influenced by Aristotle's Poetics and by Horace's Ars poetica, "virtually identified the art of painting with the art of poetry" and contended, as the core of their new as of ancient theory, "that painting like poetry fulfils its highest function in a representative imitation of human life, not in its average but in its superior forms." 30 This latter notion, to be sure, now seems relatively sensible by comparison with other codified, legislative principles of the seventeenth century such as the
toward art, see F. P. Chambers, The History of Taste (New York, 1932), Appendix: "The Cycle of Antiquity."
28.  J. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (London, 1927), p. 243. In this connection, see A. K. Coomaraswamy, "Mediaeval Aesthetic," The Art Bulletin, March, 1935, and March, 1938.
29.  See Anthony Blunt, Artistic Theory in Italy (Oxford, 1940), chaps, i and ii.
30.  R. W. Lee, "The Humanistic Theory of Painting," The Art Bulletin, December, 1940, p. 201.