Baroque Classicism: Style and Society in 17th-c Italy and France - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Baroque Classicism: Style and Society in 17th-c Italy and France

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Baroque Classicism: Style and Society in 17th-c Italy and France

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Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, Adam Elsheimer c.1605, Oil on Copper ©Frankfurt History Museum

Dr Sheila McTighe

Dr McTighe will be on sabbatical in the autumn term 2019. That portion of the course will be taught by an associate lecturer who is a specialist in the field.

The union of drawing and rational design, in both artistic practice and aesthetic theory, was a fundamental tenet for an important group of seventeenth-century artists and critics. Caravaggio’s powerful realism came to seem antithetical to many who espoused Disegno.  Focusing first on the careers of Annibale Carracci and Nicolas Poussin in Rome, and placing them in contrast to the practices of Caravaggio and other ‘realist’ artists in the seicento, the course will examine the practices of drawing and the attitudes toward idealization that formed common ground for artists such as Claude Lorrain, Domenichino, and Charles Le Brun.

Emulating antiquity was not the only trait that joined these artists in Italy and France.  The critical idea that painting and poetry were sister arts, in the ‘ut pictura poesis’ tradition, underlay many artists’ approach to narrative in painting.  The choice of noble, ethical subjects, the focus on representing the passions of the soul, and a concern for the legibility of images, were shared concerns for artists and writers on the arts.  Word-image relations will thus be a thread to follow through the course. 

Associated with the rise of artists’ academies and with a repudiation of guild practices, classicizing art was also addressed to particular social groups. Printmaking, whether a creative practice as in the case of the Carracci or Claude Lorrain, or a workshop tool for the reproduction of paintings, further extended the audiences for classicizing arts. We will look at a Roman public for visual arts polarized during the 1630s by the taste for Caravaggism and the realist practices of Dutch and Flemish painting. In France, the political and social upheaval of the 1640s was the seedbed for new forms of idealizing art.

One aim of the course is to reframe this phenomenon of baroque classicism through the lens of a social history of art. The collecting of drawings and prints as well as the patronage of painting will be areas of interest for the course. We will also look at the rise of art criticism in this same period, with ‘lectures’ and statements by artists themselves, treatises on painting by connoisseurs, and the biographies of modern artists such as those by Giovan Pietro Bellori and André Félibien. Close examination of paintings, drawings and prints in London will form an important part of our class meetings, with visits to the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings, the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, and the National Gallery among other collections. If we are successful in bidding for funds to take a study trip abroad, we will visit Rome to look at works by Caravaggio, Carracci, Poussin and others on view in Roman churches, palaces and museums.  

In 2019/20, one thread followed in the readings will concern the letters of Nicolas Poussin, and artists’ letters in the 17the century more generally, as a tie-in to an exhibition in development on Poussin’s correspondence, with the working title ‘Poussin and the Passions’. A reading knowledge of French and/or Italian is highly recommended for this course; students are encouraged to study in language classes during the M.A. course to extend their language skills.

Courtauld Course Lecturer

About the lecturer

Sheila McTighe took her PhD at Yale University with a thesis on Nicolas Poussin and libertinage, which became the subject of her first book. She taught subsequently at Cornell and Columbia Universities before arriving at The Courtauld in 1998. Her interests then took her toward the study of 17th century naturalism and the depiction of everyday life. This in turn led to fascination with 17th-century Italian and French prints and with print culture more broadly. She enjoys being able to teach in front of works of art in London’s museum collections, and traveling with students to study paintings and prints in Paris and Rome.

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