Naming the Graces
- The Art of Humanism by Kenneth Clark
Murray, 198 pp, £12.50, October 1983, ISBN 0 7195 4077 1
- The Eloquence of Symbols: Studies in Humanist Art by Edgar Wind, edited by Jaynie Anderson
Oxford, 135 pp, £25.00, January 1984, ISBN 0 19 817341 5
In the last forty years Kenneth Clark did more than anyone else to create an interest in the art of Renaissance Italy, but Edgar Wind had a much greater influence on the way in which this art has been studied. Both men were outstanding lecturers and gifted writers, and both, in very different ways, were influenced by the work of Aby Warburg. Both, too, were particularly drawn to the early Renaissance in Florence and to the High Renaissance in Rome, to those masterpieces, in fact, which occupy the central place in the English and American canon of great art. But there the resemblance ends. Whereas Clark was a populariser who wore his learning lightly, Wind was exactly the opposite. His best-known work, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance, was an attempt to relate the ideas of Neoplatonism to Renaissance paintings and sculptures; and his main contention was that such works could only be fully appreciated by someone deeply versed in this unusually abstruse and now unfamiliar philosophical system. Clark appeals to those who like their art easy, Wind to those who want it difficult.
A major factor in Clark’s success was that he wrote about works of art which his readers knew to be outstanding even if they could not always say why. This is particularly evident in his famous television series Civilisation. The title gives the impression that he was providing a survey of Western art, but this was by no means the case, as he himself admitted. The works he chose to talk about were carefully selected, and the omissions are extraordinary. Not merely did he say next to nothing about Spain: he tended to avoid works that were overtly emotional, sensual or even unfamiliar. Thus the mythologies of Titian and Rubens were not mentioned, nor the Mannerist art of Italy and Northern Europe, while even Grünewald was confined to a walk-on part, in a discussion of Holbein, with the comment: ‘Now I suppose everyone would prefer Grünewald’s Isenheim altar, where the sense of tragedy makes the very word civilisation falter on our lips.’
Although Clark can be criticised for keeping within the parochial bounds of English taste, we must be grateful that he chose to concentrate on the masterpieces which he most admired. No one since Ruskin has written so well in English about works of art, or has been so uninhibited in expressing his emotional responses or in making sweeping generalisations. But Clark was not only unusually sensitive: he was also very knowledgeable. His early work on the Leonardo drawings at Windsor more than established his credentials as a scholar; and all his best books, above all the monographs on Leonardo da Vinci and Piero della Francesca, were based on wide and intelligent reading.
The Art of Humanism is again concerned with the 15th century, but it is certainly not of the quality of these earlier publications. It consists of five lectures composed over a period of 40 years. Although the earliest, on Alberti’s treatise on painting, retains a certain interest, even if it is seriously out of date, the others, on Donatello, Uccello, Mantegna and Botticelli, are altogether less significant; and the discussion of Donatello, in particular, is marred by the fact that one crucial work, the St John in Venice, is misdated by 15 years. Even John Walker, in his preface, is hard put to find anything very remarkable in the text. The best he can do is to claim that ‘Italian 15th-century art needs an apologist like Kenneth Clark,’ as if no one visited Florence any more, and to tell us that after reading the book, ‘improbable as it is for one who hates and fears Communism as I do, [I am now eager] to cross into East Germany to see the originals of Botticelli’s illustrations to Dante. I can give the author no higher praise.’
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 6 No. 6 · 5 April 1984
SIR: Now that the editors of Edgar Wind’s writings (reviewed by Charles Hope in your last issue) have lifted the anonymity of his review in the Times Literary Supplement of my biography of Aby Warburg (London, 1970), I should like to make known the letter he wrote to me in response to my sending him an offprint of the memorial lecture I had given at Hamburg University on the centenary of Warburg’s birth. The letter from 27 Belsyre Court, Oxford is dated 2 December and reads:
My dear Gombrich,
Thank you very much for your kindness in sending me your beautiful speech on Warburg. It is a most moving document, true and close to the original, and at the same time distinguished by a feeling of distance. Warburg would have been particularly pleased that, without diminishing in the least the pathos of his history, you succeeded in saving him and yourself by a sense of humour. The remark about Böecklin and Anton von Werner is as delightful and comical as it is pertinent – a genuine ‘period piece’.
Also the Kreuzlingen episode is handled with exemplary clarity and lightness of touch. What you say about the Warburg archive makes me hope that one day you will give us a comprehensive history, including the relationship of Warburg to Binswanger, which you alone would be able to elucidate.
It must have been quite a gruelling experience in Hamburg, with so many ghosts around. The very thought of Carl Georg Heise, particularly suitable for a ghost, might put one off (not to speak of la famille); but in reading the lecture one has the feeling that you swam very safely, and that alone is a great achievement and a cause for warm congratulations.
With best wishes and kindest regards,
It so happens that an English version of my centenary lecture is about to be published by the Phaidon Press in a volume entitled Tributes. Anyone interested will therefore be able to judge whether my interpretation of Warburg’s life and thought, an interpretation so highly praised by Wind, differs from the one in the book he found it his duty to drag through the mud.
SIR: I write to correct a confusion created by Dr Charles Hope in his review of my edition of the first volume of the late Professor Edgar Wind’s papers, The Eloquence of Symbols, with a biographical memoir by Professor Hugh Lloyd-Jones. In his discussion of Wind’s review of Sir Ernst Gombrich’s biography of Warburg, originally published anonymously in the Times Literary Supplement, Dr Hope writes: ‘If one were not assured by Professor Lloyd-Jones that this was written “as a matter of duty”, it would be hard to avoid the conclusion that Wind was here motivated by personal animus. Why else should he have claimed, for example, that “no account at all” was taken of the influence on Warburg of the aesthetics of Friedrich Robert Vischer [sic], when Gombrich devoted four pages to this very subject? Whatever his motives, the inclusion of this piece at least shows the severe standards by which he expected to be judged.’ Sir Ernst Gombrich does, indeed, devote four pages to a discussion of the aesthetics of Friedrich Theodor Vischer and his paper ‘Das Symbol’. However, in his review of Gombrich’s biography, Wind drew attention to the importance of the theory of Einfühlung (empathy) for Warburg’s thought, which was brought to bear on aesthetic theory by Robert Vischer – not mentioned by Gombrich – in his revolutionary treatise, Uber das Optische Formgefühl (1873). Warburg himself acknowledged his debt to both the Vischers in the preface to his very first publication, the now legendary dissertation on Botticelli (1893). These two important German aestheticians, Friedrich Theodor Vischer and Robert Vischer, are mentioned separately on page 27, note 16, as well as in the index, of The Eloquence of Symbols. Dr Hope has conflated father and son into one person.
Wolfson College. Oxford
Vol. 6 No. 7 · 19 April 1984
SIR: May I point to the confusion created by Dr Charles Hope in his review of The Eloquence of Symbols, when he writes that ‘the articles republished were apparently selected by Wind himself before he died,’ and makes erroneous claims on the basis of this statement (LRB, 15 March). The final choice was, in fact, the editor’s, made well after my husband’s death, in consultation with me, his literary executor, and with the many scholars who wished to emphasise the wide range of his interests. As stated in the preface to The Eloquence of Symbols, Edgar Wind himself ‘never carried the project beyond its early phases’.
Also mentioned in the preface are the Michelangelo papers, as being ‘of necessity’ excluded from the present volume because of their bulk – not, as your reviewer alleges, because their author lost confidence in them. His last years were almost entirely devoted to these studies on Michelangelo’s theological sources, which he always conceived of as a separate book, and it is my intention to follow his wishes and publish them as the third volume of his selected papers.
One final point. On the basis of erroneous evidence, Dr Hope finds it hard to resist the conclusion that my husband’s review of Sir Ernst Gombrich’s biography of Warburg was inspired by ‘personal animus’. Sir Ernst now cites (Letters, 5 April) the entire text of an appreciative letter from my husband about his memorial address for the Warburg centenary in Hamburg. I am at a loss to understand the relevance of this letter. Is it suggested that it committed the author to an equal approval of all Sir Ernst’s subsequent writings on Warburg? My husband greatly admired the address (13 pp.); he was gravely disappointed by the biography (375 pp.), finding the impression conveyed there very different: in each case he spoke as he found. Had it been possible – as it then was not – he would certainly have put his name to the review.
Vol. 6 No. 8 · 3 May 1984
SIR: Jaynie Anderson is quite right to point out (Letters, 5 April) that I conflated the two Vischers, Friedrich Theodor and Robert, in my review of Edgar Wind’s volume of collected papers; and I apologise for my carelessness. But this mistake fortunately does not negate my claim that Wind’s review of Gombrich’s biography of Warburg was unduly tendentious. In his dissertation on Botticelli, Warburg did indeed cite both Vischers in his third footnote, in connection with the notion of Einfühlung (empathy). As Dr Anderson points out, it was Robert who focused on the term in aesthetic theory in 1873; and then in 1887 Friedrich Theodor, making explicit reference to Robert’s work, applied it to the interpretation of symbols. In his biography of Warburg, Gombrich discussed Warburg’s debt to Friedrich Theodor at some length, and also gave prominence to the concept of empathy. Since he was writing about Warburg rather than the Vischers there is no obvious reason why he should have explored the various usages of the term. Its origins, incidentally, are not as straightforward as Wind maintained: far from being a new coinage in the 1870s, as he claimed in the review, it can be found as early in 1843, in Friedrich Theodor’s Plan zu einer neuen Gliederung der Ästhetik. In taking Friedrich Theodor’s publication of 1887 as the key text, without mentioning his debt to Robert’s paper of 1873, Gombrich was of course following the precedent set by Wind himself in a lecture delivered at the Warburg Library during Warburg’s own lifetime, and reprinted in The Eloquence of Symbols.
My assumption that Wind himself selected the papers republished in this volume was based on some remarks in the editor’s preface: ‘Many years ago Edgar Wind had contemplated publishing a collection of his essays with the title The Eloquence of Symbols, but as he was always preoccupied with new research he never carried the project beyond its early phases … For many of the essays that Wind had chosen for republication he left offprints with annotations and revisions, as well as notes with references to further sources and more recent bibliography, and these have been incorporated when they seemed appropriate.’ In that preface the editor specifically indicates that Professor Lloyd-Jones had suggested the inclusion of Wind’s early essay on Plato: but readers will understand why I had supposed – wrongly, as it turns out – that otherwise the choice was Wind’s own.
Warburg Institute, University of London
Vol. 6 No. 21 · 15 November 1984
SIR The discussion arising from Charles Hope’s review of Edgar Wind’s The Eloquence of Symbols (LRB, 15 March) has only recently come to my notice. May I add a postscript on a systematic problem which seems to me to have been overlooked? Associationism or empathy – that’s the question. In his review of E. H. Gombrich’s Aby Warburg, Wind insisted on the impact Robert Vischer had on Warburg’s psychology of art. He did this because he doubted Gombrich’s assumption that ‘in Warburg’s naturalistic philosophy of man’, as in Herbart’s theory of associationism, there is ‘little place for the creative imagination’. In Wind’s view, which I share, Warburg was not a Herbartian at all, but an adherent of the theory of Einfuhlung, according to which the imagination has an integrative function within the aesthetic act of endowing objects with our own feelings and emotions.
As to whether the term and theory of empathy were coined and developed by Robert Vischer, or by his father Friedrich Theodor, Wind certainly agreed with research on the subject, which attributed both term and theory to Robert. When, on the contrary, Hope maintains that the concept of empathy ‘can be found as early as 1843, in Friedrich Theodor’s Plan zu einer Neuen Gliederung der Ästhetik’, he is, I am afraid, conflating plan and realisation. In Friedrich Theodor’s Plan, Einfuhlung can be found neither as a theory nor as a concept, indeed, not even as a word, but only in modo absentiae, in a vague awareness of the problem, the solution to which was to await the advent of Robert. Since in his early writings Friedrich Theodor did not abandon the assumption of an objectively existing beauty, he could not arrive at the Kantian solution later advanced by his son, namely, that beauty is not given as an object, but is grounded in the aesthetic act of a subject projecting its feelings and emotions onto an otherwise dead and senseless object.
It is misleading of Hope to assume that, in disregarding Robert Vischer, Gombrich ‘was of course following the precedent set by Wind himself in a lecture delivered at the Warburg Library during Warburg’s own lifetime’. Apart from the fact that the lecture was delivered in 1930, a year after Warburg’s death, we must remember that Wind confined himself in it to a reconstruction of Warburg’s and Friedrich Theodor’s concept of the symbol. Since he did not deal with Warburg’s Fragments on the foundation of a monistic psychology of art, there was no need to mention Warburg’s debt to Robert Vischer. When, however, he reviewed Gombrich’s biography of Warburg, Wind was quite right to criticise Gombrich for omitting to mention Robert Vischer in his discussion of the Fragments, because it was largely this omission which led to Gombrich’s mistaken view of Warburg as an associationist. What did, in fact, take place ‘during Warburg’s own lifetime’ were several methodological conversations between Warburg and Wind. According to the Tagebuch of the Warburg Library, only two weeks before Warburg’s death the two men had a long discussion specifically about his Fragments. This personal exchange of ideas lends added authority to Wind’s various accounts of Warburg. On this ground alone, the decision to include in The Eloquence of Symbols Wind’s 1930 Warburg lecture and his critical review of Gombrich’s biography was, in my view, correct and reasonable.
University of Heidelberg