The Barbarian Invasions: A Genealogy of the History of Art

Eric Michaud

(Éditions Gallimard, 304 pages, 2015)
 

Praise for The Cult of Art in Nazi Germany:

. . . a provocative attempt to analyze systematically an essential characteristic of the National Socialist state, namely, the unification of art and ritual in what the author sees as “the Nazi myth.” —History of Religions

. . . this is an intriguing book that will undoubtedly fascinate many who are interested in theories about images and their potential power. —Journal of Modern History

[T]his well-researched and nicely illustrated book analyzes the place of art within National Socialist ideology and culture. . . . anyone with an interest in Nazism or art history, including non-specialists, stands to benefit from reading this book. —Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire

A good book for anyone interested in getting into the “why” of the Nazi movement. —The NYMAS Review

A highly original work offering a wealth of new material and a radically new perspective. It could be said that this book is a highly convincing documentation of Walter Benjamin’s famous statement that fascism is the aestheticisation of politics. Michaud’s analysis is provocative and disquieting because it relentlessly reveals the deep interrelation of a long aesthetic and artistic tradition of the “creative artist” and central motifs of Christianity. —Rainer Nägele, Johns Hopkins University

Closely argued and intellectually dazzling, this study is essential reading, not only for historians of twentieth-century art, but for anyone interested in the visual culture of modernity. —Brigid Doherty, Princeton University

Countering the timelessness of classical art, affirmed by Johann Winckelmann in the middle of the eighteenth century, a new discourse suddenly arose: Because of the barbarian invasions of the fourth and fifth centuries, the West was propelled into modernity, as it was converted from paganism to Christianity. The infusion of the new blood of the northern races was seen to have engendered a new art, anti-Roman and anti-Classical, whose legacy was still apparent in Europe.

This was a phantasmic narrative, inseparable from the formation of nation-states and the rise of nationalism in Europe. Based on the dual assumption of the homogeneity and the continuity of their native populations, it assumed that styles depend on both blood and race. The “tactile” or “optical” qualities of an object became the unequivocal signs of its “Latin” or “Germanic” provenance, while museums organized their objects according to the “ethnic” identity of their creators.

On the global market of today, the ethnic-racial origin—“Black,” “African American,” “Latino,” “Native American—ostensibly displayed by the works themselves increases their market value. Thus is revealed the permanent competition of the races—the same model that presided over the beginnings of the history of art.

Eric Michaud is the author of a number of works, including (Stanford University Press, 2004), (Collective, MIT, 1998), (Éditions Gallimard, 1996), and (Éditions Gallimard, 2003).

 

Nature and Music

Emmanuel Reibel

(Fayard, 192 pages, 2016)

“The subject deserves great respect for its breadth and complexity. We should vigorously commend the total success of this little book, which manages to explore the entire subject without ever becoming superficial, evoking the major masterpieces precisely while remaining pleasant to read, without any off-putting technical or conceptual language…. It’s a pleasure and a tour de force.” –Etudes

“This accessible and clear essay envisions the manner in which representations, imitations or musical translations of nature might have been reliant, in Western civilization, on the very evolution of “the idea of nature.” –La Lettre du Musicien

“A lovely essay…the author shows, with limpidity, how nature has given man-made music a mirror for self-reflection.” –Le Monde des Livres

Music, Emmanuel Reibel writes in his introduction to Nature and Music, is, of all the art forms, the one most in sync with nature. To understand just how much music and nature share a sonorous language, just listen to the sound of waves lapping against the shore, the melody of a nightingale, or the wind whistling through the trees. In a sense, human music—whether articulated through voice or through instrumentation—is only an echo of these natural sounds.

Reibel traces the relationship between music and nature through Western history, from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to the field of acoustic ecology. He points out that, as with Orpheus and his powerful lyre that could tame savage animals—creating order out of chaos—humans have always desired to control nature, and that music has historically been one way for them to try to assert dominance over the natural world.

Nature and Music is divided into subsections that focus on different elements of the natural world: gardens, storms, the utopic wilderness of Arcadia, the elements. Reibel draws upon his vast body of knowledge as a musicologist and pianist, but writes simply enough so that readers unacquainted with the specifics of music theory and history can still easily follow his argument. The result is a fascinating exploration of the history of the idea of nature that will resonate with musicians, historians, and environmentalists.

Emmanuel Reibel, a former student of the École Normale Supérieure and of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, is a pianist and a senior lecturer at the University of Nanterre. His previous books are Les musiciens romantiques, Fascinations parisiennes (Fayard, 2003), Faust, la musique au défi du mythe (Fayard, 2008), and Comment la musique est devenue romantique (Fayard, 2013), for which he was awarded the Prix François-Victor Noury from the Académie française.

 

Landscape, Beauty, and Meaning

Edouard Pommier

(Les Belles Lettres, 191 pages, 2013)
 

La beaute et le paysage.jpg

The greatest work of the painter is the representation of a story.

Paintings have in them a wholly divine force. —Leon Battista Alberti

Is the concept of painting, which is a human action, compatible with a painter’s vision of the external world?

Pommier believes that Alberti left room for what we now call “landscape painting,” i.e., the art of depicting the spectacle of the natural universe.

Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1473) wrote both of the above statements first in Latin in 1435 in his treatise of painting, De picture, and then a year later in Italian. The thoughts are fundamental to all Italian beliefs of the time about art. Alberti stresses the nobility of painting by its power to unfold before our eyes the story of humanity’s salvation, and of our myths and classical stories, and by basing its divine character on our collective memory. Landscape is not mentioned, since it was not considered a genre in its own right in the literature of art from the beginning of the Renaissance to the end of neoclassicism. It’s therefore not a term Alberti would have known.

Interest in representing nature, Pommier explains, first emerged with the issue of the power of painting. This was particularly true in the context of the Paragone—debates during the Italian Renaissance as to which form of art (architecture, sculpture, or painting) was superior to all others. In these discussions it was often nature in action—that is, meteorological nature such as thunderstorms—that most interested the theorists and provided a connection to man.

In the Venetian environment, however, landscape was considered differently. The term paese was used to designate the landscape in painting, and it expressed a focus that was primarily on the representation of a nature that was inhabited and organized by man even though no such image had yet been the subject of an autonomous painting. Given these acceptances of landscape, it is probable that Alberti, even though he did not know the term, would have included, and in fact did include, the form within the meaning of his defining statements.

Edouard Pommier is an art historian specializing in the history of theories and artistic institutions from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. His published works include L’Art de la liberté. Doctrines et débats de la Révolution française (Gallimard, 1991), Théories du portrait, de la Renaissance aux Lumières (Gallimard, 1998), Winckelmann, inventeur de l’histoire de l’art (Gallimard, 2003), and Comment l’art devient l’Art dans l’Italie de la Renaissance (Gallimard, 2007). At Klincksieck, he was responsible for the management of Les Musées en Europe à la Veille de l’ouverture du Louvre (1993).