Account for the centrality of ancient sculpture to the canon of art in Western Europe between the Renaissance and the early nineteenth century.

Essay by Kez288University, Bachelor'sB, May 2004

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The sculptures of the Pantheon were often seen as the best examples of the 'high

classical style' Greek art. They consisted of one long frieze, several square panels and

two huge triangular compositions which were taken from the main temple of the

goddess Athene in Athens built c550 BCE. However the Pantheon marbles did not

arrive in the West until the first half of the nineteenth Century and although ancient

sculpture was central to the canon during the Renaissance, most examples were either

Roman copies of Greek works or Hellenistic.

Art theorist Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1615-96) made a significant contribution to the

development of the canon by looking closely at ancient sculpture and using it to apply

to modern standards of painting. His main point from the extracts of his book Lives of

the Modern Painters, Sculptors & Architects 1672 is that perfect beauty does not

exist in nature, therefore the realm of Ideas should be used to overcome natural

deformities and disproportion.

Bellori, sites Cicero as a perfect exemplar, as when he

calved the sculptures of Jupiter and Minerva he "did not contemplate any object from

which to take likeness, but considered in his mind a form full of beauty on which he

concentrated..." (Fernie, p64) Bellori likened the Ideal as a reflection of the first

perfect creation, thus giving it Godly significance.

Bellori's arguments were based on the ideas of a number writers from antiquity as well

as Vasari's The Lives of Artists (1568). He was lead to the concluded that artists

should seek out the works that best showed the Ideal beauty and strive to attain these

qualities in their own works. Thus he defended the art of Raphael and others when

critics said they were merely "imitators of antiquity" (Ferni, p61).

Bellori's book had a significant...