Academic Art -- The Renaissance Academy and French Royal Academy

Essay by drwhoCollege, UndergraduateA+, June 2004

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The first Academy of Art was founded in Florence by Giorgio Vasari, who called it the Accademia del Disegno - the academy of representation by signs. There students learnt the "arti del disegno", a term coined by Vasari, and included lectures on anatomy and geometry. Another academy, the Accademia di San Luca (named after the patron saint of painters, St. Luke), was founded a decade or so later in Rome. More so than the Florentine Accademia del Disegno, the Academia di San Luca served an educational function and was more concerned with art theory.

The Academia di San Luca later served as the model for the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture founded in France in 1648. The Academie francaise very probably adopted the term "arti del disegno" which it translated into "beaux arts", from which is derived the English term "Fine Arts." The Academie francaise was founded in an effort to distinguish artists, who were gentlemen practicing a liberal art, from craftsmen, who were engaged in manual labor.

This emphasis on the intellectual component of art making had a considerable impact on the subjects and styles of academic art.

After the Academie francaise was reorganized in 1661 by Louis XIV (whose aim was to control all the artistic activity in France) a controversy occurred among the members that were to dominate artistic attitudes for the rest of the century. This was what has been described as the 'battle of styles', the conflict over whether Peter Paul Rubens or Nicolas Poussin was a suitable model to follow. Followers of Poussin, called poussinistes, argued that line (disegno) should dominate art, because of its appeal to the intellect, while followers or Rubens, called rubenistes, argued that color should dominate art, because of its appeal to emotion.

Nicolas Poussin's Et in Arcadia...