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Antique, The

  Although antiquities (that is, ‘antiques’) have been described as ‘rubbish old enough to be precious’, ‘the antique’ is a shorthand term in art criticism for the whole package of Greek, Hellenistic and Roman art and architecture from the 5th century  BCE to about the 4th century  CE. Its study became of increasing importance for both the nature and the development of European art from the time of Charlemagne—an importance confirmed by the Italian Renaissance, the very name of which implies a ‘rebirth’ of art under the influence of ancient models. That painting, sculpture and architecture were all affected by the antique until the advent of modernism does not imply that the tradition is now dead, for postmodernism has seen to its resuscitation.

The profound importance of the antique in Western art is clearly illustrated by the number of articles touched by the concept in this book. Its works of art are the backbone of the classical tradition, and academies were set up to do that tradition honour. Great collectors, public museums and galleries focused predominantly on the antique. All were supplied in an almost systematic way by the young gentlemen who went on the Grand Tour—frequently nothing more than a more elegant version of plundering. It is, also, not the case that interest in the antique only began with the Renaissance: it is the core of Carolingian art, and much in evidence in the famous sketchbook of the 13th-century architect Villard de Honnecourt.

Although the antique can be a tyranny, the emotional richness and stylistic variety of the exemplars it provided have more usually made it an inspiration. Such richness and variety were given extra poignancy, in art, because they reflected and perpetuated the grandeur and attainments of the civilizations which had given them birth. MG PD

Further reading Michael Greenhalgh, The Classical Tradition in Art.



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