The Invisible Masterpiece / Edition 2

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The "invisible masterpiece" is an unattainable ideal, a work of art into which a dream of absolute art is incorporated but can never be realized. Using this metaphor borrowed from Balzac, Hans Belting explores the history of "the masterpiece" and how its status and meaning have been elevated and denigrated since the early nineteenth century. Before 1800, works of art were either imitative (portraits and landscapes) or narrative (history painting). But under the influence of Romantic modernity, the physical object—a painted canvas, for example, or a sculpture—came to be seen as visible testimony of the artist's attempt to achieve absolute or ultimate art; in short, the impossible. This revolution in interpretation coincided with the establishment of the first public art museums, in which classical and Renaissance works were presented as the "real" masterpieces, timeless art of such quality that no modern artist could possibly hope to achieve. The Mona Lisa and other celebrated paintings preoccupied artists who felt burdened by this cult of the masterpiece as it came to be institutionalized.

Belting explores and explains how twentieth-century artists, following Duchamp, struggled with their personal dreams of absolute art. It was not until the 1960s that artists, such as Warhol, finally began to reject the idea of the individual, totemic work of art and its permanent exhibition, as well as the related concept of the "masterpiece" and the outmoded art market that fed off it.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Republic - Christopher S. Wood
“A forceful and highly original history of nineteenth-century and twentieth-century art. . . . With his inexhaustible imagination and his sharply paradoxical turn of mind, Belting is one of the dominant art historical voices of our time.”Christopher S. Wood, The New Republic
The American Prospect
“With deep-throated ardor, [Belting] writes, ‘This then is the hell of art: one chases a phantom.’ Each chapter of The Invisible Masterpiece enjoys another milestone along this chase.”The American Prospect
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226042657
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.63 (w) x 11.17 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Hans Belting is a professor of art history and media theory at the Hochshule für Gestaltung, Karlsruhe, Germany, and visiting professor at Columbia University. He is the author of Likeness and Presence and The End of the History of Art?, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Table of Contents

1 The Farewell to Apollo
2 Raphael's Dream
3 Shipwrecked
4 Paris: A City and a Museum
5 The Artists' Curse
6 A Hieroglyph of Art
7 In the Labyrinth of Modernity
8 Escape Routes to Freedom
9 The Inferno of Perfection
10 Cathedral of Memory
11 An Invisible Masterpiece
12 The Fate of Art Fetish
13 The Dream of Absolute Art
14 The Fiction of Absolute Art
15 The Absolute Artist
16 American Modernism
17 The Call to Freedom
18 The Work as Memory

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