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Wölfflin’s Formal comparative ‘Approach’: A843 Ex. 2.3

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Wölfflin’s Formal comparative ‘Approach’: A843 Ex. 2.3

Totally Personal Responses

Which other approaches to art, already discussed in this block, does Wölfflin define his own approach in opposition to?

There are two aspects of the approach of Vasari and Winckelmann (different though they are in themselves) that matter to me.

1.     It is not claiming to be a method that addresses the absolute (or even – though this is arguable) relative VALUE of individual work or artists. We aim for a formal / stylistic comparison of works (or works grouped into periods) rather than as both V & W do, valorise certain periods of artistic production based on an absolute criteria – which is the use of God-created ‘Nature’ as a model in Vasari and the truth of the beautiful body (as product of nature and culture) in Winckelmann. Those periods are, respectively:

a.      The ‘now’ of the Renaissance period in which V lived and worked. V makes it plain that the value of art is relative to innovation of technique (by hard observation & practice) by which individual artists express their sens of desegno – though their gift remains as a foundation on which later artists build if they are virtuous (in the Renaissance sense of strong) enough.

b.     The ‘democratic’ openness of Classical Greece and pride in the body that can also be seen in the High Renaissance – expressed in terms of natural nobility and active passion rendered visible but passive.

2.     It is not necessarily linear in progression (whether that line be part of a cycle of life – birth - development – death – decay – rebirth – redevelopment ….. or a straight line of progress or decline (as Vasari’s model sometimes seen – at least in the present of a period of development in which one works. It is about metamorphic change from one state of formal being to another. We should note that this change has an inside and outside, such that much of its process – though described as formal- is conceptually far from superficial or a matter of non-intentional appearance. The inside drives the outside.

In what ways is his approach or method typical of style art history as defined by Elsner?

It is comparative, and can therefore be used to compare works, or groups of work, in relation to its formal handling of representations at the level of a surface that is compelled to show variability of perception or need expressed in imagery.

What kinds of art does Wölfflin apply his method to and to what other kinds of art can it potentially be applied?

It is applied to sixteenth and seventeenth century art - focusing on the metamorphosis from Renaissance to Baroque form, which latter terms it treats as serious labels of formal differences that can be analysed from the evidence of what is seen alone.

Since, it is metamorphic, I wonder if it need be applied to the point of metamorphosis between two sequential styles or cannot be used to look at ‘intrinsic’ differences in form – hence its use in modernism (I’d go for Marsyas). Why should we not compare a Byzantine fresco with a Baroque painting. I’ll try anyway.

The issue with Wolfflinn is that the cusp of change allows for liminality. In thise conditions any comparison might treat an intervening period as purely liminal & transitory.

What is the most fundamental of the concepts that Wölfflin develops?

We have to pre-suppose ‘unity’ in then work when we make comparison between it and another. This is more problematic than it appears, since the unity in any one fresco in a church may not be apparent at its own boundaries but lie across boundaries stylised in the church architecture as a whole. The idea of a framed whole is possible at the level of the possessed art work but not in the variations of openly accessible public art.

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