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Queer Beauty: Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond

Queer Beauty: Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond

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Queer Beauty: Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond

592 pages
8 heures
Sep 22, 2010


The pioneering work of Johann Winckelmann (1717-1768) identified a homoerotic appreciation of male beauty in classical Greek sculpture, a fascination that had endured in Western art since the Greeks. After Winckelmann, however, sometimes the value (even the possibility) of queer beauty in art was denied. Several theorists after Winckelmann, notably the philosopher Immanuel Kant, broke sexual attraction and aesthetic appreciation into separate or dueling domains. In turn, sexual desire and aesthetic pleasure conceived as discrete categories had to be profoundly rethought by later writers.

Davis argues that these disjunct domains could be rejoined by such innovative thinkers as John Addington Symonds, Michel Foucault, and Richard Wollheim, who reclaimed earlier insights about the mutual implication of sexuality and aesthetics. Addressing texts by Arthur Schopenhauer, Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde, Vernon Lee, and Sigmund Freud, among many others, Davis criticizes modern approaches, such as Kantian idealism, Darwinism, psychoanalysis, and analytic aesthetics, for either reducing aesthetics to a question of sexuality or for removing sexuality from the aesthetic field altogether. Despite these schematic reductions, sexuality always returns to aesthetics, and aesthetic considerations always recur in sexuality. Davis particularly shows that formal philosophies of art since the late-eighteenth century have had to respond to nonstandard sexuality, especially homoeroticism, and that theories of nonstandard sexuality have drawn on aesthetics in significant ways.

Many of the most imaginative and penetrating critics wrestled productively, though often inconclusively and "against themselves," with the aesthetic making of new forms of sexual life and new forms of art made from reconstituted sexualities. Through a critique that confronts history, philosophy, science, psychology, and dominant theories of art and sexuality, Davis challenges privileged types of sexual and aesthetic creation imagined in modern culture-and still assumed today.

Sep 22, 2010

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Queer Beauty - Whitney Davis


This book presents extensively revised versions of ten essays written in the last twelve years or so, building on two earlier books of mine, Replications: Archaeology, Art History, Psychoanalysis and Drawing the Dream of the Wolves: Homosexuality, Interpretation, and Freuds "Wolf Man" Case, both published in 1996. In revising texts that were written separately for different forums, I have tried to indicate some of the relations between them. As I explain in the introduction, certain themes recur; in particular, I have tried to present some aspects, though not all aspects, of a coherent intellectual genealogy and a distinct cultural history. Still, this book is conceived as a series of essays that can be read as freestanding treatments of their subjects. Therefore I have not tried to render each chapter fully consistent with the others, to reduce them to a single argument, or to extract overarching conclusions from them. Instead I hope to have indicated arenas in the history of art and aesthetics, the history of science and psychology, and the history of philosophy and anthropology in which the theme of sexuality and aesthetics (of sexuality in aesthetics, of aesthetics as sexuality, of the aesthetics of sexuality, of the sexuality of aesthetics) might be pursued. Several chapters will be complemented by a book on homoerotic aesthetics and the fine-arts tradition from 1750 to 1920; it will be published soon, I hope, under the title The Transcendence of Imitation. And they are related to a number of articles on art-historical topics that I have already published, cited, where appropriate, here.

Students in several courses at the University of California at Berkeley (especially in undergraduate lecture courses on Queer Visual Culture and Homoeroticism and the Visual Arts that I have taught several times since 2001 and in graduate seminars on aestheticism, the history of art theory, and the history of sexuality) have heard many of the ideas discussed in several chapters. They responded with comments and questions as well as fascinating projects of their own. My teaching assistants, Anthony Grudin, Jeremy Melius, and Justin Underhill, contributed immensely to the courses and therefore to the consolidation of the arguments presented here. I am grateful to Lydia Goehr, Gregg Horowitz, and Noell Carroll, editors of Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts, and to Wendy Lochner of Columbia University Press for their encouragement, suggestions, and support. Two reviewers for the press provided detailed comments that helped steer my final revisions. An extensive secondary scholarship has accrued to many of the topics that I address in this book, and I have benefited from the advice of many readers and interlocutors. In order to keep the text to a manageable length, however, I have not been able to cite all the relevant contributions or to register my points of agreement or disagreement with each one of them. My many scholarly debts will be obvious to specialists.

A slightly different version of chapter 1 is being published in Beauty Revisited, edited by Peg Zeglin Brand (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010). An earlier version of chapter 2 was published as Wax Tokens of Libido in Ephemeral Bodies: Wax Sculpture and the Human Figure, edited by Roberta Panzanelli (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2008): 107–29. An earlier version of chapter 3 was published as Schopenhauer’s Ontology of Art in Qui Parle 15, no. 1 (2005): 63–80. An earlier version of chapter 5 was published as Decadence and the Organic Metaphor in Representations 89 (2005): 131–45. Very different versions of parts of chapters 7 and 8 appeared as Freuds Leonardo und die Kultur der Homosexualität in Texte zur Kunst 5, no. 17 (1995): 56–73, and Narzissmus in der homoerotischen Kultur und in der Theorie Freuds in Männlichkeit im Blick: Visuelle Inszenierungen in der Kunst seit der Frühen Neuzeit, edited by Mechthild Fend and Marianne Koos (Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2004): 213–32. All of this matter has been considerably expanded and extensively revised for publication here.

I wish to dedicate these essays to Brent Adams. He has accompanied me—and instructed me and corrected me—in many of my real-life forays in many of the topics addressed in the abstract in the chapters that follow. He must be right in his usual view that the abstraction doesn’t help anyone. But it doesn’t hinder them either. So we’re even.

San Francisco and London, August 2008


Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond

§1. In Drawing the Dream of the Wolves, published in 1996, I examined the visual evidence for the sexuality that had emerged between Sigmund Freud and his patient, Serge Pankejeff (known as der Wolfsmann, the Wolf Man), in a psychoanalysis that Freud conducted between 1910 and 1914. Like any human interaction, this encounter involved the exchange of many images: we learn to see the world as others see it by learning to understand their pictorial worlds, and therefore, as I argued in Replications, also published in 1996, we must all be—we must try to become—the historians of one another’s image making. Freud’s analysis of the Wolf Man also involved the exchange of many artifacts; they included an ancient Egyptian figurine that the Wolf Man gave to Freud (see chapter 2) and a strange drawing he was said to have made for Freud in order to depict a traumatic childhood dream image that represented his early sexual history (or so Freud believed; see chapter 8). Published in 1919, Freud’s interpretation of the Wolf Man, Aus der Geschichte einer infantilen Neurose (From the History of an Infantile Neurosis), has rarely been cited by psychoanalysts or art historians who have written specifically on psychoanalysis and art or on psychoanalytic aesthetics. But it remains the best demonstration of Freud’s approach to images (what I call fantasmatic iconicity in chapter 10) and to representations, such as pictures, that attempt to relay them in public media.¹

In 1996 Michael Kelly asked me to write the entry on sexuality for The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics to be published by Oxford University Press. Kelly’s request forced me to think in broad terms about the relations between sexuality and aesthetics that had issued in the psychoanalytic theory of art, especially in Freud’s essay on Leonardo da Vinci (a text, published in 1910, that complemented Freud’s analysis of the Wolf Man) and in contemporary Freudianism (for example, in the writing of Freud’s disciple Oskar Pfister, whose claims about the composition of one of Leonardo’s paintings were incorporated into later editions of Freud’s essay on Leonardo; see chapters 7 and 8).²

In the present book psychoanalysis continues to loom large. How could it be otherwise in considering sexuality? For better or worse, psychoanalysis continues to provide many terms and concepts that are indispensable in describing human eroticism, even if all the terms can have nonpsychoanalytic valences and even if competing (and sometimes contradictory) interpretations of each concept can be found within the various schools of psychoanalysis itself.

But psychoanalysis has not been the only site of intersection between formal or philosophical aesthetics on the one side and notions of sexuality and human eroticism on the other. In the ten chapters in this book, I assign equal importance to the traditions of Kantian and Hegelian idealism in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth-century (chapters 1, 3, and 4) and to the findings of Darwinism in the mid-nineteenth century (chapters 5 and 6), well before the rise of psychoanalysis in the late 1890s. In addition, I also address pre-and non-Freudian sexual anthropologies that Freud rewrote for his own purposes (chapters 2, 7, and 8). And, after the worldwide spread of psychoanalysis in the 1920s and 1930s, the claims of existential psychiatry (they shaped the early work and thought of Michel Foucault) and the tools of analytic philosophy (adopted in part by Richard Wollheim) have a significant place in my story (chapters 9 and 10). Indeed, an appropriately broad sense of the relations between sexuality and aesthetics (one that attends to critical idealism, modern biology, and perceptual psychology as well as to psychoanalysis) enables a critique of psychoanalysis.

One lesson I draw from the research presented in this book is that we cannot reduce aesthetics to sexuality, as psychoanalysis tends to do. Sexuality often requires analysis in terms of aesthetics. Originally, in fact, Freud’s psychoanalysis was a theory of animal perception, of aisthesis in its basic and enduring etymological sense. To be sure, Freud concluded that specifically sexual perception—our imagistic awareness of erotic objects—should be dated, at least in part, to the past life of the percipient rather than (or in addition to) his or her immediate sensory awareness of a proximate environment, even if (and especially because) that ambient world contains sexually gratifying opportunities or sexually stimulating objects, some of which might be images or works of art. The lifelong history of sexual aisthesis in human beings became Freud’s topic in the early 1900s, especially in the period between the publication of his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1905 and the completion of Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood in 1910 (see chapters 7 and 8). But, as Freud pursued it, this project introduced a division between sexual aisthesis and the aisthesis of art—between sexual attraction and aesthetic judgment in the usual colloquial senses of those terms. More exactly, Freud worked out a theoretical language (indeed, a theory of sexuality) to reaffirm a division that had long been accepted already. Aesthetic judgment in the usual sense had typically been associated with a person’s mature judgments of taste in the context of his or her immediate present-day encounters with objects in nature and with works of art. And sexual aisthesis had typically been defined as a merely preliminary stage in the canonical teleology of such judgments, especially in relation to the perfected ideals supposedly projected in normatively beautiful works of art (see chapter 1). In Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment and in the Kantian tradition, in fact, the erotic attractiveness of natural objects (or their figuration in works of art) had been defined as a kind of human interest that must be entirely superseded in order for a truly disinterested aesthetic judgment to emerge. Of course, several later nineteenth-century utilitarian, evolutionist, and physiological accounts of the sense of beauty (proposed by Herbert Spencer, Charles Darwin, Grant Allen, and other writers) tried to reattach sexual-aesthetic and aestheticartistic interests—to show, that is, that sexual aisthesis and artistic aisthesis remain naturally continuous states of the human organism in a particular state or states of irritation and arousal, perhaps even identical states in certain well-defined respects (see chapter 6). But the damage was done; the theory of sexuality and the philosophy of art had already drifted apart. In this convoluted conceptual context it was not surprising, in turn, that Freud’s model of sexuality (precisely because it was critical of then-customary doctrines) installed aesthetic interest and judgment at the very heart of erotic and sexual history at the same time that it installed erotic interest and activity (in an equally innovative way) at the heart of aesthetic experience and artistic appreciation.

The copula in my title, then, is crucial. It denotes not only the separation or splitting of sexuality and aesthetics. It also denotes their intersection, recursion, and interdependence—the fact that between 1750 (if not earlier) and about 1920 (if not later) the concepts could not be fully cleaved apart. For some fundamental purposes, in fact, they had to be treated as mapping the same topography, though perhaps in different ways or from different vantages. If the terms were not too cumbersome, sexual aesthetics and aesthetic sexuality might best denote my object here.

§2. In several chapters, including the chapter that has given an overall title to this book, I have placed a good deal of emphasis on intersections between aesthetics and specifically homoerotic or homosexual approaches to sexuality, experiences in sexuality, or histories of sexuality. I emphasize homoerotic or homosexual sexual aesthetics or aesthetic sexuality. I am well aware that this focus is overdetermined. But it is not, I believe, unwarranted. Some of Freud’s most productive ideas about sexuality and aesthetics, even about art, devolved from his investigations of the two homosexual men that I have already mentioned. According to Freud’s classification, the Wolf Man was a latent homosexual who had been shaped by the psychic process that Freud called repression, while Leonardo da Vinci was an ideal homosexual organized in so-called sublimation (chapters 7 and 8). Moreover, Johann Joachim Winckelmann in the mid--eighteenth century (chapter 1), John Addington Symonds in the mid--nineteenth century (chapter 4), and Michel Foucault in the mid--twentieth century (chapter 9) must be inevitable and unavoidable thinkers in any reasonably comprehensive review of aesthetics and sexuality. Winckelmann, Symonds, and Foucault wrote from ideological positions that were overtly identified with homoerotic sociability in their respective milieus. And they wrote about homoerotic aesthetic horizons and homosexual artistic possibilities in the past, in the present, and in the future.

Equally important, from the era of Winckelmann to the era of Freud and beyond, the widespread prohibition of nonstandard sexuality (in particular homosexuality) has put considerable pressure not only on conceptions of sexuality, as I suggest in chapters that address Darwinism (chapters 5 and 6). It has also put pressure on conceptions of aesthetics, as I suggest in chapters that address idealism (chapters 1, 2, and 4). It would be going too far to suggest that homoerotic affections and homosexual interactions precipitated a crisis in the very notion of aesthetics or in the very notion of sexuality in the later modern period (that is, since the Enlightenment). Other phenomena have posed deep problems for unified theories of sexuality or aesthetics: in sexuality, notably the gender and the diversity of generativity and, in aesthetics, notably the interestedness and the intentionality of art. Moreover, when aesthetics and sexuality are brought or thought together, there are factors or phenomena other than homosexuality that contribute to instability and uncertainty in the resulting conceptual field. For example, one might consider pornography, whether it is heterosexual or homosexual (or both or neither) in its causation and its objects. Many historians have identified the crucial role played by pornography in later- eighteenth and nineteenth-century European and American political cultures and their attendant representations. The proximity of pornography to conceptualizations of human sexuality is obvious; the fact of its representation of sex is self-evident. And its role in the history of formal or philosophical aesthetics, as I intimate in chapters 2 and 7, has probably not been sufficiently recognized. But even though I will deal with erotic artifacts and sexualized images at several points (e.g., chapters 2 and 4), I will only address the topic of pornography in tangential ways. My expertise as an art historian lies specifically in homoerotic visualizations, and, to that extent, it is perhaps inevitable that some of the chapters in this book concentrate on it.

In part because of the selectiveness noted in the previous paragraph, I make no effort (and anyway I could make no scholarly claim) to offer a comprehensive genealogy of sexuality and aesthetics. Rather, I address particular lines of thought that connect the writing of Winckelmann or Winckelmannians and Freud or Freudians (as well as their adversaries) and in general that connect philosophical aesthetics and theories of sexuality in ways that have not been sufficiently recognized in genealogies of aesthetics or sexuality. Nor can I present a complete conceptual topography of specifically homoerotic aesthetics, especially as it was translated into actual art making between 1750 and 1920 and beyond. That history would have to be a topic for a differently conceived book that would give greater attention to the social diversity of homoerotic cultures, female and male, in the last two hundred and fifty years and to the range of cultural productions and practices affiliated with them. (In The Transcendence of Imitation, an art-historical book that complements this one, I consider such examples as the early modern makers of phallica; the French and German artists who applied Winckelmann’s ideas to the renovation of later eighteenth-century art; the painting of Anne-Louis Girodet in the 1790s, Edward Burne-Jones in the 1860s, and Thomas Eakins in the 1880s; the sculpture of Ronald Gower and other late-nineteenth-century aesthetes; the art criticism of Symonds and George Santayana; and the collections of fine art, books, objets d’art, and memorabilia amassed by William Beckford, Gower, Jacques Fersen, and Edward Perry Warren, among others, between 1800 and 1920 or so.) Often this diversity, this range, was more or less out of view in aesthetics (in the Kantian tradition it was mostly sufficient to remark the problem entrained by all kinds of sexual appreciativeness) and even in sexual anthropology (Freud interpreted a particular homosexual subculture from a very particular ideological point of view). In the following chapters, then, I will be less interested in homoeroticist aesthetics as such, in the disparate array of writings and artworks to which it has given rise, than in its interactions with other problems and traditions, such as the problem of beauty, morality, and ideality in art and the tradition of speculation about the biology, psychology, and history of aesthetic experience. In other words, homoeroticist aesthetics can open doors for me into my main topic. And in some chapters I use other doors.

Therefore I hope that my title, Queer Beauty, will be construed in the broadest possible way. In some chapters it certainly denotes the role of homoeroticism in sexual aesthetics or aesthetic sexuality: chapter 9, for example, considers Foucault’s ideas about the aesthetics of gay male sadomasochistic practices in the 1970s and early eighties. In chapters 1 and 4 it denotes a homoeroticist inflection, even an explicit intervention, in a major aesthetic tradition, namely, Kant’s critical and Hegel’s historical idealism. By contrast, in chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 it denotes homoeroticist inflections in (or resistances to) major doctrines of sexuality, namely, Darwin’s and Freud’s. And in still other chapters it denotes effects of sexuality in aesthetics or aesthetics in sexuality that might be taken to queer certain established pictures of aesthetics or sexuality—with or without substantive or theoretical reference to homoeroticism. Chapters on William Hamilton and Richard Payne Knight (chapter 2), Arthur Schopenhauer (chapter 3), and Richard Wollheim (chapter 10) are relevant in this context. Of these four writers, Schopenhauer was the only one to offer an explicit published theory of homosexuality. (Even in his case it was an addendum, something of a digression, in his philosophical system.) But the aesthetics of all of them was forged in awareness, in fact in acknowledgment, of the diversity and depth—the empirical range and causal primacy—of human erotic instincts and motivations, including nonstandard and nonnormative motivations. Because the philosophies of art that resulted from this perspective also constituted a theory of sexuality—a theory otherwise unavailable—the contributions of all these writers were truly queer. To that very extent, in fact, the thought of Knight, Schopenhauer, and Wollheim can be distinguished from the intellectual institutions and cultural-political orthodoxies that have become associated over time with Winckelmann, with Freud, and with Foucault, however queer their ideas might have been in their contexts of writing.

§3. It will be useful to have a platform, a starting point, to approach these interlocked topics. As my subtitle has it, my story unfolds from Winckelmann to Freud and beyond. It is necessary, then, to look more closely at the work of Winckelmann as the prolegomenon and precondition (and to some degree the cause) of the later developments—of approaches to sexual aesthetics or aesthetic sexuality in the writing of Knight, Schopenhauer, Symonds, Darwin, and the rest.

To some extent, of course, any periodization must be arbitrary. In the Western tradition the conceptual historiography of aesthetic sexuality or sexual aesthetics properly begins with the thought of Socrates and Plato and with Classical Greek art and culture. But Winckelmann was well versed in the former arena. And he was, of course, the first recognizably modern expert in the latter—the virtual godfather of the modern scholarly study of the Greco-Roman traditions in ancient art. Winckelmann’s essay On the Imitation of Greek Works of Art in Painting and Sculpture, his study of Nachahmung or the imitative and emulative structure of ancient and modern arts, appeared in 1754, only four years after Alexander Baumgarten’s treatise on the science of the beautiful, the Aesthetica of 1750, now widely held to be one of the first recognizably modern treatments of aesthetics. If these facts of his situation and achievement were not enough, Winckelmann’s writing (and the particular form of life that it seemed to incarnate and to narrate) not only contained the seeds of many of the conceptual interrelations of eroticism and art history that were elaborated by later writers. It also served retroactively as the cultural lodestar to which many educated people in succeeding generations often explicitly referred themselves. By the end of the nineteenth century these Winckelmannian practitioners (whether or not they had read Winckelmann or had adopted his personal canons of taste and judgment in art) were often described as aesthetes, sometimes decadent ones. They did not usually write about sexuality or aesthetics. They were, however, the object of observers who did—notably of Freud and his followers in psychoanalysis. In this way Winckelmann’s thought not only filtered into formal philosophies of the aesthetic domain or formal theories of the sexual domain. Equally or more important, it contributed to the modern form of life to which these philosophies and theories were constrained to respond, whether wittingly and willingly or not.

Most important, Winckelmann imagined a past cultural formation, the world of Classical Greece, in which sexualized eroticism in sociability sustained aesthetic judgment on art, as well as vice versa, at the same time as neither pole was thought wholly to subsume the other or to be subsumed by it. Already, then, the problem for modern reversions and revisions of this ancient (and partly mythic or retroactively imagined) form of life could be defined, whether or not Winckelmann pursued it systematically. How can sexual aesthetics be thought, indeed be lived, without a complete but artificial cleavage of its two terms or their complete but undesirable collapse? What are the conditions in which the relation between sex and art (to focus on the manifest products of sexuality and aesthetics) can be satisfying and creative? And what are the conditions that lead to frustrations and failures in erotic pleasure, in artistic production, or in both? Without exception, as we will see, all of the thinkers, writers, and artists considered in this book (among many others I have not been able to address) engaged these questions.

§4. Many readers will approach Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums, his unwieldly magnum opus, with trepidation, if they have any interest in it at all. A long-standing professional consensus among academic classicists and classical archaeologists has reiterated a truism about Winckelmann’s History of the Art of Antiquity, printed in Dresden in 1764. Winckelmann’s model of the formal development of Classical Greek sculpture, we are told, remains useful. In particular, his identification of fifth-century and fourth-century styles in Classical sculpture, or what he called high (Phidian) and beautiful (Praxitelean) styles, has survived in modern art history. But the facts related in his History have long been absorbed into more recent scholarship and have been refined or corrected by it. Art historians are usually told, then, that there is really no need to read Winckelmann’s History unless, perhaps, one is concerned with the maturation of classical studies, the emergence of professional archaeology, and the rise of philosophical aesthetics in the German-speaking principalities in the second half of the eighteenth century. Of course, these are important topics in their own right. But if one is concerned with them, it is still possible to avoid reading Winckelmann’s History: his shorter writings, especially the essay on Nachahmung published in 1754, previously mentioned, have been thought to teach his essential lessons and to display his signature rhetorical maneuvers.

There is considerable truth in this opinion. Winckelmann’s History gave historical flesh and blood to a picture of Classical Greek and subsequent Greco-Roman and early Christian art history that could be found in pure and perspicuous form in some of his earliest publications, especially the essay of 1754, and indeed in his private reading notes and extracts. Nonetheless, Winckelmann’s schematic model of cycles of emulative replication in ancient and modern art (including the emulation of ancient art by modern art) had been conceived before he had any extended firsthand contact with many of the surviving monuments of antiquity. Implicitly, then, it required the specifically historical (indeed the forensic) demonstration in the terms devised in the History of 1764. The essay of 1754, in fact, had made certain striking claims about the material history of Greek art and about its modern emulation that were self-evidently false, and known by everyone, including Winckelmann, to be so; they were in the service of a purely rhetorical point. By contrast, the History tried to realize the rhetorical point in plausible—highly compelling—description backed by antiquarian scholarship and archaeological observation.

In 2006 the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities published a new English translation of Winckelmann’s History.³ Compared to the dull translation published in Boston between 1849 and 1873, the Getty edition turns out to be valuable not only because it achieves greater accuracy. The publisher also committed extraordinary resources to the editorial apparatus. In particular, the editorial team checked every single one of Winckelmann’s references to classical and modern textual sources and works of art (many of which had not been properly followed up in the past) and prepared a thirty-five-page bibliography of the printed sources cited by Winckelmann in his text, many of which he did not list in his own Verzeichnis angeführter Bücher. This bibliography serves as a virtual guide to the scholarly world of mid-eighteenth-century antiquarians. Still, it cannot wholly substitute for the most impressive index of the intellectual horizons that framed Winckelmann’s work, namely, the catalog of the private library of Count Heinrich von Bünau at Nöthnitz in Saxony. (Winckelmann became Bünau’s inhouse classicist in 1748.) This magnificent compendium was prepared in six volumes by Johann Michael Francke, a professional rival for Winckelmann, and published between 1750 and 1756.⁴ Francke’s catalog records a vast array of publications that Winckelmann must have known and that he had probably consulted in his researches but that he did not cite, or even allude to, in his History (written in Rome) and his other writings. The bibliography in the Getty edition helps us identify the dimensions of Winckelmann’s learning as expressed in the History. Read in relation to Francke’s catalog, it will enable historiographers to clarify many questions about Winckelmann’s awareness and appropriation of the scholarship of his predecessors. Nevertheless, Winckelmann was silent about some of the texts and ideas (indexed by Francke) that concerned him most deeply. Above all, these concerned homoerotic love and its history.

The single most important fact about Classical Greek art in Winckelmann’s account of its achievement of ideal form also remained unstated, though it was fully visible to educated readers of his History and other writings: the ideals of Greek art, he concluded, were constituted in pederasty. Therefore their claim on us—the reason they should be admired and imitated today, as he urged in 1754—might seem to encode not only an aesthetic approval of the artistic norms in question. It also entrained an erotic approval. Certainly the approval of human erotic objects and of works of art representing them had sometimes been so coordinated for some men in ancient Greece. An Athenian citizen at the end of the fifth century bc, a suitably born male property owner, could admire (and perhaps desire) a statue of an athletic young man in exactly the same way, and for many of the same reasons, that he could admire (and desire) the youth himself. (In fact, it would have been far easier for an ordinary citizen to possess a desirable youth sexually than it would have been for him to commission the sculpture.) Needless to say, however, if the formal ideals of Classical Greek art might be accepted and emulated in modern culture, indeed should be emulated, its erotic ideals—its homoerotic ideals—could not be adopted in just the same way, that is, as a manifest model for explicit replication on the part of modern artists and their patrons. In Winckelmann’s Prussia, homosexual sodomy was rigorously proscribed. And homoerotic affections, though not entirely forbidden, should have no overt sexual expression. Seemingly, then, the real ideals of art could not be fulfilled, or perhaps even acknowledged.

From the beginning, then, Winckelmann’s essays and his History confronted historical, conceptual, and social contradictions. These were handed on to subsequent aesthetics and art history, and I will turn to them in considerably more detail in subsequent chapters. In these introductory pages, however, it will be useful simply to pursue the issue in historiographic terms.

§5. As has often been said, Winckelmann was one of the founders of academic art history in virtue of articulating the reciprocal relations between what we would now call historicism and formalism, that is, the environmental conditions of the work of art (including contemporary political culture) and its aesthetic configuration (including contemporary norms of taste).⁵ But art history is a small pond. So much has been written about this aspect of its emergence that I need to make a different point here. As the previous sections have intimated, Winckelmann stood squarely in the crossroads between early modern scholarly reconstructions of ancient philosophies of knowledge, form, and ideality, on the one hand, and the modern philosophy of the human subject, on the other hand. Today we might be beyond Winckelmann, as a graduate student in art history recently put it to me, to the extent that we are beyond Kant, Hegel, or Heidegger or beyond Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud. But academic dissertations continue to focus on these writers; it seems, then, that recent generations of scholarly students of modern thought do not really think that they are beyond Kant, Nietzsche, and the others just mentioned. Nonetheless, Winckelmann’s work remains opaque within the circumscribed reiteration of this philosophical canon about modernity and its subjects, namely, the ramified traditions of critical and dialectical idealism and their discontents. Indeed, Winckelmann is almost never included in most general handbooks and encyclopedias of modern philosophy published today. He rarely appeared in the more detailed histories of philosophy prepared at the end of the nineteenth century (they included minor and now-forgotten writers who were strictly academic students of Kant and Hegel) when Winckelmann’s cultural prestige remained high and when his influence in the formulations of critical idealism remained visible.

The chief exceptions to this trend have been handbooks devoted specifically to the historiography of aesthetics and art criticism. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, for example, Bernard Bosanquet’s magisterial History of Aesthetic, published in 1892, gave a sympathetic if critical account of Winckelmann’s thought in ten pages.⁶ Published ten years later, Benedetto Croce’s equally incisive history of aesthetics, the second part of his theoretical treatise on aesthetics, made many of the same points in a more succinct three pages.⁷ Bosanquet and Croce were idealists, like Winckelmann; thus they correctly identified the philosophical question of Winckelmann’s species of Platonism. On the one hand, as they recognized, it was mystical: it had a strongly idealistic or transcendental aspect. On the other hand, it was not abstract. Instead, it was involved with the concrete vicissitudes of expressive content in representation and the formal or stylistic history of representation. As we will see in more detail in chapter 1, these vicissitudes do not always tend toward a strictly idealistic result. They can even incline against it. And they do not entirely warrant idealism as a cultural program. In modern art, they did not.

According to Bosanquet, Winckelmann recognized that the expressiveness of a work of figurative art (including the corporeal expression of any personages depicted by the work) is an element at once essential to [ideal] beauty and tending to destroy it. In particular, the expression of emotions (even the most delicate or shaded emotions) disturbs the placidity of an ideal, a formal property that signifies and sustains the normative status of the ideal, that is, the sense in which it has been detached from the feelings of individual human beholders. This relation between ideal beauty and particular expression might be logically contradictory; seemingly Winckelmann understood them both to constitute one another and to deconstruct one another. Bosanquet certainly thought so. Nonetheless Winckelmann’s exposition of the tension between beauty and expression, anchored in his extended rhetorical description of particular works of Greco-Roman art, established the conceptual possibility of historical aesthetics—of art history. Although Winckelmann failed, Bosanquet concluded, to reduce beauty and expression "to a common denomination, and they remain[ed] antagonistic, he [had] done all that is necessary, in the realm of plastic art, to exhibit that correspondence between phases of the beautiful and the development of its content which holds a chief place among the data of modern aesthetic."

It is not surprising, then, that Bosanquet traced a direct line of descent from Winckelmann’s inauguration of historical aesthetics to Hegel’s world-historical scheme of the unfolding of the sensuous form of the Idea in ancient and modern arts and indeed in world history at large. Hegel himself had cited Winckelmann’s supposed invention of the critical sense permitting the aesthetic-historical reconstructions (in Winckelmann’s History of the Art of Antiquity and related writings between 1754 and 1764) that had warranted Hegel’s dialectical interpretation (in the Geistesgeschichte proposed in his phenomenology and lectures on aesthetics between 1805 and the 1830s) in the first place. According to Hegel, in fact, Winckelmann had invented a new organ [of perception] and new methods of study in the field of art.⁹ We might say that Hegel put Winckelmann’s aesthetic antagonisms to work as history.

For his part, and like other writers before him, Croce singled out the palpable disjunctions (what he called the contradictions and compromises) in Winckelmann’s formal doctrine of ideal beauty—of a single constant supreme beauty that an artist supposedly achieves when he combines the beauty of many discrete things (or parts of things) judged by him to be beautiful.

Although composed with a view to stating [this] theory [Croce wrote], the work of Winckelmann always led him among concrete historical facts clamoring to be brought into relation with his formally stated idea of supreme beauty.… He found himself obliged to effect a… compromise between the single constant supreme beauty and individual beauties; for while he preferred the male to the female body as a completer embodiment of perfect beauty, he could not shut his eyes to the obvious fact that we know and admire beautiful women’s bodies and even beautiful animals’ bodies.¹⁰

Indeed, fair-minded readers had long appreciated that Winckelmann’s implausible doctrine of ideal beauty was merely official, nominal, or notional. It echoed familiar, banal legends about the practice of ancient artists such as Zeuxis, who supposedly collated the various beautiful aspects (as it were beautiful body parts) of five maidens of Croton in order to compile his depiction of the supremely beautiful Helen of Troy (figure 1). In this respect Winckelmann’s doctrine could hardly have been the radical—the radically modern—element of Winckelmann’s method that deserved to be described by Hegel as an entirely new organ of perception and understanding. Instead, as Bosanquet and Croce implied, Winckelmann’s genuine, original, and productive theory (the outcome of his new organ of perception and understanding) lay in his historical account of the psychosocial dynamics and specifically the cultural erotics of beautiful artworks, overlaid with his description of their sensible reception on our own part and in this very respect—an eroticized cultural reception that absorbs the original affect and responds to it.

Early twentieth-century historians of aesthetics and art criticism, notably Lionello Venturi in 1936 and Katherine Gilbert and Helmut Kuhn in 1939, found substantial room for Winckelmann as an exponent of neoclassical doctrines of art stated in conventional idealist terms, both Platonistic and Zeuxian.¹¹ They tended, however, to downplay Winckelmann’s historical discoveries and his attendant critical innovations; therefore they disregarded the social and in particular the erotic dynamics he had tried imaginatively to expose. To them his idealism appeared anemic. In philosophical terms, for them it was really nothing more than an unsophisticated prelude to Kant, no more interesting than the speculations of academic idealists in the ranks of contemporary artists, chiefly Sir Joshua Reynolds. Of course, its art-historical significance could not be denied. Winckelmann and his ideological contemporaries, especially the painter Anton Raphael Mengs, had an immense influence in the education of the next two or three generations of artists, especially in France. But few of these artists, if any, could be thought to have actually deployed Winckelmann’s methods of replication as recommended in On the Imitation of Greek Works of Art or his formal doctrine of supreme beauty as stated in the History. And anyway the modern historiographers—Venturi, Gilbert, and Kuhn, and the rest—were not much interested in the political ramifications of Winckelmann’s art theory. They did not bother to inquire into the glaring contradiction between the supposed conventionality of Winckelmann’s art theory and its widespread adoption among radical, even revolutionary, artists and critics (again especially in France) in the two generations after Winckelmann’s death. They did not bother, in other words, to grapple with Hegel’s recognition of the modernity of Winckelmann.

FIGURE 1. Pietro Michis (1836–1903), Zeuxis Choosing His Models for Helen from the Most Beautiful Young Women of Croton, c. 1890. Oil on canvas. Courtesy Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan.

To be fair, by the 1930s Winckelmann’s archaeological contributions had receded in art-historical scholarship. Moreover, art-critical interest in the history of Greek art had begun to wane, relative, at any rate to the obsessive attention paid to it by Bosanquet’s generation of Victorian aesthetes. Finally, a new art-theoretical description of ancient art had arisen in the early twentieth century; it had replaced the Winckelmannian picture of Greek art that had been accepted without question by Bosanquet and Croce. Promulgated by Emanuel Löwy and Heinrich Schäfer (a classical archaeologist and an Egyptologist respectively) between 1900 and 1920, it emphasized the role of memory-images, or schemata, in ancient Egyptian, Classical Greek, and Italian Renaissance practices of pictorialization. It was popularized by Ernst Gombrich, an assiduous student of Löwy and Schäfer, especially in his Mellon Lectures in 1956, published under the title Art and Illusion in 1960. In this influential book, Gombrich cited Winckelmann’s account, as he had it, of the untroubled innocence and moral restraint of Classical Greek art. But he did so only in order to dismiss the psychological pitfalls of such interpretations. Gombrich meant to refer to Winckelmann’s psychic investments in Classical Greek art, which Gombrich identified with unsavory developments of German classicistic Kultur in the century and a half since Winckelmann and especially with the Hegelian racialization of its claims in the 1930s—and as distinct from the strictly perceptual-cognitive or scientific account of Classical Greek naturalism worked out by Löwy, Schäfer, and Gombrich himself in his own supposedly more satisfactory psychology of pictorial representation.¹²

In 1966 Monroe Beardsley’s history of aesthetics, now standard, did not even mention Winckelmann. In turn, Beardsley’s categorization took hold among succeeding Anglo-American aestheticians who derived their philosophical canon largely from his book. Perhaps Beardsley had been encouraged by the biting mockery of Winckelmann’s formal art theory—the antiquarian’s attempt to find supreme norms of ideal beauty—offered by Francis Sparshott in 1963: Sparshott dramatized obvious objections to Winckelmann’s formal statement of his idealism that dated to Bosanquet if not before. It has always been easy to ridicule the Zeuxian method of collecting and combining discrete bits of beauty that Winckelmann’s doctrine seemed to require of artists. Indeed, Bosanquet’s objections to Zeuxian idealism as an actual method of image or art making were more differentiated and closely specified than Sparshott’s. But Sparshott entirely overlooked Winckelmann’s revisions of, and reservations about, his pseudo-Platonic Zeuxian model—revisions and reservations that had been recognized by Bosanquet.¹³

In the analytic terms promoted by Sparshott and Beardsley, Winckelmann disappeared as a significant exponent of idealism because his idealism (the analytic aestheticians identified it with his formal doctrine of supreme beauty) could be decisively rejected as simpleminded. In part this result can be attributed to the repetitive and recursive structure of Winckelmann’s original text. Book 4 of the History of the Art of Antiquity, the only section cited by Sparshott, offered Winckelmann’s Zeuxian model of supreme beauty. It was only in later books, especially books 5 and 8, that Winckelmann addressed the different types of beauty (and their contest with varieties of expression) and the differentiated development of beauty in the analysis of actual artistic portrayal, to use Bosanquet’s characterization of Winckelmann’s project.¹⁴ Because this analysis of actual artistic portrayal was art historical, addressed to concrete works of art in the historical contexts of their social production and cultural circulation, the ahistorically analytic aesthetics preferred by Sparshott and Beardsley was not interested in recognizing it. They ignored Bosanquet’s recognition, after Hegel, that Winckelmann’s new sense was historical.

§6. Recently, however, the pendulum has swung yet again. In 1999, The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics published by Oxford University Press included an entry on Winckelmann written by Alex Potts, an art historian and the general editor of the new Getty translation of Winckelmann’s History.¹⁵ Potts proffered a reading of the History that might have been endorsed by Bosanquet and Croce in the 1890s, especially if they had had the opportunity to read Freud. His approach comported with the perspective of the Encyclopedia as a whole: throughout its many entries it consistently advocated the (re)conversion of philosophical aesthetics into art history and cultural studies. As Hegel and Bosanquet had insisted at the beginning and the end of the nineteenth-century reception of Winckelmann’s work, Winckelmann laid the groundwork avant la lettre for the transformation of aesthetics as a science of the beautiful into a history—a history both psychic and social—of the constitution of beauty in art and as art. In this regard, present-day postanalytic aesthetics in cultural studies, highlighted in The Encyclopedia of

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