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  • François Duquesnoy and the Greek Ideal
  • Webster Smith
Estelle Lingo . François Duquesnoy and the Greek Ideal. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. viii + 240 pp. index. illus. bibl. $75. ISBN: 978–0–300–12483–5.

This is the only book on the Flemish-born sculptor Duquesnoy to have appeared since the monograph by Mariette Fransolet published in 1942. Among the many well-chosen quotations in this new study, Lingo translates a sentence from the biography of the artist in Giovanni Battista Passeri's Lives of the painters, sculptors and architects, dead between 1641 and 1673, who have worked in Rome, which defines what Passeri saw to be the vocation that sustained Duquesnoy since his coming to Rome in 1618 through the twenty-five years remaining to him: "He wanted to show himself a rigorous imitator of the Greek manner, which he called the true teacher of perfect working, because it possesses at the same time grandeur, nobility, majesty and loveliness" (2). This alleged determination to be as Greek as possible is confirmed by the evidence of art objects together with opinions and observations gathered from seventeenth-century sources for the first time in this book. It was probably such a commitment to the Greek ideal that made Duquesnoy stay in Rome, consulting exemplary works, never going back even once [End Page 973] to his native Brussels or anywhere else abroad before the last year of a life cut short by illness.

The book recounts this expatriate life in three chapters, each one devoted to aspects of Duquesnoy's art that brought him recognition from contemporaries compelled by notions of what Greek art, as distinct from Roman, must have been like. Chapter 1, "Small Sculptures and Grand Ideas," begins by tracing the development of ideas from the early sixteenth century into the age of Bernini on the distinction between Greek art and Roman. Then Lingo observes Duquesnoy' s application of such ideas onto restorations of antiquities and a variety of original works of small scale in marble and bronze. Chapters 2 and 3, "The Tomb and the Portrait" and "Bodily Presence: The Greek Style and the Cult Statue," show how Duquesnoy's aspiration to the Greek ideal persisted even through projects for mementos of some of his contemporaries and for statues of saints.

The material of chapter 3, concerning St. Andrew and St. Susanna, is dramatic, as both works posed difficult problems of reconciling the Greek ideal of nudity with the post-Tridentine urge to drape, and were barely accomplished in spite of accidents and illness. These works have been thought, besides, to exemplify an aggressive attitude, a stance against the emotionalism of the Baroque style, as in the art of Bernini. Rudolf Wittkower (Art and Architecture in Italy, 1600–1750) places Duquesnoy among "a powerful phalanx" —including Alessandro Algardi, Nicholas Poussin, and Andrea Sacchi —challenging "the great masters of the High Baroque" (169).

Lingo argues, however, that this now-usual characterization of the Duquesnoy's art as relatively unemotional is "misleading" (5). Her observations prove that he wanted to stir the beholder no less that Bernini did. Duquesnoy's figures would engage one's feelings through the fascination of the material —the artist's choice of a certain kind of marble or of bronze identifiable with ancient Greek practice —indescribable subtleties of surface and of contour, and facial expressions so stilled as, paradoxically, to redirect attention to the emotionality of the subject matter. Such qualities were to excite Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–68) in his admiration of sculpture of Greek style.

The fourth chapter, "Reflections on Greek Art and the Greek Manner before Winckelmann," describes for the first time the continuity of classicism of Greek style in sculpture from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries into Winckelmann's Reflections of the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture (1756) and History of Ancient Art (1765). This concluding section of the book reviews the attitudes taken by artists and by scholars, from ca. 1500 on, toward Greek art, and the integration of both of such attitudes into the writings of Winckelmann. This is a book for all libraries, as it transcends the limits expected of a monographic...


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Archived 2009
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