The Shape of Time and the Art of the Past

by Nandia Foteini Vlachou

.

Rafael, Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, 1510-11, Fresco, width at the base: 770 cm, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican (source: http://www.wga.hu/)

Rafael, Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, 1510-11, Fresco, width at the base: 770 cm, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican

.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Apotheosis of Homer, 1827, Oil on canvas, 386 x 512 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris (source: http://www.wga.hu/)

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Apotheosis of Homer, 1827, Oil on canvas, 386 x 512 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris

 .

“Under these conditions, and for as long as the old pictures or their derivatives survive, painters of a certain temperament will feel summoned to meet their challenge with a contemporary performance. Ingres continued upon the lines marked by Raphael; Manet accepted the challenge put before him by Velázquez. The modern work takes its measure from the old: if it succeeds, it adds previously unknown elements to the topography of the form-class, like a new map reporting unexpected features in a familiar but incompletely known terrain. Sometimes the map seems finished: nothing more can be added; the class of forms looks closed until another patient man takes a challenge from the seemingly complete situation, and succeeds once more in enlarging it” (George Kubler, The Shape of Time, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2008 – first published in 1962).

I was never fond of the idea of novelty, invention, originality – I believe they hurt art (and its appreciation) and contribute little to its understanding. Which is probably why I have found Kubler’s book and ideas fascinating, even when I don’t completely agree with him (Kubler does use ‘invention’ to mark certain stages of development). The paintings are a rather subjective illustration of the quoted passage, but I hope they serve the point. There is no such thing as a clean start – the ability to revisit the past and discover something new and often relevant for the present is one of the most captivating qualities a work of (any) art can have. In this sense, art is very much like history: we look to it as a means to make sense of this very confusing world of ours.

(source of images: http://www.wga.hu/)

.

Edouard Manet, A Matador, 1866-67, Oil on canvas, 171 x 113 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (source: http://www.wga.hu/)

Edouard Manet, A Matador, 1866-67, Oil on canvas, 171 x 113 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Diego Velázquez, The Jester Known as Don Juan de Austria, 1632-35, Oil on canvas, 210 x 123 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid (source: http://www.wga.hu/)

Diego Velázquez, The Jester Known as Don Juan de Austria, 1632-35, Oil on canvas, 210 x 123 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Advertisements