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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Pre World War II Art History

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The father of art history is considered to bea man by the name of Johann Winckelmann (Dec. 9, 1717-June 8, 1768). He was a German ancient art historian and archeologist, who also studied religion and medicine. His true passion in life was his work with ancient art and artifacts. He developed stylistic categories to classic art so someone could better know a fake from the real thing. He earned the title "father of modern archaeology" largely due to his studies of the Pompeii and Herculaneum excavation sights. The excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum brought many of the classic ideals back to popularity and inspired the Neoclassical era. In his writings, he delivers historical information and explains the reasons behind the imagery, the social issues that explain some of the creative patterns, and explanation of the "aesthetics," or beauty that the art is. He was a believer in the copying of classic art to improve skills and to develop an understanding for classic art. Copying, Winckelmann believed, should be done in a way that the art will "become one's own." Winckelmann was murdered for some rare coins given to him by the Empress Maria Theresa. He was buried in Trieste, Italy at the St. Giusto Cathedral.

Some of his more notable written works were:

Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek works in Painting & Sculpture, 1755
Observations on the Architecture of the Ancients, 1762
Ancient Letters from Herculaneum, 1762
Finding Pleasure in Art, 1763
News of the Newest Herculaneum Artifacts, 1764
The History of Ancient Art, 1764
Experimenting with Allegories in Good Art, 1766
Ancient Art Stories, 1766

When looking at the art of the historic world, a skilled student would keep several factors in mind. It is first interesting to note the purpose of art historians. Art historians come from one of two general frames of mind. First off, some art historians focus on the object or the artwork itself. The second camp focuses on the social function or reason behind the artwork being made. I will spend time looking at both the art and the reasons behind it. Another item a beginning art student may want to keep in mind, is that an artist generally makes his works for a client. This client can take many forms. A client could be: an art dealer that helps sell the artists work; a community that wants to add beauty to the public areas; a government body that wants all to see their power; a religion that wants to inspire its members; a supreme power that the artist pays tribute to; and so on. In an attempt to help you understand all this information I have broken down Pre- World War II Art History into nine distinct areas of study: Pre-History, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic, and Impressionism.

Regardless of the art historian that studies the art, client or the time in history that the art was made in, every artist has a purpose for creating art. All purposes can be boiled down to one of five reasons for creating art. They are: to create beauty, to reveal a truth or opinion, to immortalize someone or something, to reflect a society, or to meet the artist’s needs.

Art is a form of communication. Over time and in different places around the world, that communication has changed. Being able to identify what you are looking at is only one layer of understanding visual art. If we can understand an artworks symbolic meaning, or its what its supposed to be telling us, we will have another layer to understanding art. Understanding the context clues in art will help your level of understanding grow as you gain experience in looking at art. There was a time these works could be read like a written story, but that is a skill that must be learned. With some training and close observation over the art history unit, you will better learn how to read this great art.

winckelmann.jpg
Anton Mengs, "Johann Winckelmann," 1755, oil on canvas; 25" X 19" Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1948.

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063