Saturday, December 22, 2018

Aristotle and Montesquieu on virtue ethics. 
Aristotle:
The distribution of offices according to merit is a special characteristic of aristocracy, for the principle of an aristocracy is virtue, as wealth is of an oligarchy, and freedom of a democracy.[i] 
Montesquieu:
We have just seen that the laws of education should have a relation to the principle of each government. It is the same for the laws the legislator gives to the society as a whole. This relation between the laws and the principle tightens all the springs of the government, and the principle in turn receives a new force from the laws. Thus, in physical motion, an action is always followed by a reaction. We shall examine this relation in each government, and we shall begin with the republican state, which has virtue for its principle.[ii]
The Baroque period was seen for a long time as decadent, and Mannerism justifiably still is. The Baroque is stylish without fear of condemnation, sensuous but no longer prurient.  In the most common art historical definition, this refers to the Rome of Borromini and Bernini, but also Rubens, and the Flemish Baroque. In the broader sense that Panofsky uses it refers also to Cervantes and Shakespeare. In both the central theme is the experience of time. For Bernini as for Leibniz,  time is abstract and material. As Vesely says “Leibniz's understanding of the senses is still based on the integrity of the scholastic world in which the sensible or visible is a manifestation of the universal order. This manifestation is also our main encounter with beauty, in which the perfection of the order is revealed.”The unity is stretched, twisted, folded; our experience changes as we move around it but the unity does not.  This is the birth of what became the secularized idea of aesthetics,  je ne sais quoi,  and also of what we now call glamour, a mode of aristocratic individual performance, judged not just by how closely it hews to custom, but how well, how gracefully, with how much charm or style. But who judges the performance? That’s the unresolved question at the heart of the Baroque in its standard definition, as a renewed but vibrant Catholic conservatism. Beauty as such, a new ideal no longer in a direct relation to justice or truth, is a byproduct of the rise of science, as Vesely puts it in a new age of divided representation.The Baroque is a flowering, and flowers mark an end, not a beginning.  The wider age of the Baroque is the age of theater and literature, the age of the comedians and ironists who mock scholastics and philosophers, as Aristophanes had. It’s the rise, or return, to democracy, the idea of virtue ethics according to Montesquieu, and only briefly of  virtue ethics as defined by Aristotle. 
There’s another Baroque, another form of the final flowering of aristocratic art, not as dynamic, but visceral and more purely visual in its realism and use of illusion, that’s more conflicted. The Spanish Baroque comes down to us as the source for Warhol, through Manet and Degas, through the photography of Nadar, to the French discovery only after Napoleon’s looting of Spain, of Velázquez and the Spanish Golden Age. The Italian Baroque of Caravaggio and Bernini was the product of a new understanding of time and individual experience, focusing on idealized figures as actors in motion. The emotionalism is the controlled emotionalism of performance. Spanish painting by comparison, was static or florid.  El Greco rendered that floridity substantial, with a toughness that made it more than eccentric, more than mannerist. But the new ambiguities largely lay elsewhere. The central figure of course is Velázquez.
Velázquez’s early life made him an anomaly in Spain. He grew up in a literate household; his family claimed descent from minor nobility, but his father wasn’t put out by the thought of apprenticing his son to a tradesman.
Unlike in Italy, where by 1600 the connection between the arts and letters had become well established, in Spain the two had never been joined. The consequences of this failure were profound, because it was through the identification of painting with poetry that the former gained the status of a liberal art, as opposed to a craft. In practical terms, this meant that painters were regarded by the ruling class of Spanish society as the social equals of blacksmiths, coopers, and carpenters. The reasons for the existence of this attitude are complex, but there can be no doubt that the most important was the deeply-ingrained aristocratic prejudice against commerce and manual labor. Painting in Spain was considered to be a handicraft and painters were therefore artisans whose work was essentially characterized by physical rather than mental activity. [iii]
His master Francisco Pacheco was an anomaly as well; orphaned and put in the care of an uncle, he’d grown up in a community of humanists and had joined his uncle in  an informal academy founded by Juan de Mal Lara,a playwright and poet and follower, and cribber, of Erasmus. Other than being Velázquez’ teacher and father-in-law, Pacheco is remembered now mostly as the author of  a treatise and defense of painting, Arte de la pintura,, including biographies of Spanish artists. He spent more than 40 years on it and it was only published posthumously. It’s the first major source we have on Velázquez. 
Pacheco was the supreme embodiment of a type common during the Spanish Counter-Reformation: a faithful servant of a Church defending itself against Protestant reform with closed and intransigent dogmatism, but also a person who, with a bow to moral allegory, demonstrated an evident familiarity with classical tradition and the gods and goddesses of pagan Olympus.[iv]
Pacheco was the official censor for Seville’s Inquisition. Mal Lara had been arrested and detained in 1561 on rumours he’d written anti-clerical poetry, but later anti-clerical elements in his Filosofia vulgar(Common Philosophy) were ignored, or maybe the examiners didn’t even bother to read them.[v]In 1566 he moved to Madrid to join the court of Philip II. This is the confusion where Velázquez begins in Spain and even more, in provincial Seville. 
The professional horizons that lay before the twenty-year-old Velázquez, the possibilities for work that awaited him, were no different from those his father-in-law had known or from those open to Zurbaran, his contemporary: religious painting, devotional canvases, monastic cycles and portraits, and an occasional ruggedly intense portrait or rigidly arranged still life.[vi]
Panofsky describes Titian’s relation with Charles V “extending to his whole family and entourage… [as] almost unique in the annals of art”.  He dismisses the story that Charles, “to the pained surprise of his courtiers” once stooped down to pick up Titian’s dropped brush, but says he treated Titian as “an equal in spirit if not in rank… their correspondence occasionally reads like that of two great and equal powers.”[vii]He also writes about Titian’s “best friend”, Pietro Aretino “the scourge of princes”, blackmailer, and pornographer.  With Aretino and Jacopo Sansovino “Titian contracted, almost immediately, a life-long friendship. A formidable alliance of the "Three Arts of Design" with literature, this "Triumvirate" wielded an enormous influence and its members were united by genuine affection as well as self-interest.”  Sansovino immortalized the three of them on the doors of the Sacristy of St. Mark's. Aretino died in 1556
…allegedly at a dinner party in his own house: when one of the guests had told a particularly funny and indecent story, it was said, Aretino roared with laughter and threw himself back in his chair with such violence that the chair tipped over and he broke his head. There is no shred of evidence for this story… but it throws light on Aretino's reputation — a reputation summarized in a famous "epitaph"… 
"Questo è Pietro Aretino, poeta Tosco, 
Che d'ogni un disse male, eccetto the di Dio;
Scusandosi con dir 'non lo conosco’ "
 ("Here Aretino lies, a Tuscan poet; Evil he spoke of all, except of God; When questioned why, he said 'Him I don't know' “)…

Aretino was perhaps the first publicist to make a living by misrepresentation and extortion; and — in return for praise or, no less often, for silence — he received honors, presents and huge sums of money from nearly all the princes of his time — including the two eternal adversaries, Charles V and Francis I of France. He led a loose life. He wrote indecent sonnets and equally indecent, often extremely amusing comedies while posing as a fervent believer and even aspiring to a Cardinal's hat….

It was indeed only in Venice, governed with an extraordinary combination of discipline and permissiveness… where life was strictly regulated in theory but very free in practice, and where political action was rigorously controlled while the liberty of thought, the liberty of speech and the liberty of the press were protected even against the Inquisition, that a man like Aretino could flourish. [viii]

Jonathan Brown writes that “the itinerant style of kingship practiced by Charles V gave his court an international scope and allowed him to choose his artists from an exceptional range of talent in Italy and Flanders.”[ix]It also means he dealt willingly with a wide range of characters. Panofsky notes his “wry sense of humor”.  When he renounced his crown in 1555, retiring to a monastery he took nine of Titian’s paintings with him, including the monumental ‘Triumph of Faith”, La Gloria”, “and he is said to have looked at it in his dying days with such persistence and intensity of feeling that his doctors took fright.” [x]
Charles V was a polyglot and European ruler. Philip II had been raised and thought of himself as a Spaniard. Titian worked for the son as he had for the father, but though Philip requested that he come to Madrid he never did. Veronese and Tintoretto turned him down as well.[xi] Philip created massive projects, and brought new and major works and more and minor artists, but even they brought new ideas. This was the beginning of the process that produced the great art in the Spanish 17thcentury.  But after all this I’m still only interested in one artist, and not because he’s the best of them, but why; because his work is the perfect illustration  (and that’s the word for my purposes) as Bernini’s is, of a moment and a place, in the wider culture and politics of its time. I can’t separate my love of art from my interest in culture. I can’t separate sadness from the blues, or art from politics. If philosophy doesn’t interest me as anything more than a kind of literature, a kind of art, then art has to match it. Leibniz outside of mathematics is no more important than Bernini, no more or less of a product of his time, no more or less a brilliant mind. So what’s Velázquez? 

[i]Aristotle, Politics, Book IV. trans. Jowett
[ii]Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, eds. Cohler,MillerStone, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, Cambridge , 1989,Book 5, Chapter 1
[iii]Jonathan Brown, Velázquez: Painter and Courtier, Yale University Press, 1988) p.2
[iv]  Alfonso E. Perez Sanchez“Velázquez and his Art”,  in Velázquez,  Antonio Dominguez Ortiz, Alfonso E. Perez Sanchez, Julian Gallego , Metropolitan Museum, 1989,  p 24
[v]  Patricia Manning, Voicing Dissent in Seventeenth-Century Spain. Brill 2009, p. 34 
[vi]  Perez Sanchez p. 26
[vii]Panofsky, Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic. NYU 1969, p.7
[viii]ibid. p.11
[ix]Brown, p.4
[x]Panofsky, Titian, p 64
[xi]  Robert Goodwin,  Spain: The Centre of the World 1519-1682Bloomsbury, 2015,  p. 140

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