Unity and inevitability: Classic/Baroque and the universal

Gough, Tim (2014) Unity and inevitability: Classic/Baroque and the universal. In: 16. Internationaler Barocksommerkurs der Stiftung Bibliothek Werner Oechslin - Kolloquium zum Thema "Barock / Klassik"; 21st - 25th June 2015, Stiftung Bibliothek Werner Oechslin, Einsiedeln, Switzerland. (Unpublished)


In conclusion Woelfflin outlines four formal characteristics of Classic Art: • repose, spaciousness, mass and size • simplification and lucidity • complexity • unity and inevitability The final of these (which completes the book) is decisive: if classic art has a certain coldness, then this is surely to do with its respect of the predestined One, as Woelfflin's own comparison of Ghirlandaio's masterpiece with Leonardo's chilly Last Supper illustrates. For Woelfflin, the Classic is unified, and can be ascertained formally by an analysis of the form of the work, although he is careful to state that the work is much more than just form – a warning which is all too often not taken account of. In his various works on the 17th century thinkers Spinoza and Leibnitz, whose work he links with a specifically Baroque conception of the world, Gilles Deleuze contrasts their philosophies with “classic” philosophy, which runs as a specific stream from Aristotle through to Descartes (and beyond, to Kant). Classic philosophy is essentialist, whereby a thing is defined as that which fulfils its essence to a greater or lesser extent; and it is substantialist whereby a thing is defined as substance and therefore as form. As Deleuze says, substance is, at bottom, form. There is therefore a non-coincidental coherence between Woelfflin's formal method of ascertaining what classic art is, and the nature – in general – of the classic as defined philosophically. The classic is defined in classic fashion – by means of a unified essence and the form of a substance. What then of the Baroque? If there is a coherence between the abstract thought of classicism and the way in which classic art and architecture is defined, then can a similar link be made between the anti-classic philosophers of the Baroque age and Baroque architecture? Spinoza's question is not about essence, but about power: he famously asks in the Ethics: what can a body do? The thing (architecture included) is no longer a substance with a form, but is a collection of relations, a series of nested individualities to infinity (Spinoza), a series of folds to infinity (Leibnitz). The relational character of reality extends, for the baroque, to the mathematics of integration and differentiation – dx/dy as the subsistence of the relation in the absence of its terms. This paper will explore these Baroque relationships with reference to the strands of classicism running through 17th century architecture (eg Bernini) and its rivalry with the “true” baroque (eg Borromini).

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