A whole tradition of French discourse on paintings has its beginning in the Piles and continues in Diderot, Baudelaire, and Barthes. It is more conversation, perhaps, than attentive viewing. This is a very different form of sociability about pictures than the lectures Winckelmann gave to travelers in Rome. Art history as an institutionalized discipline owes more to Winckelmann and has in general been suspicious of the French conversational manner. (The same holds true of museum visitors, between whom there seems to be a division on national grounds. While school-children in the United States, like gallery-goers in Germany, are expected to sit quietly on the floor, listen to a lecture and then learn to answer questions put to them about paintings, school-children in France-Beaubourg is where I witnessed this-are encouraged to start talking among themselves.)
In American classrooms and textbooks, it was once a commonplace to think of Wölfflin as the father of formal analysis-that tracing of diagonals or triangles that teachers of introductory and even advanced courses in the history of art once claimed to find in paintings. And it was also common to think of Wölfflin as an historian of style. As an historian of style, he was once perceived to have been at fault because he simplified or skipped over steps (where is mannerism on his account?) in the historical sequence. When style and formal analysis are out of fashion, Wölfflin is not much on people's mind. But it is salutary to remember that we owe our lasting habit of double-slide projection to Wölfflin-that is, the peculiar technique native to the art historian which amounts to seeing and describing each work of art in terms of its difference from another.
The Making of Rubens is, in some respects, profoundly dependent upon the separate work of fellow art historians. Alpers herself does not venture far into contemporary sources or the dreaded archives to substantiate and develop her brilliant hypothesis. And why should she, as her particular, extraordinary skill lies in an intensely creative, critical response to what might be called the discourse on Rubens, a literature ranging from Roger de Piles to the Corpus Rubenianum?
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