Donatello and Michelozzo: An Artistic Partnership and Its Patrons in the Early Renaissance Philadelphia)
There is no acknowledged rank order among the several arts that are the art historian’s domain. This equality, nevertheless, is belied in practice, if not in theory, at least by those—a clear majority within the profession—dealing with post-medieval art. Take any group of them chosen at random: seven out of ten are likely to be historians of painting, two of architecture, and one of sculpture. The most astonishing thing about this maldistribution of interest and manpower is not that it exists but that it should be accepted as a matter of course to such an extent that hardly anybody even talks about it. The primacy of painting can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century. By the beginning of the twentieth, it was firmly established. Wöfflin’s Principles of Art History, now fortunately forgotten but for many years a beginner’s bible in the field, is symptomatic: of a total of 113 illustrations, 94 are devoted to painting and the graphic arts, 12 to architecture, and 7 to sculpture; and the text is similarly proportioned.
That the history of architecture should be less well populated by scholars than the history of painting is easily explained. It has a large technical vocabulary that needs to be mastered in several languages; many of the monuments no longer are in their original condition or have disappeared altogether, so that they have to be laboriously reconstructed on paper; nor do buildings form part of the art market. They are, moreover, collaborative enterprises reflecting the pressures of social, political, and economic conditions as much as the interaction between patron and architect. Few indeed are the structures that represent an individual designer’s creative effort unhampered by these complicating factors. Finally, there is the problem summed up in the old cliché that “architecture is frozen music.” No one doubts that architecture has meaning, but what a given building “means” or “expresses” can be conveyed only in abstract language that is not readily accessible to the layman. Hence architectural historians find it far more difficult to communicate with a popular audience than do their colleagues in the field of painting.
Some of these difficulties also apply to the study of sculpture, yet they are hardly sufficient to account for its neglect among scholars. There is no getting around the fact that art historians, whether they realize it or not, tend to look upon sculpture as a “lesser breed,” awkwardly and uncertainly located somewhere between the sovereign domains of painting and architecture. Few of them would agree with Baudelaire, who in his essay of 1846, “Why Sculpture Is Boring,” calls it “an art of savages” that is at its best as an embellishment of architecture but does not deserve to exist independently because, unlike painting, it is incapable of imposing the artist’s subjective view-point on the beholder. Still, Baudelaire’s attitude would seem to have a lot of secret sympathizers; for it is just at the moment when sculpture regains its independence—i.e., the first decades of the Early Renaissance in the…
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