Written by FRANCESCA URPI
Winckelmann, scholar, archaeologist and writer. He fits perfectly among the major exponents and fathers of neoclassicism. Of german descent, he trained at the universities of Halle and Jena. What made him known to his contemporaries and posterity was his immense study. In fact, he masterfully dealt with the in-depth analysis of art related to Greek and Roman culture. Historically it belongs to what was renamed as neoclassicism. A literary artistic current that at first is not well received. It is commonly known how antiquity has always influenced many fields of Western culture. Over the course of history, there have been various repropositions of themes related to myths or historical episodes that have been great sources of inspiration and models for artists and writers. Think for example of the period of the Renaissance, which became known for the revival of classical themes reported through painting and sculpture. These last two have been well analyzed by the German scholar. In fact, he delineates sculpture as a figurative art capable of occupying a primary role in theorizing. In it, he identified the artistic expression with which the Greeks had been able to realize their ideal of beauty in its highest form. It was then in this field that the proposition of the classical model was felt in a decisive way. Of the sculpture he cites a work as the Pollodorus of the Belvedere, dating from the fourth century b.C. To understand this masterpiece we must fathom the intellectual beauties and become, if possible, a divine creator: since in it there is nothing mortal, nothing that is subject to human needs. His vision arises as in the perspective of a type of art that proposes an aesthetic ideal of perfection that has no equal. Classical art is in fact defined by him as an art that is not dead or belonging to the past. It is an art that brings back to life, is capable of being vital and is it able of embodying a theoretical and philosophical ideal together. The purpose of the scholar was to give a new light to Hellenic art, since at the time it was considered as a type of art linked to copy and not to identification. A misunderstanding that has accompanied for a long time the general idea that was commonly held about Neoclassicism. In order to give form and colour, he printed a volume in June 1755 which was published in Dresden. The booklet took the title Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture. These were explained in detail in the manner in which art is not only seen as a purely theoretical ideal. It therefore shows how relevant is the only way to become great, it is an art that brings back to life, that is capable of being vital and that is able to embody a theoretical and philosophical ideal together. It therefore shows how topical it is and that it is the only way to become insuperable. It is not about exemplum or taken or model but to renew itself through the recovery of an art that can never be surpassed. Within the work he defined Greek art according to a main mark. Greek masterpieces are the emblem of noble simplicity and quiet grandeur, both in position and expression. A similar comparison can be made to the depth of the sea, which always remains calm, no matter how the surface, in the same way the expression of the figures of the Greeks shows, in the midst of all passions, a great and settled soul. Earlier we mentioned the work of the Pollodorus of the belvedere but it is not the only work to which he refers. He actually mentions two other sculptural groups. The second one he refers to is the Laocoön group. The character along with his children is caught in the episode in which he is attacked by the sea monster. Despite being suffocated by snakes, he manages to communicate his atrocious sufferings in a balanced way, sending back to a state of grace. The composure of the work is disarming, although the expression of distress and pain refer to moods that capture him in a state of mind of anguish, the delicacy remains undeterred.
The cultural and artistic situation in Vienna
The period between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century is framed as one of the most flourishing period of art. Following the wave of what was the Belle Epoqué, an expression born in France, of which all Europe was invested. It is a historical period marked by a strong influence that was characterized by the upper classes, the remarkable economic prosperity and the philosophia of a carefree and cheerful life. Vienna embodied one of the European capitals that best absorbed all the artistic wealth, radiating it to a number of areas. First of all it was a city that changed particularly, from one million to more than two million inhabitants. It was the scene of great changes, both from the point of view of innovations in the artistic and architectural fields as well as in the social, cultural and scientific fields. From a scientific and philosophical point of view it is essential to mention one of the minds that has most upset this period. It is Sigmund Freud, who published his writings on Psychoanalysis that completely revolutionized the approach to psychiatric diseases also influencing other fields such as literature. The humanities are never too distant from each other, everything connected with the nature of man and his changing, transmigrates, and is reflected in literature, in poetry until you get to painting and sculpture accordingly. Returning to the increase in the Viennese population, architect Otto Wagner (1841 – 1918) was appointed superintendent of the urban railway network in 1894. His appointment was a novelty since the realization of such urban works was usually entrusted to engineers. Wagner cared for beauty down to the smallest detail and today the Viennese railway network with its stops, bridges, pavilions and uniform railings is considered an architectural work of great value. Not only was he an example of the great artists in the Viennese scene because a new artistic trend arose. In fact, towards the end of the twentieth century the Viennese Secession was born, a group of nineteen artists who animated by the idea of detaching themselves from the academy of fine arts to create a new type of art. Members of the Secession also organized exhibitions on other painters such as Vincent Van Gogh. The flowers of Klimt are inspired by the Dutch master whose works he had been able to admire at the Secession in 1903. In 1898, the secessionist magazine Ver Sacrum appeared in Vienna, the definition of the period as Holy Spring, devised by Gustave Klimt. Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918) is certainly one of the protagonists of this historical and artistic period. He’s recognized as one of the major representatives of the Viennese Secession. He had already started to get important public commissions before his thirties. His first famous painting was The Interior of the Old Burgtheater in Vienna in 1888, which he had worked on with his partner Franz Matsch. Since the authorities had decided to demolish the Old Burgtheater, Klimt and his faithful representation of the environment had been requested with the exact dimensions of the spaces and with the characters of the time identifiable by their faces. The painting was awarded by Emperor Franz Joseph and opened the way for the young Klimt to other prestigious public commissions. In 1903 he made a trip to Ravenna that allowed him to rediscover his origins. He came from a family of artists, his father was a goldsmith and his brothers were also in the art world. The Italian city known for its mosaics inspired him for one of his richest and most famous artistic periods. It was from the combination of the richness of the mosaics of Ravenna and the newborn Wiener Werkstätte, Viennese Laboratories, that the artist came back to his homeland that some of the masterpieces of Klimt were born, such as Giuditta I (1901), the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907-08), all works where Klimt is converted to the gold of Byzantium. These works mark the charm and also the success of these masterpieces marked by such a brilliant color and an expert hand. Together with him, another artist from a very young age marked this period. The eighteen-year-old Egon Schiele (1890 – 1918) who, having discovered Klimt at the Kunstschau in 1908, exhibited 16 works, including the Kiss. Schiele is considered one of the most important Austrian representatives of Expressionism. He painted countless portraits and as many self-portraits. His works reflect the fragility of man and his interest in psychological introspection. Many of his paintings depict men or women in twisted positions. At the time, his nudes were not sold on the art market, but on pornography. In the portraits the hands are always too big and often deformed, the very penetrating looks and the frequent absence of backgrounds that highlights the characters depicted. How fascinating it is to discover that at this stage Europe was also facing the first discoveries and scientific applications. But what upset most of all was the great tension that hovered at the time in Europe since we are close to what was the First World War and then also was a flu pandemic, the Spanish flu. This one that between 1918 and 1920 killed tens to hundreds of millions of people in the world and among these, also struck the artist Egon Schiele.
The funeral monument for Maria Christina of Saxony
Canova, graceful and careful hand, was one of the most famous exponents of neoclassicism. In August 1798 he received a commission from Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen on the occasion of the death of his wife Maria Christina, who had died on 23 June. The aim of the work was to pay tribute to the memory of this woman and to her charitable and charitable character, through the adoption of a complex iconographic program designed by Duke Albert himself. It took several years for the artist to complete the work, a total of almost seven years in alternating stages. The first drawing for the work was ready in November 1798, while the plaster models of the various figures of the tomb were completed by Canova in July 1800. The work is placed inside the church of Saint Augustin and despite being the latter of neo-Gothic style, it meets place for a neoclassical monument. The monument is structured on an imposing white pyramid. A structure that we know since the time of Ancient Egypt that refers to the most sumptuous and impressive burials of antiquity. It also represents another Masonic symbol that contains the focal point of the composition. There is a dark opening where on the lintel there is written : uxori optimae Albertus literally, “Alberto to his excellent wife”. The dark entrance is the passage through which you can enter the burial chamber. Ideally, it alludes to the threshold that separates the underworld from the world of the living. Like a chasure between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Among the participants there is also the genius of winged pain, with sweet features that softly depicts the Duke Albert, resting on the back of a crouching and melancholy lion; there is also the Charity , made by the young woman who accompanies towards the tomb a little girl. The monument itself is given by its significance, by this white candy that ripples in contrast with the darkness that emerges from the entrance to the afterlife. Although it was a funeral monument dedicated to a noblewoman, Canova does not dwell on the desire to mourn the deceased but bring the viewer to another reflective level. What he wants to do is to bring attention back to the role of death.The literary parallelism that can be thought of with the poem of the tombs of the poet Ugo Foscolo is not far off. The poem refers to the regret of the dead, the fatality of life. How short is the passage on earth of human beings and what better way to remind ourselves of them, if not through memory. The funeral procession that walks is sad and looking down. A composition rich in tragedy, at times almost barocheggiante, in its being so theatrical and perfect in the details.