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On peut dire, — et c’est un bonheur — que les théories, qui. conduisirent la peinture et la sculpture à trop sou­vent se transformer en une vaine littérature au lieu de se contenter d’être une joie de fa vie, n’ont pas eu de prise sur l’art appliqué; ou du moins, qu’elles n’ont pas sur lui l’influence qui, dans chaque Salon de pein­ture, se révèle par de si tristes productions.

Page illustrated (Jugend, 1896)

Decoration (The Studio, Volume 12)

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Une seule question soulève dans l’art appliqué des querelles chaque jour plus aiguës, qui me­nacent de diviser les artistes en deux camps enemis. Elle a trait au caractère, ou mieux, aux éléments de l’ornement. Les uns prétendent que ces éléments ne peuvent être pris que dans la nature visible, que la flore et la faune suffisent à elles seules à toutes les conditions à remplir par l’ornement de surface, pourvu qu’elles soient stylisées par une main experte. Les autres ne veulent pas entendre parler de la nature; ils affirment qu’il faut éviter tout ce qui rappelle la plante ou d’autres créations naturelles, et que le salut ne se trouve que dans la ligne abstraite.

Internal decoration from Villa Igiea, near Palermo (

Henri Van de Velde, Candelabre

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CVandeVelde - Candelabre

La dispute est sortie des œuvres des artistes belges, à leur tête M. Van de Velde, dont le système ornemental provoque d’un côté l’enthousiasme, de l’autre des con­tradictions violentes, et dont on a fait le re­présentant, le bouc émissaire de l’ornement. abstrait; i tort, cnr ce n’a jamais été l’intention » de cet artiste de provoquer un débat de ce genre, n Quoi qu’il en soit, il faut s’attendre à ce que, r de même oue la peinture vit naguère le combat des réalistes et des idéalistes, l’art appliqué devienne le champ de bataille des «floralistes» i et des «linéaristes».

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The musical Arabesque or rather the principle of ornament is at the basis of all forms of art.

Claude Debussy

"To whichever of the applied arts any given building may belong, in creating it one has to pay particular attention to ensuring that it and its exterior aspect conform in every respect to its designated purpose and its natural form.  Nothing is legitimate that does not form an organism, or a link between the various organisms.  No ornament can be permitted that is not organically absorbed."
Was ich will, 1901

"I wish to replace the old symbolic elements, which have lost their effectiveness for us today, with a new, imperishable beauty… in which ornament has no life of its own but depends on the forms and lines of the object itself, from which it receives its proper organic place."’
Was ich will, 1901

"I see ornament in architecture as having a dual function. On the one hand it offers support to the construction and draws attention to the means it employs; on the other… it brings life into a uniformly illuminated space by the interplay of light and shade."
Kunstgewerbliche Laienpredigten, 1902

Henry van de Velde

The combining impressions on Art Nouveau concepts may have inspired Debussy to base his Arabesque composition from the designs found in, for example, Arabic art.  The movements and curved lines of the motives dissolve into purposeless lines, into ornaments (arabesques). This two-dimensional, ornamental means of portrayal has its counterpart in Asiatic art. 

The repetitive patterns in the picture is synonymous to the repetitive musical idea presented in the first few measures which is present throughout the piece.  I used an arabesque pattern in a pottery picture, quadruplicated it, and fit those four together by inverting and rotating the images so that they form one whole piece.

The different line designs indicate the different parts of the piece.  The flowing musical lines are like the curvy decorative designs.  The freedom of form (not to he mistaken for its dissolution) does not indicate a rhapsodic gliding-over from one bar to another or a loose improvisation on a couple of sounds or scraps of melody. To the contrary, everything is most carefully composed; every detail is minutely indicated. Like the intricacies of the arabesque designs in visual art, melodic form can still be seen or heard.

As reported by Maria Francesca Cuccu in her essay “La "musica sognata" di Claude Debussy”, innovative and essential element in the music of Debussy is the Arabesque, subtle combination of floral and geometric elements, which the composer himself called "divine." The flexible whip line of Arabesque also beloved by Baudelaire evoke the most spiritual design and the most ideal: it is "a figure that does not develop in a supreme way using the technique of narrative or representation, but stands out in the manner of the fresco ornamentation on a surface in motion, without describing, without concluding epilogue, in a happy ending, but assuming a purely instantaneous ".

Claude Debussy – Arabesque Number 1

Floral ornaments in Art Nouveau

Jankélévitch compares certain melodic motifs of Debussy with a botanical phenomenon, the geotropism, ie the influence of gravity orientation on leaves and roots. Then, we can talk of positive and negative geotropism, the one used to indicate attraction to a center of gravity, the other indicates the tend of the stems to grow away from the center of the earth. (The student applies the confrontation with this phenomenon is also the symbolic meaning of plants and floral motifs of Art Nouveau and the relationship with the flowing lines of women’s hair.)

 

Femmes avec les cheveux de Lins, in Art Nouveau vignettes

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Claude Debussy – La fille aux cheveux de lin

Femmes avec les cheveux de Lins, in Art Nouveau vignettes

Debussy’s arabesques would follow the phenomenon: rising, creating a sense of rootlessness given by the superposition of perfect chords, each on a different key, which does not give continuity and a musical discourse of reason but merely to exist in space. In descent, Debussy arabesque symbolizes a feeling of fear and flight, drop or droop, especially sensual "vers cette inclinaison pudique vers le bas est une des marques les plus caractéristiques de la phrase debussyste" (11). Debussy believed in the magic power of Arabesque, symbol full of mystery and sensuality. The evidence for this oriental charm was the same that had aroused in him when he was able to hear the music of Bali and Java Indonesia. In these islands was practiced harmony set up two separate scales: <pelog> and <slendro>, both pentatonic, but the first (called female) has a major third, while the second (called the male) a minor third.

Exhibition presentation

Europeana is organising a public event, to mark the upcoming launch of Europeana’s virtual exhibition of Art Nouveau.

In Brussels, at the heart of European Art Nouveau, there will be a special lecture by Art Nouveau expert Prof. Dr. Werner Adriaenssens, Curator of Decorative Arts of the 20th Century, Royal Museums for Art and History.

The talk will be followed by an open discussion, ‘Why digitise culture?’ featuring 3 key figures in Belgian digital innovation:

Jef Malliet – Erfgoedplus.be, Provinciaal Centrum voor Cultureel Erfgoed, Hasselt
Sandra Fauconnier – Collection and Mediatheque at Netherlands Media Art Institute
Gert Nulens – IBBT/SMIT

The event will be held at the Belgian Comic Strip Centre, a masterpiece of Victor Horta’s Art Nouveau architecture. It is free for the public to attend, but places should be reserved in advance.

TIME: 15.00

DATE: 30 September 2010

ADDRESS: Belgian Comic Strip Centre, 20 rue des Sables (Zandstraat), B-1000 Brussels, Belgium

Web Access

Virtual Exhibition is accessible clicking the image below:

Art Nouveau Virtual Exhibition

Una delle più controverse vexata quaestion nella storia dell’Arte fin dè siècle, è costituita dal rapporto tra il cosiddetto estetismo, vera e proprio fondamento teorico ed estetico, e gli sviluppi dell’estetica della linea Art Nouveau. In più: se si considera la Secessione austriaca in particolare, costituisce un punto cardine della definizione dell’estetica secessione l’influenza delle produzioni di Kunstgewerbe della scuola di Glasgow, e di Rennie Mackintosh in particolare, e delle raffinate illustrazioni in bianco e nero di un Aubrey Beardsley o di un Selwyn Image su produzioni che spaziano dalla Kunstgewerbe Schule di Vienna fino all’estetica Wiener Werkstaette. Tuttavia, a mio avviso, rimane da indagare quanto, anche da un punto di vista teorico, un ulteriore contributo d’oltre Manica sarebbe stato destinato ad esercitare un definitivo e determinante influsso sui fondamenti teorici della Secessione Viennese. In particolare, rilevo come due dei maggiori teorici dell’Art Nouveau austriaca, Hermann Bahr e Ludwig Hevesi, conservino questo particolare legame teoretico con i fondamenti dell’Estetismo inglese.

Leggo e traduco Ludwig Hevesi, il quale, nella fondamentale raccolta di articoli e saggi brevi intitolata “Acht Jahre Secession” scrive:

La Vereinigung Bildender Kuenstler Oesterreich è principalmente una Kampfgesellschaft (una Società Guerriera) che conserva come proprio campo di battaglia l’Arte stessa. E tale battaglia non si connoterà di sterile polemica, ma, al contrario, sarà come suo proprio una finalità artistica. Quella di risvegliare gli occhi delle masse e far sì che essi si aprano e contemplino e comprendano gli sviluppi dell’arte giovane.

Le masse diseducate alla fruizione ed al riconoscimento del gusto, alla appercezione del bello. La Secessione non costituisce, dunque, un elemento di polemica o rottura con la tradizione del passato, con una estetica ritenuta vetusta e superata. La Secessione ha come proprio un fine meramente estetico, proponendosi come veicolo di una sensibilità sconosciuta, come una sorta di sileno pronto ad elettrizzare, talvolta scandalizzando, i dormienti ed assuefatti occhi dei più, per consentir infine loro non solamente di apprezzare la nuova arte, ma soprattutto di liberare la naturale umana tendenza al godimento del bello.

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Ancora Hermann Bahr, in “Secession”:

Se si considerano le secessioni di Parigi e Monaco, risulta evidente come quelle siano in deiretta contrapposizione alla Vecchia Arte in nome dell’Arte Giovane e Nuova. In questo senso si potrebbe dire che essa promuove uno scontro fra modernità contro la tradizione, o più modestamente: giocare una lotta per una nuova tecnologia, o innovazioni ancor non accettate: un tentativo, la moda di oggi contro la legge eterna. Ma pur sempre una controversia nelle arti. Entrambi gli avversari volevano servire la medesima cosa, la bellezza mediante l’unico mezzo con cui la potevano comunicare. Artisti  contro altri artisti. E ‘stata una battaglia delle scuole, le dottrine, di temperamento. Tutto questo non ci appartiene. Noi non argomentare contro la tradizione, dato che non ne abbiamo nessuna. Non è tra l’arte antica e nuova, non intendiamo discutere su come cambiare l’arte.  Al contrario, la Secessione si interesserà dell’arte stessa. L a nostra associazione dirime ogni dubbio, "rinuncia alla battaglia contro il vecchio, ed essa stessa rinuncia a chiamarsi moderna. Ill punto vero sarà il seguente: "contro i meri produttori, noi vogliamo essere artisti! Questa è tutta la controversia: o Business o l’arte, è la questione della nostra secessione.

La secessione dunque si propone portatrice di un nuovo modo di concepire l’arte, ancor più ed ancor prima di un nuovo modo di fare arte. E per i secessionisti, lo scontro esiziale è tra l’artista al solo servizio della Bellezza, ed il commerciante, al soldo di mecenati più o meno interessati, schiavo delle imposture del gusto borghese. Non è l’arte ad essere vecchia, al limite lo è l’artista, caduto nell’oblio della bellezza, non più in grado di lasciarsi avviluppare dall’estatico abbraccio della bellezza, potere eccitante e taumaturgico. Eco del campione dell’estetismo, Pater Walter, il cui pensiero è posseduto e veicolato dalle parole dell’Epicureo Mario:

Tutto questo è servito, come ha capito in seguito, in una sola volta a rafforzare e purificare una vena certa di carattere in lui. Sviluppare l’ideale, pre-esistente , di una bellezza religiosa, che MArio accumunerà in futuro con lo splendore meraviglioso del tempio di Esculapio, come si rese conto su di lui quella mattina della sua prima visita – Si è sviluppata in questo un ideale legame con un vivace senso del valore della salute mentale e corporea. E questo riconoscimento della bellezza, una estetica che mediante il bello veicolato dai sensi dona  salute al corpo, una sorta di influsso moralmente salutare, liberando le tendenze meno desiderabili o pericolose di alcune fasi del pensiero.

In a famous essay entitled “Et in Arcadia Ego: Poussin and the Elegiac Tradition”, the art historian and philosopher of art Erwin Panofsky takes in exam the influences of the influencing Latin motto “Et in Arcadia Ego” in the history of art. In particular, the essay of Panofsky is centered on the figure of the French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and his influencing painting “Les Bergers d’Arcadie".

The Latin sentence itself is a sort of recurring Motto in Latin literature:

The first appearance of a tomb with a memorial inscription (to Daphnis) amid the idyllic settings of Arcadia appears in Virgil’s Eclogues V 42 ff. Virgil took the idealized Sicilian rustics that had first appeared in the Idylls of Theocritusand set them in the primitive Greek district of Arcadia (see Eclogues VII and X). The idea was taken up anew in the circle of Lorenzo de’ Medici in the 1460s and 1470s, during the Florentine Renaissance

Taken by Wikipedia, voice “Et in Arcadia Ego”

In the history of visual art, we encounter the this theme in a painting by Guercino:

Quite surprisingly, Panofsy in his essay takes into consideration, as first insight, one of the latest interpretation of the theme, due to the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds:

Reynolds explained the presence of the Latin sentence as a sort of memento of the ineluctability of death. He also reported that even  King George III who had seen the painting said, "ay, ay, death is even in Arcadia."

The point here gives to Panofsky the opportunity to clarify the meaning and interpretation of “Arcadia”:

in the imagination of Virgil, and of Virgil alone, that the concept of Arcady, as we know it, was born— a bleak and chilly district of Greece came to be transfigured into an imaginary realm of perfect bliss. But no sooner had this new, Utopian Arcady come into being than a discrepancy was felt between the supernatural perfection of an imaginary environment and the natural limitations of human life as it is.

Erwin Panofsky, “Et in Arcadia Ego & the Elegiac Tradition”

The literary and allegoric myth usually associated with Arcadia depicted the simple mannered delights of “Arcady”, a dreaming folk is seeking to retreat from the pressures and complexities of urban life, in a pastoral country. Likewise, her warriors were seen as wild and uncouth highlanders who would rush headlong into battle wearing only the skin of wolves, bears or sheep (Paus. 4.11.3, cf. 8.1.5). Polybios, himself an Arcadian, calls his fellow countrymen “primitive” (4.21.2), while Strabon, a non-Arcadian, describes them as “wholly mountaineers” (8.1.2). Although this simplicity of the Arcadian character was to be idealised by Roman poets, the Arcadians did not possess an equal reputation for intelligence. Juvenal calls a blockhead an “Arcadian youth” (7.160), and even as late as the third century AD we witness Philostratos describing the Arcadians as “the most boorish of men” who lived in “squalor” (VA 8.7.12).

Contrasting to this, somewhat distorted, literary description of Arcadia, the presence of a grave and, then , of Death. Again Panofsky:

The phrase Et in Arcadia ego can still be understood to be voiced by Death personified, and can still be translated as "even in Arcady I, Death hold sway," without being out of harmony with what is visible in the painting itself.

Erwin Panofsky, “Et in Arcadia Ego & the Elegiac Tradition”

Death is everywhere, and mortality a condition which affected also the most naive shepards of Arcadia:

Thus Poussin himself, while making no verbal change in the inscription, invites, almost compels, the beholder to mis-translate it by relating the ego to a dead person instead of to the tomb, by connecting the et with ego instead of with Arcadia, and by supplying the missing verb in the form of avixi or fui instead of a sum. The development of his pictorial vision had outgrown the significance of the literary formula, and we may say that those who under the impact of the Louvre picture, decided to render the phrase Et in Arcadia ego as "I, too, lived in Arcady," rather than as "Even in Arcady, there am I," did violence to Latin grammar but justice to the new meaning of Poussin’s composition. Poussin’s Louvre picture no longer shows a dramatic encounter with Death but a contemplative absorption in the idea of mortality. We are confronted with a change from thinly veiled moralism to undisguised elegiac sentiment.

Erwin Panofsky, “Et in Arcadia Ego & the Elegiac Tradition”

The illustration of Aubrey Beardsley for the third volume of “Savoy” contrasts totally with the Poussin’s view of Arcadia. Here, the vision and concept itself of Arcadia, as described by Panofsky, is completely superseded. The Beardsley’s Arcadia has nothing in common with the retired and pastoral environment of the literal common place. Here Arcadia looks just like an English garden, in which strange and exotic flowers are presents, in which a dandy gentleman can walk as in an aesthetic Wunderkammer. It could be the garden of a Des Esseintes or, ante litteram, the Garda Lake’s residence of Gabriele D’Annunzio. This is definitively not the field of a sort of quite Eden on Earth, rather the decadent aesthetic and exotic beauty of a Villa’s Garden.

The dandy gentleman depicted here, is not facing the grave with the astonished and dreaming attitude of the Poussin’s shepards; here the dandy, who believes in the Total Work of Art, looks like he faces the Death represented by the grave challenging her, without necessarily being frightened nor surprised by the grave’s presence in his Garden. And he is not driven by a fool braveness, rather than the aesthetic and decadent belief on Beauty, she who will win everything, including Death.

Other visual artists who worked on the same subject include:

Giovanni Francesco Barbierini detto il Guercino (1591-1666)
Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)
Laurent de la Hyre (1606-1656)
Peter Scheemakers (1691-1781)
Francesco Zuccarelli (1702-1788)
Richard Wilson (1714-1782)
Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)
Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
Léon Vaudoyer (1803-1872)
Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)
George Wilhelm Kolbe (1877-1947)
Augustus John (1878-1961)

 

Sometimes I feel that the time really flows accordingly to the concept of time of the Greek mythology. Sometimes I really feel that that eventually it could be true, at least as far as history of art is concerned.

We are descending from the Classic Greek Art, in which the human beings, and specially their bodies, were constructed after the artistic ideal, and the artistic ideal after the daemonic (aka supernatural) essence. The Greek artist conceived her composition as a sort of representation of the daemonic perfection, depicting bodies who eventually were actual representation of that ideal. And the idealistic art should represent a model to which the real human beings tend to approximate, in order to tend toward the upper nature of the daemons. The concept itself of KaloKagathia, the marriage between the Beauty and the Good, was symptomatic of this attitude: the ideal beauty should be paradigmatic of an ethic social behavior, thus pushing the ethic attitude to copy the perfection (ideal) of the work of art. In other terms, social should have been a sort of imitation of the perfection of the art. Notwithstanding Plato.

The Platonic revolution, assigned to the art the infamous role of copy of the copy, copy of the Nature which was considered copy of the upper Metaphysic world of the Eidolon (Ideas). This was so impacting that basically the art production which followed was conceived as an imitation, at least, of the Nature. Being inspired, the naturalistic artist should take inspiration from the beauty of the nature, a mirror of the divine perfection. On the other hand, the plein-air painting of the Impressionists tended to impress on the canvas the momentum, the impression coming our, again, from a Nature conceived as a source of inspiration.

The fault came with the Symbolism, at the end, a sort of Nietzschiean Return to the Origin, to the Source, finally. How should be considered the Symbolist attitude toward Nature then ?

After having read Alfred Kubin’s sole roman, “Die Andere Seite” I was walking in a street, in a small village in northern Italy.

People continuously walking around a tower. At the upper of the tower, a clock which seems to attract all the people, and the people not being able to escape that fatidic attraction.

I was in that street, the same street as the one described and illuminated several times by Kubin. And I felt myself while I was reconstructing that street, and looking at that tower as per my influenced by Kubin eyes. I was able then to force the outside nature to my own vision. And my vision wasn’t a copy of the Kubin’s one; simply, I was using his same vocabulary, using which I was able to (re)describe the Nature. Once again, Daemon Triumphavit …

 

I was impressed, reading the essay on the Italian Liberty architecture by the authoritative art historian Rossana Bossaglia, by the her concerns regarding the development of an Art Nouveau (Liberty, as the movement is known in Italy) architecture. In particular she complained about the lack of a real innovative research of new forms in architecture during the Art Nouveau period in Italy as was the case, for example in Belgium or in Spain.  Accordingly to Rossana Bossaglia, the problem with the Italian Art Nouveau architecture is the lack of a very meaningful research on the forms in the building’s own structure, thus relegating all the evocative suggestions of the Art Nouveau’ Lines to the decorative elements on the façade. In other terms, in Italy, accordingly to Bossaglia, the development of the national Art Nouveau style lacked a personality such as Victor Hortha in"Belgium, Odon Lechner in Hungary, Otto Wagner in Austrian or Anton Gaudi in Spain, thus limiting to very few examples the very contribution of Italy to the development to the international modernist style.

Anyway, even stated the lack of an outstanding personality or a school master, in Italy we could experience a very development of the know-how, of some techniques which are nevertheless impacting over the progression of the Art Nouveau style and technique. A brief digression here regarding the relationship between the style and the technique. In classical point of view, the work of art represents an ideal wedding (chemical ?) between technical skills, inspiration and personal style. The technique element, the Greek tekné constitutes a world of potential and possibility with which the artist could fully express his or her own feelings or inspirations. The point here is that classically an artist could really produce a work of art only after having mastered the expressive technique of his own artistic field. I have well printed in my head the words Arnold Schönberg, who in his theoretical masterpiece, Armonienlehere, complained that his fellows and disciples must know very well and master all the classical composition techniques prior to try any subsequent engagements into the new dodecaphonic arrangements. Giving life and form to a work of art (informing, using aesthetic terminology, a work of art) means basically mastering a technique at the same level which permits to a poet to fully express the complexity of his poetry and inspirations just after, and only after, having a deep knowledge of the language (including the possibility of providing complex images as consequence of mastering a complex vocabulary).

As far as the development of the Stile Liberty, the national declination of Art Nouveau in Italy, is concerned, one of the most exiting an fundamental contribution of the Italian artists at the turn of the century is due to their outstanding improvement of the iron workmanship techniques. Walking through some streets in Milan gives exactly the idea of the outstanding level that the technique of iron decorations reached during the turn of the century in Italy.

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Artists such as Alessandro Mazzucotelli, Carlo Rizzarda or Umberto Bellotto, maybe not so known as other champions of art nouveau such as Alphonse Mucha or Gaudi, were eventually able to push to the extreme the ornamental possibilities of iron. Iron structures developed in other countries, of course: In the fin de siècle Barcelona or Paris, iron structures were used in architecture, sometime not just as decorative elements rather than as fully structural ones.

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Anyway the technical level reached by the Italian artists permitted to create ornaments which present decorative ornaments with a very fitomorphic feeling. Moreover, seems that the researches for an art which could be overcharged by the same explosive mystic strength of Creative Nature, an art which could be able to mimic not the  naturalistic elements rather than the very inner force of the Nature itself, these researches boosted by improving these new techniques.

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The expressive potentiality of an art as a mirror of the symbolic aspect of the nature was significantly improved by a technique which could release the flexibility potentiality of the metallic materials. The researches of Mazzucotelli and the other Italian artist of the iron constituted not just a technical step forward in the direction of fitomorphic ornament: they constituted also an improvements of its symbolic dictionary.

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