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By Burne Hogarth
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.
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THE DUALISM OF ART AND SCIENCE
THE YEAR IS 1538. In the town of Padua, hardly twenty miles from the great seaport of Venice, a young man is about to deliver a lecture. It is late in the year and a brisk wind is blowing. A large concourse of students and observers have gathered to watch him. His subject is anatomy and they are here to see a dissection. A smile flits across his intense face. He is new here and already his demonstrations have received wide acclaim and respect.
The excited murmur of voices quiets as he steps down from his chair placed high on a dais before the semicircular bank of benches in the hall. He moves confidently toward a long center table with its array of instruments. A year earlier he had created a stir among his colleagues by arrogantly rejecting the help of "demonstrators" and "ostensors" in the practice of dissection. To him, the practice of dissection is art, and the anatomical discovery of man as the living reflection of God is worthy of the highest personal dedication.
His dark eyes fix on the subject before him. It is a cadaver, the corpse of a criminal, and it has not been very well preserved. It is held in a standing position with a pulley-rope looped around the back of the head, supported from a beam at the ceiling. He reaches for a knife. His high forehead with its tight curls gleams in the sallow light as he bends forward. His hand is sure. He has done this many times before. From his earliest days in his father's house in Brussels, to his student days in Louvain and the University of Paris, he has done this. Now as Professor of Surgery appointed by the Senate of Venice to the University of Padua the year before, he is about to perform another dissection.
But this time it is different. The young Professor of Surgery is engaged in a search. It is a time of knowledge, enlightenment, and invention. It is a time of voyaging and discovery. And this time he has embarked on a voyage of discovery all his own.
He is fully conscious of his purpose. He knows well the importance of his task. In his mind's eye parade the great figures of classical antiquity — Hippocrates, Aristotle, Herophilus, Galen — those exalted men whose observations have laid the basis for his undertaking. Earlier in the year he had published with instantaneous success his fugitive sheets, the Tabulae sex. Now he is afire with an idea. With his keen eye, sharp knife, and steady hand he will cut through the veil of time and mystic belief and lay open the matrix of man. Below the layers of skin and tissue he will observe and record the structure of human form.
Knife in hand, he reaches out and makes a swift longitudinal incision from rib cage to pubis in the body of the cadaver.
The young man, Professor of Surgery at Padua, is but twenty-four years old. His name is Andreas Wesel, but in the Latinate convention of that day, we know him as Andreas Vesalius. In four years' time, his work will be done. In four years' time, he will have produced some seven works in text and graphic illustration published under the title, De humani corporis fabrica — The Structure of the Human Body. He will be twenty-eight years old, but he will have swept away for all time the obscurantism of almost 2,000 years of philosophical inertia. He will be called the Reformer of Anatomy and he will take his place in history as ushering in the modern scientific era of medical and physiological discovery.
A brisk wind blew in Padua that day. But another wind was blowing — the wind of humanism and new science, the Renaissance — blowing across the length and breadth of Europe. In that era a three-pronged assault would be launched against the bastions of scholastic conservatism and academic rigidity. The Platonic-Aristotelian construct of the universe would be rent by Francis Bacon's description of scientific logic and empirical method in the Novum organum; the geo-static cosmology would be torn asunder and made heliocentric in Nicholas Copernicus' De revolutionibus orbium coelestium; myth and speculation would be forever dispelled in human anatomy in Andreas Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica. Macrocosm and microcosm — the deterministic mover of the universe superimposed on the predestined behavior of man — held together in a fixed logic of idealist dogma would come crashing down. Renaissance thought, from that day to this, would introduce a new advance in the rational powers of man, and new light would be shed on the phenomenology of natural causation. The Augean stables of the mind would be ready for the Tiber.
* * *
The scientific revolution of the sixteenth century was an intellectual breakthrough of such magnitude as to compare with the greatest achievements in human history. Not since the rise of Greek civilization had its like occurred. Renaissance humanism had signalized the end of the Middle Ages, and the hierarchy of social formalism was crumbling. The emancipation of the individual from feudal servility presaged the dawn of democratic institutions. The age of science had begun and the early outlines of modern man had appeared on the stage of history.
Profound as the breakthrough was in medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, and natural science, the achievement in art was equally spectacular and dramatic. The Renaissance inaugurated an entirely new concept in expressive form. It was not so much a change in subject matter as it was a working out of new solutions to older problems. The themes were Scriptural still, but the stress, the emphasis of its approach, was the portrayal of religious ideas as episodes in human history. God as man and man as humanity were extolled as the aim of art. The impact focused on the deeply felt human experiences of the times, and revealed the personal significance of faith. In this sense, the new art ceased to be withdrawn, austere, symbolic, essentially decorative in character. Instead, it became an innately human, warmly imagistic, pictorial art. It served a moral purpose through education and reason, rather than through fear and obedience. Scientific discovery, breakdown of feudal barriers in social structure, and the increased importance of the individual persona, led to the profound metamorphosis in Renaissance art.
Fundamental to this change was the naturalistic representation of the human figure, the primacy of anatomical man. From this premise, concepts of form, space, and design structure in the two-dimensional flat surface of the picture were subjected to the rationale of scientific method and analysis. Thus, the investigation in medical anatomy and physiology through human dissection led to a powerful insight in artistic anatomy and the rectitude of human form; the mathematics of navigation and exploration, contributing a geometry of space instead of planes, touched off the development of visual perspective in the control and measurement of the third dimension; the new heliocentric astronomy projected motion of the body and dynamic foreshortening of the figure in deep space; celestial mechanics, theories of the interaction of mass, space, and energy in physics provided weight and solidity of form, and shot through diagonal tensions and thrusts in design structure; the gravitational field of the planetary system put the ground plane into the picture (objectively analyzed for the first time in history); interest in natural science produced an awareness of botanical form, correct description of animals, and atmospheric recession in landscape and environment.
The revolution in art, concurrent with the revolution in science, was directed toward one overriding aim. The artists of the Renaissance gave visual expression to reason and nature in the birth of human form. Elemental man, his surge and drive, his passion and repose, pulsed and beat in the supernova of the intellect, the transcendent mirror of the age. What made the sixteenth century so remarkable was its departure from the stultified application of static conventions. Its essential idea was an expanding aesthetic, concentrated on the observation of man's continuity with the unity of nature. Thus, very shortly, the dynamics of their concepts led them from one discovery to another in their penetration of human experience. Empirical science and natural process became an ongoing philosophical principle of art.
According to the new criteria, the strictures in earlier Gothic art were held up for close scrutiny and revaluation. The austere iconography dissolved in a proliferation of concrete experiences and physical realities. The human figure was the first to change. Slowly the individual emerged. Cimabue, Giotto, Massacio felt him — his suffering, his ecstasy, his terror. Anatomy galvanized the wooden forms to life; nerve and sinew writhed with energy; the man of hope, of tumultuous passion and grandeur surged on the scene. The Creation of Adam in Michaelangelo's Sistine fresco is the appropriate analogue of the time. The seasons, the weather, the time of day; youth and age, manhood and womanhood, birth and death; the growth of things, the cycle of life began to appear in art. Leonardo, Raphael, Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto saw the mysteries of nature, atmosphere and light, serenity and tenderness, poignancy and pathos. In the West, the moral principles and ethical values in personal behavior prevailed in the van Eycks, van der Weyden, Bosch, Dürer, Grünewald, Brueghel, and El Greco.
The seventeenth century, pressing closely on, took a new leap into the future of the individual in art. A quickening process of scientific research, transitions in society, and new philosophical concepts brought forth the human portrait, individual man in his ordinary environment and specific locale. The baroque era, projecting the great age of portraiture and the landscape in art, realized in visual terms the discoveries of Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, and Newton on the mechanics of motion and universal gravitation, geometry of motion, optics, and the spectrum of light. In the philosophy of Hobbes, Descartes, and Spinoza it sustained and exemplified the importance of relative human intelligence, basing universal law on science. Coincidental with these, the solo instrument, the aria, the recitative proclaimed the individual consciousness in music. In its portrayal of human warmth, baroque art synthesized the pulse of anatomical man with Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood.
The baroque was an art of realism, the realism of human personality, the insight into the character of man. In its genre, its grace, its elegance, it had the essential "human touch." In its air and space, were the flashes of the daily lives, the activity, the work. But its tour de force was its play and counterplay of light. In its chiaroscuro was revealed the human drama, the moods, the lightning and thunder of the emotions of its people, the living people. In Velázquez, in Rubens were the courtly, the refined, the ease and grace, the joy of life. In Vermeer and de Hooch, the gesture, the tilt of head, the eyes in greeting — in response, in reflection, in repose. In Hals, the laughter of men and women, the cry of children. In Rembrandt, the poor, the lame, the bent, the bemused; the stertorous sounds, the cough, the suspended breath of trailing wonder and doubt; the sustained, pervasive sense of time, the unutterable poignancy of life. And always the landscape — the fields, the clouds, the sky; the locale of house and garden; the things of work and rest.
The dualism of art and science, from its inception in the Renaissance, had created a cyclical system of broadening aesthetic dimensions. As the boundaries in scientific and human activity widened, so did the boundaries of artistic endeavor. The process of intersection and correlation in religious, social, and human affairs had been an accepted premise in the progress of art for more than two hundred years. Now a stasis began to set in, an imperceptible slowing of the process. With the rise of powerful monarchies in the conflict and consolidation of power, the dualism of art and science began to show a cleavage. What has been called the rococo period in art of the eighteenth century was, in effect, a crisis in the relationship of art to the progress of the individual in his time — a concept which the baroque era profoundly fulfilled in its awareness of human worth. In Francis Bacon's words, summarizing the aspirations of the preceding periods, the works of the Renaissance and the baroque eras stand revealed: "On the observation of nature we shall build a system for the general amelioration of mankind."
Toward the end of the seventeenth century scientific pursuit had begun to shift from an act of faith in the improvement of mankind, to an increase in scope as an activity of enterprise and a utility in commerce. Liebniz, philosopher, mathematician, adviser to Frederick I of Prussia, extolled this view with decisive clarity; the role of science is necessary as an instrument of policy in the perpetuation of the state. The dualism of art and science in the early eighteenth century was in tension and transition. Concepts of the figure developed generally along three broad lines of expression. The art of the nobility and aristocracy presented a mixture of thinly disguised, taut contradictions. As spatial volume and recession of planes moved deeper, thematic concepts declined into the superficial, the shallow, and the banal. Color and brushwork intensified and became more vivid, while form became fugitive and insubstantial. Rococo art in the aristocratic mode had become a plaything of princes, a decor of palaces, a reflection of opulence. It had become an art of adornment, of miniatures, of preciosity in intimate decoration. It had become an extension of effete and courtly refinement, of mythical-classic concoctions, of fool-the-eye pictures and hallucinosis of vision.
It was in the middle class, in the growing commercial power of the bourgeois, where the firm note was struck. Here, the aristocratic leadership yielded to the bourgeoning prestige of middle class taste and patronage. In portrait, landscape, and still life were presented the substantial new class and their ways. Because it was a section of society mainly concerned with mercantile interests, the themes of home, surroundings, and family interest — landscape and still life — gained in importance as subjects of art. Aristocratic efflorescence waned in the sensuous fulminations of Van Dyck, Fragonard, Watteau, Boucher, Tiepolo and Gainsborough. It surrendered to the less spectacular, more vital products of Constable, Hogarth, Romney, Raeburn, Chardin and Turner. In America, the broad stream of social movement influenced the orderly art of Copley, Stuart, West, and Trumbull. But the dislocations of life in the eighteenth century brought out a third movement in art, a line of argument as it were, of satirical criticism and savage social commentary. Investigations of science in new fields in physiology, embryology, microscopy, as well as observations of phenomena in human affairs, led to liberalism, free thought, and social examination in caustic art and literature. Art became both literary in subject matter and naturalistic in treatment, in Greuze and Longhi. But emotionalized exaggeration and caricature of the figure was its end product, and its most energetic expositor was William Hogarth. The end of the era gave rise to a series of social shocks which had deep repercussions on the development of art. Scientific invention produced the Industrial Revolution; social invention produced the American Democracy and the French Republic; artistic invention produced the pictorial reportage of immediate human events, and advanced the movement toward modern realism and political cartooning. Goya, like the towering, brooding Colossus of his etching, turning to look backward at the past, was about to move into the future of a new age with the thunderous intensity of a new concept of theme, form, and style. At the apex of his powers, Goya crossed the bridge of a new century, a new age in society, and a new art. The link had been forged; the eighteenth century rushed into the nineteenth; and a conscious symbolism of subjective emotionality and distortion showed itself in the human figure.
It was left to the Napoleonic era to fix irreversibly the lines of demarcation between the earlier leanings of the genre realist baroque and the aristocratic rococo baroque into two antagonistic movements; the academic respectability of Napoleonic-classicist art and the genre libertarianism of romantic-realist art. The tendency to concentrate on subject matter and argument of viewpoint in thematic material gave both movements the characteristic of immediacy in the portrayal of events. As such, personalized adventure and melodrama became an important feature of art, and in this they were the forerunners of modern magazine illustration. The two movements were notably marked by the recurring thrusts and counterthrusts of their diverse positions throughout the Napoleonic era. Essentially, it was a contest for the opinions of men; the drive toward egalitarian nationalism against conservative authoritarianism. On the one hand, Goya, Géri-cault, Delacroix, Daumier, Forain; on the other, Gros, David, Meissonier, Ingres.
Excerpted from Dynamic Anatomy by Burne Hogarth. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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