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Chapter 2

Classical Influences and Radical Transformations

A variety of approaches to classical antiquity emerged during the final decades of the eighteenth century. The specific choice and treatment of classical subjects depended as much on the political climate in which an artist worked and on the requirements of patronage as it did on the artist's skill, temperament, and training.


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Classical Influences and Radical Transformations


Elizabeth Prettejohn  emphasizes an important, overlooked aspect of Winckelmann’s art theory:

"But there is a third element to Winckelmann's project, one that has attracted less subsequent comment but which for Winckelmann himself was the key to his entire enterprise: the demonstration of the beauty of the art of antiquity, and particularly that of ancient Greece. Moreover - and this may be the most original aspect of Winckelmann's work - beauty for him was something that was not definable in general or abstract terms, but could only be discovered through profound and sustained observation of particular works. This posed formidable practical problems, for...the particular works available for direct observation were undocumented in the ancient sources Winckelmann used. But the mismatch between beauty and history went deeper, for an important sense beauty, as Winckelmann conceived it, did not belong to the ancient past at all: it was located in the present day and in the experience of the modern observer - Winckelmann himself and his readers, among whom he was particularly concerned to include practicing artists."

Elizabeth Prettejohn, Beauty and Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 17-18.

Web resources

smarthistory: Neo-Classicism

Getty: Society of the Dilettanti

Tübingen: Ancient Troy


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