Reflections by art and artists about their medium and their profession are as old as art itself. Art becomes the subject not only of learned discussions and literary treatises, but also again and again directly in the works of art themselves. The portrait of the artist at work, the painted art gallery, the collector with his treasures – these are all open forms of self-expression that have been pursued in all centuries, but mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Painting and sculpture as subjects of themselves have appeared openly in the allegorical personifications of Pictura and Sculptura, but also in the mythological representations of Apelles and the Christian representations of St. Luke painting the Mother of God. The pictures and sculptures shown in the paintings – but also studio and academy scenes – cannot be completely understood until they are deciphered as painted art theory.
Where art since the early modern era was concerned about its self-expression, the contest (Paragone) between sculpture and painting mostly played a central role. Where these two genres concentrated on the image of man and his world, they competed for closeness to reality and the effect of their portrayals. And when the competition between the arts took place over imitating reality and presenting credible perfection in an artificially excessive nature, primarily between sculpture and painting, others participating in this contest were drawing, architecture, music and literature. Today’s photographic, film and electronic media use modern technical methods to continue this contest to conquer reality, a contest that has taken on the dimensions of a global picture war, thus giving the historical contest its actuality.
The exhibition itself concentrates on the period from the 16th to the 18th century, in which the arts articulated their conception and definition of themselves by differentiating themselves from other arts in a wide variety of subjects and motifs in the media of painting, graphics and sculpture. Here, the Paragone between the arts is a central theme, if not the only theme.
This is the first time that an exhibition has been dedicated on this scale to the phenomenon of the self-expression and self-reflection of the arts in pictures.
The exhibition is divided into four sections for the main subjects.
The starting point of Section One is the art of the 16th century. Antique portrayals of the legends of Mercury and Athena-Minerva demonstrate the unity of the arts on Mount Parnassus before they begin to compete for the most convincing reproduction of reality.
The following appear: the plastic artists Apelles (painting) and Zeuxis (sculpture), as well as St. Luke painting the Madonna and thus rising to become the patron saint of painters.
Section Two – the 16th and 17th centuries – concentrates on the contest (Paragone) that is personified primarily by the allegories of painting (Pictura) and sculpture (Sculptura). At the centre are the idea and design, the science and freedom of art. The imitation of nature and its over-perfection using the means of art become established as painted theory in various themes: personifications of the arts at work, surrounded by muses and lovers; allegories of the senses; academy and studio representations that no longer associated sculpture and painting with a craft to be used for a specific purpose, but rather with the free arts as an intellectual activity.
Section Three displays self-portraits, painted gallery pictures and studio and academy scenes. These representations demonstrate the spirit and taste as well as the elevated status of the artists and their clients. The enhancement of artistic practice resulting from the dialogue with the canonical works and masters since classical antiquity plays just as great a role as the connection to the aristocratic and bourgeois clients and collectors or the relationship between the painter or sculptor and his model. Art collections and the sale or purchase of works of art were, primarily in the 17th century, frequently displayed in the so-called gallery pictures and in portraits of collectors.
As in the 16th century, the contest between painting and sculpture became again in the 18th century one of the most important themes in the reflection of art about itself. The culture of collecting rediscovered antique art works and the art theory discussions of the 18th century in the querelles des anciens et des modernes is demonstrated just as vividly in Section Four by the celebrated pictures of Herkules Farnese, Apollo and the Torso of Belvedere as in the motif of the antique sculptor Pygmalion, in whose hands the sculpture of Galateia comes alive.
The exhibition ends with Honoré Daumier’s 19th century travesties on the classical art theory subjects of Laocoon and Pygmalion, in which these topics, which had earlier been discussed with great erudition and seriousness, are cited in an ironical manner.
The Contest Between Painting and Sculpture presents masterpieces from the 15th to the 19th century: from Dürer, Spranger and Giambologna via Francken, Brueghel, Teniers, Rubens, Petel, Rembrandt, Ribera, Giordano and Bernini up to Falconet, Tiepolo, Watteau, Chardin, Turner and Daumier.
The comprehensive exhibition brings together over 200 paintings, sculptures, drawings and graphic reproductions; they come from the great collections in Los Angeles, Washington and New York, Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Cape Town, as well as Rome, Paris, Vienna, London, Copenhagen and Madrid.
The exhibition was conceived in cooperation with the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum – Fondation Corboud, Cologne. The Wallraf-Richartz-Museum – Fondation Corboud will show the exhibition from May 25th to August 25th 2002.
Hubert Robert (1733-1808)
Antike Ruinen mit einer Vase, o. D.
Öl auf Leinwand
63,5 x 50,5 cm
Szépmüvészeti Muzeum, Budapest