NUNTII: Auction Results
Regular rogueclassicism readers will be aware of my semi-regular postings of offerings from the big auction houses. The Art Newspaper has a report on the fall antiquities sales at Christie's and Sotheby's and comments on the 'disappointing' results of a sale of one of the pieces I decided not to include at rogueclassicism, primarily because I thought the thing was tacky:
The eagerly awaited and extensively published monumental Roman bronze figure of an emperor, late second/early third century AD, consigned by the renowned collector Asher Edelman, only managed to crawl to $1,799,500, well under its “on request” $2/3 million estimate. Bidding was light and the piece went to a telephone bidder, reported to be a private European businessman. There was astonishment in the room as everyone had expected the bronze to make at least $3 million. After the sale, Mr Edelman told the Art Newspaper he was “very, very disappointed and surprised by the result,” as he had received serious offers before the sale in excess of the price eventually realised.
Sadly ... I can't find a photo of the thing any more, but Christie's official description is still kicking around.
::Saturday, December 20, 2003 7:06:30 AM::
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REVIEW: The End of Classicism??
The International Herald Tribune has a review of a couple of exhibitions currently showing in Paris -- one being that Tanagra exhibition at the Louvre and the other entitled The Creative Spirit from Pigalle to Canova. Along the way, it makes some interesting statements about the popularity of Classics in various periods. Here are some snippets:
By a remarkable coincidence, two exhibitions at the Louvre (until Jan. 5) both raise a question that has never been asked. How did the Western fascination with the legacy of Ancient Greek and Roman art come to an end?
The passion that Greek art inspired among collectors, curators and writers alike reached near hysteria with the discovery of the terra-cotta figures from Tanagra, the ancient city in Boeotia. The show titled "Tanagra: Myth and Archaeology" aptly illustrates it and the highly informative catalogue describes it in scholarly detail.
Unconscious or indifferent, collectors were only concerned about amassing their precious objets d'art. The figures they primarily sought were those of elegantly draped women offering reduced-size versions of Classical and later Hellenistic marble sculpture. Occasionally, they would go in for a vessel in the shape of a female head or the grotesque figures of satyrs.
What they left out is equally revealing of their approach to the art. Only at rare intervals does the visitor stumble upon the ultra-modern-looking kind of figural art that prevailed in Boeotia to the sixth century B.C. One bowl is painted with doves in flight in a cursory, falsely naïve style that would have appealed to Picasso. A so-called flat figure from the mid-sixth century B.C. would not be a surprise from a contemporary artist, nor would a standing "flat figure" acquired by the Louvre in 1878. These rare exceptions seem to have been dictated by curiosity rather than aesthetics. When they entered public collections, little attention was given to them, in contrast to the Classical figures, such as a draped woman from the Barre collection, dubbed "La Dame Barre."
Fakes tell their own story. They invaded every collection, private or public - the Louvre was not spared. But they only affected the Classical production of the Boeotian sites. Until well after World War I, forgers do not appear to have copied what is to us the modern side of Tanagra art. The perfect Tanagra image to 19th-century connoisseurs was a woman standing, one leg slightly flexed, with a benign, often vacuous expression. Classicism in its watered-down Hellenistic version is what they liked best.
"L'Esprit Créateur de Pigalle à Canova" (The Creative Spirit From Pigalle to Canova) deals with a crucial period in European art. The "European Terra-Cotta Figures, 1740-1840," as a subtitle characterizes the focus of the show, reveal the split that existed between the spontaneous approach to the human form by some of the most famous sculptors, and the finished versions they would submit to their patrons.
In 1783, Jean-Antoine Houdon carved in marble the famous figure of "La Frileuse." A woman envelops herself in veils that only serve to emphasize the nude form underneath. Sleek and highly academic, it is in line with the lessons learned from Classical Antiquity.
The Louvre, on the other hand, preserves a terra-cotta model molded in 1781 as one of several preliminary steps toward the final elaboration of "La Frileuse." Irregular furrows are perfunctorily dug in the drape. The face is not concealed by the veil as it is in the marble version. Mere slits stand for the eyes, while the nose is handled in a way that would have met with the approval of 20th-century Cubists. Distress is suggested with Expressionist intensity. This study, done by the court artist in the privacy of his studio, reflects a rejection of all the principles of Classicism and heralds the advent of modern art.
A quarter of a century later, Antonio Canova, the king of precursor kitsch, carved his now famous marble group "The Three Graces," bought jointly by the Victoria Albert Museum in London and the National Gallery of Scotland. It is the epitome of mealy-mouthed convention.
But a first thought for this work is singularly different. The flesh has a sketchy roughness. The naturalistic folds of the drapes are irregular. This and the almost quizzical expression of the central figure place the group outside the Classical tradition.
Canova produced far more surprising terra cottas. The most striking is a first thought for the group titled "Lamentation Over the Slain Abel." A man, Adam, bends over the limp body of his son supported by Eve, who puts her hand around the dead man's neck. Molded in quick nervous pressures of the hand and summarily scraped, the group is sketchily evocative. In contrast with the Classical ideal, the finished form is rejected in favor of suggestion, polished elegance gives way to strident expressionism. This heralds the end of a world in which harmony ruled supreme. This rejection would be matched many years later in Romantic literature from Goethe to Baudelaire and Rimbaud.
But it was the crumbling of its literary foundation that signaled the ultimate demise of Classicism.
Until the eve of World War II, Greek and Latin humanities underpinned traditional West European cultural values. By the time they left high school, young Europeans were familiar with Greek myths, had read parts of the Iliad and the Odyssey and knew by heart poems by Virgil and Horace. Greek was the first to go. Nowadays, Latin is on its last legs. The destruction process hit the visual arts a very long time ago, as witness Canova's first thoughts, so different from his finished art.
Yet the Classical heritage lingered on. Without it, Maillol's sculpture would have been inconceivable. Boldly modern as a painter in the 1890's, the artist curiously returned to tradition in his three-dimensional art. Picasso had a brief flirtation with Classicism in the early 1920's. Minor echoes continued to be heard until the cataclysm of World War II precipitated the end of an aesthetic vision formulated 2,500 years ago.
An age-old cultural cycle then was ended for good.
The whole thing ...
::Saturday, December 20, 2003 6:46:54 AM::
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CHATTER: Saddamania Continues
We now begin our next phase of Saddamania, it seems, but this time, instead of searching for comparisons for the pursuit and capture of a tyrant, we are reflecting on the 'pre-pursuit' life of the tyrant. First off the mark appears to be the Guardian, which thinks a comparison with Herod apt:
Saddam Hussein wanted to be seen as a second Saladin. But as he contemplates the verdict of history - never mind the courts - the more obvious model is Herod the Great, who overshadows the Christmas story in Matthew's Gospel like a brooding vulture.
The Magi ask him where to find the King of the Jews, like someone asking Saddam to direct them to the true ruler of Iraq. He responds by killing the Bethlehem babies. The story is highly credible in the light of the portrait of Herod by the Jewish historian Josephus; someone who kills his own children is unlikely to stop at other people's.
Herod's early career had been brilliant. The Romans found him an effective local warlord, and propped him up as a buffer against the Parthians. Rome needed Egyptian corn and regional stability in the way that today the west needs Arab oil. Herod was a shrewd politician, bringing off a nifty balancing act by changing sides at the end of the Roman civil war. He was an energetic ruler, beautifying the Temple, and building, among other things, the port at Caesarea and a string of castles and palaces for his personal use.
But he died unmourned; his careful orders to ensure quality weeping and wailing at his funeral - by having other leading citizens killed - were not obeyed. Feared and flattered in life, he was, like most tyrants, vilified in death. Saddam is not dead yet, but the parallels are striking.
And disturbing - for the west. Herod became what he was because Rome needed him. The empire used familiar methods - overwhelming force, superior communications, and the promise of justice, freedom and peace at the price of money, violence and loss of local identity. Herod put up an eagle, the imperial symbol, at the Temple gates in Jerusalem. It was as if someone hung a MacDonalds sign outside the main mosque in Baghdad.
The reason that has not happened (yet) is that, unlike Herod, Saddam cut loose from his creators and provoked their wrath. But we should not ignore the sequel. After Herod's death, Rome took nearly 150 years to bring Judaea to final submission.
::Saturday, December 20, 2003 6:36:01 AM::
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CHATTER: Well ... perhaps
The Scotsman has a brief review of Gore Vidal's latest, which has nothing to do with the ancient world. However, the reviewer spends almost half of the review comparing Vidal to Edward Gibbon, to wit:
There was a time - Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire time, Edward Gibbon’s time - when a man could write the history of an empire with wit, with a point to make, with long and almost luscious runs of narrative and sharp, sometimes cynical analysis. Vidal, too, has been writing the history of an empire: the United States. He writes like an insider, from the drawing rooms, the grander kind of bedrooms, from Washington as the centre of everything and anywhere else that powerful citizens do their worst; and his history, unfashionably, concerns great men.
Gibbon was learned; Vidal is learned. Both are witty. Gibbon, bravely, loved to prickle the sensibilities of Christians; he could blacken the halo of a saint and martyr with a single footnote, and hint that it was churches than ruined Rome. Vidal, equally bravely, loves to unsettle the new plutocracy and its apologists. Gibbon’s version of an empire is wonderfully coherent, so it has survived; but can Vidal’s?
He’s famous as the most brilliant essayist in the language - what he does for reputations is truly difficult; he makes and he restores them. He’s known as playwright, screenwriter and so forth, although he might not like to mention his screenplay for the Penthouse-funded Caligula in polite company. He has written tight, witty novels, and some that are distinctly moving. But his history of empire has been, very oddly, published in disguise. His history of America is called "novels".
::Saturday, December 20, 2003 6:32:15 AM::
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