Thursday, September 01, 2022


Quite logically Plato contrasts “undisciplined” Greek art with the “law-bound” art of the Egyptians, whose works, always conceived in the same style, were no more beautiful and no uglier in Plato’s own time than they had been ten thousand years before.4


 4. Laws, II. 656DE.


CLINIAS: Egypt! Well then, you’d better tell us what legislation has been enacted there.

ATHENIAN: Merely to hear about it is startling enough. Long ago, apparently, they realized the truth of the principle we are putting forward only now, that the movements and tunes which the children of the state are to practice in their rehearsals must be good ones. They compiled a list of them according to style, and displayed it in their temples. Painters and everyone else who represent movements of the body of any kind were restricted to these forms; modification and innovation outside this tradi- tional framework were prohibited, and are prohibited even today, both in this field and the arts in general. If you examine their art on the spot, you will find that ten thousand years ago (and I’m not speaking loosely: I mean literally ten thousand), paintings and reliefs were produced that are no better and no worse than those of today, because the same artistic rules were applied in making them.

CLINIAS: Fantastic!

continuing from above. I don't read Greek and my Latin is gone, so "μίαησις φανταστική (copying imaginatively)", and sloppily, for fun. Philology is the history of language in use; it documents transformation. It's hard to imagine a pedantic philologist. 

He hated babies, gardening, and birds; But loved a few adults, all dogs, and words. 

But even if the goal of art has been achieved to the best of human ability, the work of art can never claim a higher rank than that of εἲδωλον (image), which, though apparently accurate, falls short of its Idea in many respects and can approach the latter no more closely than does the ὂνομα (name) which the philosopher necessarily uses to express his insights.[5]

Thus Plato determined the value of a work of art in the same way as he did that of a scientific investigation—by measuring the amount of theoretical and especially mathematical insight invested in it[6]—and by far the largest part of that which has been and is still esteemed as art, even great art, he did classify as μιμητικῆ τέχνη,  against which he hurled his famous condemnations in Book Ten of the Republic and in the Sophist: either the artist produces copies, conscientious at best, of given objects, in which case his  μίμησις εικαστική (copying exactly) reproduces the components of sense-perceptible reality—but absolutely nothing more than the components of sense-perceptible reality—and this would amount to a pointless duplication of the world of appearances, which in turn only imitates the world of Ideas;[7] or he begets unreliable and deceptive illusions, which by way of μίαησις φανταστική (copying imaginatively) make the large small and the small large in order to mislead our imperfect eyes,[8] and then his product increases the confusion in our soul; its truth value is less than even that of the world of appearances, a τρίτων τι ἆπὸ της ἆληϑείας (third remove from truth).[9]

In a well-known poem by John Tzetzes, Phidias, taking account as an ὸπτὸ and γεωμέτρς of the apparent reduction in size of things placed at great heights, is said to have given objectively incorrect proportions to a statue of Athena and by precisely this to have carried off the victory over Alcamenes.[10] For Plato this work would have been a standard example of that sham art which he blamed, almost as if expressly referring to this statue by Phidias, for setting forth, in deference to perspective distortion, not τὰς οὔσας συμμας (the actual proportions) but τὰς δοξούνας (those which seem beautiful).[11] Taking all this into consideration, it is understandable that Plato’s ideal was met by the works of those Egyptian painters and sculptors who not only seemed to adhere eternally to firmly established formulas but also abhorred any concession to visual perception. And ultimately it was not the artist but the dialectician whom Plato entrusted with the task of revealing the world of Ideas. For while art stops with the production of images, it is the exalted privilege of philosophy to use “words” merely as the lowest step of a stairway to knowledge which for the artist ends with the completion of εἲδωλον. [12] [Cassirer]


When we now consult, by contrast, a thinker of the sixteenth century—an age that customarily understood representational art as μίμσις, though not merely as imitation in the sense of “realism”—about his notion of the nature of the Platonic Idea, we read in Melanchthon, for instance: Certum est, Platonem ubique vocare Ideas perfectam et illustrem notitiam, ut Apelles habet in animo inclusam pulcherrimam imaginem humani corporis [13] (It is certain that Plato everywhere calls Ideas a perfect and lucid notion, as Apelles carries in his mind the most beautiful image of the human body). This interpretation, admittedly an attempt to reconcile Plato with Aristotle[14], is distinguished from a genuine Platonic definition by two things: first, the Ideas are no longer metaphysical substances existing outside the world of sensory appearances as well as outside the human intellect in a ὖπερουράνιος τόπος (supercelestial place), but they are notions or conceptions residing in the mind of man; second, it appears to be self-evident to a thinker of this time that the Ideas preferably reveal them- selves in artistic activity. The painter, and no longer the dialectician, is now adduced as an example when the concept “idea” is discussed.[15]

Melanchthon’s pronouncement (he was actually not an art theorist, nor did he even show an especially lively interest in the visual arts) seems important for two reasons: for one thing, it foreshadows the fact that from now.on art theory as such will take possession of the doctrine of ideas with ever greater zeal, or better, that art-theoretical thought will be increasingly influenced by this doctrine; for another thing, Melanchthon makes us wonder how it was possible that precisely the concept of “idea,” from which Plato himself had so often deduced the inferiority of artistic activity, is now used almost as a specifically art-theoretical concept. A solution to this problem is suggested by Melanchthon himself. For his interpretation of the idea concept he refers us to Cicero,[16] thus indicating that classical antiquity itself had transformed the Platonic concept of “idea” into a weapon against the Platonic view of art, thereby preparing the ground, as it were, for that of the Renaissance.


14  Melanchthon consciously refused to interpret the Ideas as metaphysical οὐσίαι, in order to equate them—presumably interpreting Plato’s own meaning more correctly—with the defnitiones or denotationes of Aristotle, referring here not without reason to Cicero’s Orator (see p. 7 above): Hanc absolutam et perfectam rei definitionem Plato vocat Ideam....Et ex hoc loco Ciceronis judicari potest, ideas apud Platonem intelligendas esse non animas aut formas coelo delapsas, sed perfectam notitiam iuxta dialecticam (“Scholia in Ciceronis oratorem,” Corp. Ref., Vol. XVI, col. 771 ff.). Significantly, the concept “art” (which he naturally understands in the sense of ratio, like Diirer and others) was already chiefly related by Melanchthon to the representational artist, whereas Thomas Aquinas, for example, though almost literally agreeing with Melanchthon’s definition, related this concept to the geometrician:

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiacae, II.1.57.3 (in the edn. by Fretté and Maré, II, 362): Respondeo dicendum, quad ars nihil aliud est, quam ratio recta aliquorum operum faciendorum.

Melanchthon, Initia doctr. phys., Corp. Rafis., Vol. XIII, col. 305: Est autem ars recta ratio faciendorum operum, ut statuarius certam habet notitz'am dirigen- tem manus, sculpentem imaginem in statua, id est partes statuae tantisper ordinantem, donec efficiatur similitudo eius archetypi, quem imitatur.
15. Only secondarily does Melanchthon cite Archimedes, who bore within himself the imago motuum αύτομάων coelestium. 
16. On Melanchthon’s general indebtedness to Cicero, cf. W. Dilthey, Gesammelte Schriften (1914), II, 172 ff. 

Panofsky, Idea: A Concept in Art Theory.

Who the fuck hates birds? 

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