Early Modern Exchanges
29th May, 4.30pm, Foster Court 225
Gabriel Harvey's Reading
Mathew Symons (UCL, Centre for Editing Lives and Letters), Matching up the Margins: Across Gabriel Harvey's Books
Chris Stamatakis (UCL, English), How Gabriel Harvey Read His Castiglione
Respondent: Lisa Jardine (UCL, Centre for Editing Lives and Letters).
The Malone Society's John Edward Kerry prize has been won this year by one of our Early Modern Studies MA students for a project on Ralph Crane's scribal copies of Middleton's A Game at Chesse.
Details of recent publications by members of the Centre are available on our News page.
As early as the 14th century, the Italian poet Petrarch (1304-74) asserted that the period since the fall of the Roman Empire had been a dark age of ignorance and barbarism, and called for a revival of classical learning and culture. Two centuries later, Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) developed this idea in his Lives of the Artists (1550), declaring that the Italian painters and sculptors of the 14th to 16th centuries had accomplished a rinascita (rebirth) of the purity, naturalism, and clarity of classical art. An important form of cultural exchange was the early modern period’s dialogue with its own classical past, creating innovation through retrospection and rediscovery.
It became customary for young men to complete their education with a Grand Tour of Europe, especially Italy, to view and learn from prized examples of classical art. Both amateurs and those pursuing art as a profession made sketches of such artefacts, while reproductions and imitations also circulated in diverse media. Along with advances in the science of anatomy, such images had a profound effect upon how the human body was represented and understood.
classical artefacts betray desires for various kinds of possession. The
appropriated image may function as a record of direct contact with a famous
item; or as evidence that a particular artistic technique has been successfully
acquired and is on offer, for a price; or as a mark of the cultivation of the
artist or owner. Copies had meaning and value, as seen in the picture of The
Private Sitting Room of Sir Thomas Lawrence; they were purchases displayed as
emblems of wealth and taste. Even more prized, of course, were original
artefacts, such as the Apollo Belvedere, plundered from Italy by the
victorious Napoleon for display in the Louvre as a symbol of imperial supremacy.
The subject of the works shown here is the marble sculpture known as the Laocoon Group, one of the most important models in the history of art. It depicts the mythical strangling of the Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons Antiphantes and Thymabraeus by sea serpents while sacrificing at an altar. The serpents had been sent by the gods to punish Laocoon, who had tried to warn his countrymen about the danger of bringing the Greeks’ wooden horse within city walls. The statue has come to epitomize the Hellenistic approach to the human form, with its highly segmented and massive musculature.
Long believed to be a Greek original of the second century B.C., the sculpture (approx. 7’ 10 ½” high) was found in the remains of the Roman palace of the emperor Titus in 1506, and then placed by Pope Julius II in the Vatican’s Belvedere courtyard. Artists came from all over Europe to copy the monumental figures and fine-tune their skills at rendering the human form. If unable to sketch it from life, artists would copy one of the many later versions or refer to reproductive prints, which may explain why the two on the right are reversed.
Marco Dente (Italian, c.1486-1527) engraving on paper, c.1522-5
These works show the repairs made to the sculpture during the early modern period. The print at left depicts the sculpture soon after its discovery, with Laocoon lacking his right arm and the sons’ hands missing. The others show Laocoon with a raised, outstretched arm, an alteration made in the mid 16th century, long attributed to Michaelangelo. In the 18th century, French sculptors detached the restoration, replacing it with a bent arm. In 1942 this replica limb was replaced with an antique arm (found in 1906), also bent but without a hand.
Anonymous (German, 17th c.) chalk on paper c. 1650
Richard Cooper I (British, d. 1764) pencil on paper
Anonymous (early 18th century) Gentleman drawing an Urn in a Classical Garden pen and black ink with grey wash on paper
UCL Art Museum EDC 4767
From the late 16th century onwards, aristocratic men traveled from all over Europe to visit Italy in order to complete their education, mainly by studying and admiring the remains of the Classical past. This concept of travel, as the extension of academic learning or professional training, was also important for emerging artists, as a means of not only seeing these important remains first-hand but also meeting and socialising with potential benefactors. This Grand Tour could take one to two years, sometimes more, depending upon the route taken and which guide book consulted. Musts included the sculptures Laocoon and Apollo Belvedere as well as the Vatican frescoes, but also on the itinerary were more obscure remains such as the classical urn seen in this drawing.
Lucas Vorsterman (Flemish,1595-1675) Bust of Seneca engraving on paper
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c.1 BC – AD 65) was an ancient Roman stoic philosopher and statesman, who cut his wrists and then entered a bathtub to quicken his death after the Emperor Nero ordered him to commit suicide.
These three works show how artists borrowed and copied to create their finished work. The two depicting Seneca in his bath are based upon an earlier painting by the Flemish artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens (now Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.) Rubens himself had modeled the aged body of Seneca upon an original Roman statue of a fisherman (now Louvre, France.) He also copied an ancient bust of Seneca - shown here in the engraving by Vosterman - in an attempt to create an accurate facial likeness. The red chalk drawing on the right may be based upon the painting, but could also be based upon the print shown to the left by Galle. Galle’s print appeared in the 2nd edition of L’Annaei Senecae philosophi opera (Antwerp, 1615) by Justus Lipsius, a Belgian humanist who sought to revive ancient Stocism in a form compatible with Christianity.
Anonymous (Flemish) The Death of Seneca red chalk on paper
Cornelis Galle I (Flemish, 1576 – 1650) The Death of Seneca
engraving on paper
Anonymous (Flemish, early 18th century) Apollo Belvedere, early 18th century, red chalk on paper
The drawing depicts the statue called Apollo Belvedere (7.3 feet high), a Roman copy of a lost bronze original dated c. 350-325 BC by the Greek sculptor Leochares. The figure represents the Greek god Apollo after his defeat of the serpent Python using a bow and arrow. The figure’s taut muscles indicate that he has just released the arrow.
The Apollo Belvedere, or Pythian Apollo, has inspired artists’ anatomical learning since its rediscovery in the 15th century. The figure’s contrapposto pose, a standing position whereby the figure has most of its weight on one foot so that its shoulders and arms twist off axis from the hips and legs, has been endlessly copied ever since by artists interested in giving their figures greater animation. Albrecht Dürer used the pose in his 1504 engraving of Adam and Eve (see left).
At the time of our eighteenth-century drawing, Neo-Classicists had developed a renewed interest in the sculpture, considering it to epitomize bodily perfection. The influential art historian and archaeologist Johann Joachim Winkelmann (1717 – 1768) described it as the best example of the perfection of the Greek aesthetic ideal. The same admiration drove Napoleon to loot the marble sculpture during his campaign of Italy in 1768, taking it back to France in order to display it in the Louvre. It was returned to Italy after Napoleon’s fall in 1815, and is now displayed in the Vatican.
UCL Art Museum EDC 4723
Anonymous (British, 19th Century) The Private Sitting Room of Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1830, etching and aquatint on paper
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