Winckelmann and the Notion of Aesthetic Education.
Ever since the Renaissance, it was a commonplace to follow in the steps of Durer, Montaigne, and others, and go to Italy; and the mid-eighteenth century saw a sharp increase in the number of people who visited Rome, not least for, so to speak, a moral holiday. According to Jeffrey Morrison, whose book begins with a chapter on such tours to Italy, the desire to travel was not just a specifically German but rather a European phenomenon. Morrison cites the example of the Scottish architect Robert Adam (1728-1792), who serves as 'a very useful case-study of a serious traveller', although it is unclear why Morrison should think living in Scotland (Adam studied at Edinburgh University) was `away from the cultural mainstream' (p. 15), especially at that period. To accompany the travellers on their way, a whole range of guides was written. Morrison glances briefly at this intercultural topic, dividing the various theories of art offered in these books into six categories and citing various eighteenth-century art historians and theorists. In addition to questions of the production, history, moral, and intellectual content of art, and the composition of beauty, there arose the question of the formal analysis of beauty to which, Morrison argues, Winckelmann made a fundamentally new and, in terms of German aesthetics, epochal contribution:
[Winckelmann's] approach, as manifested in
the set-piece description of statues, marked a
radical development of the approaches to art
mentioned above . . . Winckelmann's ideas
constitute the effective starting-point of an
elaborate debate in Germany--lasting in a
recognizable form for over a century--as to
the nature and value of beauty in the visual
arts and by-extension literature' (p.33).
Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), the aesthetician at the centre of Morrison's study, was the son of a poor cobbler who became, via some private tutoring, the librarian of Cardinal Archinto and then Cardinal Albani in Rome. His first famous work, Gedanken uber die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst (1755), was translated by Fuseli as Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks (1765). In it, Winckelmann famously praised Greek art for its embodiment of eine edle Einfalt und eine stille Gro[Beta]e (`noble simplicity and calm grandeur'), a view--or, at least, a phrase--as influential as his Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (1764), which formed the prototype for much art-historical writing in the nineteenth century. Notoriously, Winckelmann was murdered in a tavern in Trieste, possibly for reasons involving his homosexuality. Morrison, however, approaches Winckelmann's aesthetics from a fresh angle. In his second chapter, he compares Winckelmann's list of requirements for aesthetic experience with the phenomenological aesthetics of the Polish philosopher Roman Ingarden (1894-1970). Ingarden's impact upon twentieth-century art theory is undeniably immense, having been discussed by thinkers as varied as Heidegger, Sartre, and Margolis. As for Morrison, he limits himself to `transpos[ing] Winckelmann's statements into Ingarden's terminology to make the implications of his aesthetic explicit and ... to identify its essential components more clearly' (p. 36).
Yet it remains doubtful whether Ingarden really helps Morrison's exposition of Winckelmann, whose notion of aesthetic education Morrison studies in the first instance (but never actually glosses in detail) with the help of his Abhandlung von der Fahigkeit der Empfindung des Schonen (1763), dedicated to Friedrich Rudolph von Berg. According to Winckelmann, at least four factors affected the prospects of aesthetic education: wealth, location, youth, and sensibility. Above all, Winckelmann argued, it was essential to look at the Urbilder, defined by Morrison as 'the originals of the high-grade works of art which, in a sense, defined the limitations or possibilities of different art-forms' (p. 42). Or, as Winckelmann urged at the end of his treatise: gehe hin und sieh (`go for yourself and look'). This emphasis on `seeing' is, for Morrison, one of Winckelmann's greatest strengths; it also proves, however, to be the great weakness of Morrison's interpretation of German aesthetics. Morrison focuses on Winckelmann's description of the Belvedere Torso (reproduced on the book-jacket; there are, unfortunately, no other illustrations), yet, despite this 'striking evidence of his empathy for statuary' (p. 63), Winckelmann claimed elsewhere that die hochste Schonheit ist in Gott! (`the highest beauty is in God')--a confusion of the aesthetic with the mystical which Morrison notes but neglects to explain. In the end, Berg failed to fulfil the criteria for aesthetic education, but Winckelmann found at least two more willing `pupils', including Johann Hermann von Riedesel (1740-1785); Freiherr zu Eisenbach, whose Reise durch Sizilien und Gro[Beta]griechenland (1771) was carried by Goethe as a `talisman' during his own Italian journey (1786-1788); and Johann Jakob Volkmann (1732-1803), the travel writer and art historian, whose three-volume Historisch-kritische Nachrichten von Italien (1770-1771) also accompanied Goethe.
The bulk of Morrison's book is dedicated to a discussion of these writers; it is, unfortunately, the least interesting section, in part because of the lack of any clear informing principle or narrative drive in his account. Morrison looks at the same aspects of both writers: their preparation for the visit to Italy (both men were rich, even if Riedesel had occasional `cash-flow difficulties'); their location (Riedesel was always on the move, Volkmann undertook numerous journeys); and their youth and sensibility, reflected in their friendship with Winckelmann as evidenced by their correspondence (exceptionally effusive, even by eighteenth-century standards, in the case of Riedesel, less so with Volkmann). Yet Morrison's analysis of their texts is disappointing. Although he rejects `the tempting general conclusion' that Riedesel was `a rather cold fish, who was able to collect data but not to enthuse' (p. 146), he admits that, as far as Sizilien is concerned, `there is no evidence that Riedesel's aesthetic education was complete in Winckelmann's terms' and acknowledges that `there is no sense of revelation' (p. 148). Not surprisingly, `Goethe saw a lack of poetry in his responses' (p. 164). By the same token, Volkmann leads Morrison to conclude that the `aesthetic core is missing' from his work, too. `How do we account for this absence in the works of two pupils who have apparently undergone the appropriate aesthetic education?' he asks (p. 202). The only response left is to criticize Winckelmann's own programme: `Winckelmann lists things which he found useful rather than explaining how he found them useful. He does not deal with the aesthete's required state of mind' (p. 204). In this respect, Morrison argues, Goethe offers a notable contrast, although not for the reasons Morrison thinks he does.
Without a doubt, Winckelmann was hugely influential on Goethe, who edited a collection of essays entitled Winckelmann und sein Jahrhundert (1805) and contributed a major essay of his own. Goethe's knowledge of Winckelmann was mediated primarily through the painter and sculptor Adam Friedrich Oeser (1717-1799), who became director of the Kunstakademie in Leipzig in 1759. Oeser had been Winckelmann's teacher in Dresden earlier in the 1750s, and Goethe is known to have been a frequent visitor to his studio in Leipzig. According to Morrison, `Goethe remained obsessed with the act of seeing which is, in my opinion, central to Winckelmann's aesthetic and yet was consistently overlooked by his contemporaries' (p. 209). Morrison consistently overlooks, however, the standard eighteenth-century distinction between sehen and schauen, the latter term implying an aesthetic response which goes beyond the merely visual. Whilst it is true that the Italien Journey is full of Goethe's visual responses, these require to be contextualized by his emphasis on `becoming solid' (solid werden). In terms of the aesthetics Goethe derived in practice from Oeser and theoretically from Herder, the eye (the organ of sight, and symbolic of the mind) must be coordinated with the hand (the organ of touch, and symbolic of the senses and the body in general). `Volkmann', Morrison says, `does not see with Winckelmann's eyes, neither does he write in his hand' (p. 201). Yet it was precisely Goethe's insight from his Journey to Italy that, in the aesthetic experience, both hand and eye must be coordinated. As he wrote in the most famous of his Roman Elegies, his `classical inspiration' lay in learning to `see with an eye that feels and feel with a hand that sees' (Sehe mit fuhlendem Aug, fuhle mit sehender Hand). Later, Goethe was to assert that art emerges from the understanding (the faculty which, according to Kant, organizes sense perceptions), not from reason. And in another aphorism, Goethe declared that, following Kant's critique of reason, eine Kritik der Sinne (`critique of the senses') was required. In other words, what Goethe, in his portrayal of his aesthetic experience, called the lebendige Begriffe (`living concepts') of art--a phrase highlighted by Morrison--turn out to be related to the Gepragte Form, die lebend sich entwickelt (`the shape that is impressed upon evolving life') of his later work, Unworte. Orphisch (`Primal Words. Orphic'), and the geeinte Zwienatur (`united bipolar-nature') of Faust II (1.11962). This perspective is entirely missing from Morrison's account. And, stranger still for a book about aesthetic education, Morrison never once mentions Schiller's Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), a key work of the eighteenth century's response to Winckelmann; let alone such later disciples as Walter Pater.
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|Publication:||The British Journal of Aesthetics|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1997|
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