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Quarrel Of The Ancients And Moderns

  The quarrel of the ancients and moderns was a running dispute, active in European fine-art circles for most of the 17th and 18th centuries, on the relevance and relative worth of antique and modern art. The difference revolved around the excessive reverence accorded by some to the ancients (who held it as an article of faith that modern art might and should seek to match that of classical antiquity, but could never surpass it) and the confidence of the others in contemporary achievements which, as they reminded their adversaries, were unknown in antiquity. ‘The Quarrel’ (for example between Diderot and Falconet) may seem silly today, but it affected attitudes not merely to Renaissance art and the classical tradition, but also to the teaching of art in the academies. Some sought to strike a balance: ‘Speak of the moderns without contempt’, wrote Lord Chesterfield to his son in 1748, ‘and of the ancients without idolatry; judge them all by their merits, but not by their age.’ MG PD

Further reading Stanley Rosen, The Ancients and the Moderns: Rethinking Modernity.



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