Enfilade

New Book | The Fusion of Neo-Classical Principles

Posted in books by Editor on January 10, 2013

From Wordwell Books:

Lynda Mulvin, ed., The Fusion of Neo-Classical Principles (Dublin: Wordwell, 2012), 200 pages,  ISBN: 978-1905569557, €35.

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 4.17.09 PMOur understanding of Neo-Classicism is currently in an interesting phase of development, a progression to which this volume will make a significant contribution. As Kathleen James-Chakraborty’s keynote paper argues, scholarly attention is shifting from a focus on the production of works of art and buildings to a focus on consumption. The only chapter in the book that deals with painting, Brendan Cassidy’s on the reputation of Gavin Hamilton, neatly exemplifies the polarities of production and consumption. Hamilton painted his pictures in Rome where they were admired by travelling British patrons but, upon their arrival in England, they were consumed by the public with far less enthusiasm. Cassidy advances a very particular reason for this: that Grand Tourists tended to be very young men who took pleasure in identifying Hamilton’s historical subjects whilst on the sacred territory of Rome by reference to their schoolboy steeping in classical texts but, on their return to more distant northern Europe, were happy to conform with the predominant taste for landscape painting and portraiture.

Conor Lucey’s chapter, on the architectural pattern books that can be identified as having been in the hands of Dublin artisans, is a good contribution to the theme of diffusion of design ideas from one place to another, as is John Wilton-Ely’s on the design revolution of Robert Adam. As Wilton-Ely argues, the targeting and marketing of a ‘style’ is a sign of economic modernity. Another aspect of economic modernity in the eighteenth century is the quasi-professional organisation of the means of production, and Barbara Arciswewska’s essay on the reform of the English Office of Works instigated by the new Hanoverian dynasty is a very important contribution to scholarship in this respect.

In this volume the chapters of Michael McCarthy and Toby Barnard deal explicitly with the problem of when Neo-Classicism begins and ends. McCarthy argues that the fierceness of the nineteenth-century ‘battle of the styles’ has caused us to lose sight of the more gentlemanly basis on which the debate took place in the eighteenth century, but Barnard explores the religious disputes in Ireland that saw the Gothic commandeered by the Protestant community and the Catholics turning to classicism – and perhaps not unwillingly, given that their sense of civic duty was modelled on their classical educations like the young English aristocrats who, as we have seen, form the basis of Cassidy’s chapter.

The issue of the thoroughgoing Greek Revival, which would have hardly any place if this volume were circumscribed in chronological terms by the dates 1750-1800, is vigorously dealt with in this volume by three essays. Susan Pearce looks back to that first truly great phase of archaeological discovery in Greece that followed the Napoleonic Wars and in particular at the extraordinary understandings of Greek architecture and architectural sculpture of C.R. Cockerell.  Lynda Mulvin’s own chapter on Cockerell’s work in Ireland pursues these ideas into built form are, while Patricia McCarthy deals with the much more extensive Irish projects of Richard and William Morrison. Also in this connection, Joe McDonnell through the works of the Irish sculptor Christopher Hewetson and Paul Caffrey with a collection of miniatures examine the emergence of Neo-Classicism in other media in Ireland.

A final strand to this rich volume can be found in the transference of design ideas between different artistic media. This is explored in the essays of Tracy Watts and Eddie McParland.

These essays will make a wide-ranging and stimulating contribution to current scholarly debates about the nature of Neo-Classicism, that critical cultural development that signals the arrival both of recognisable modernity and of internationalism in the western tradition. Moreover the essays have been written by some of the leading experts on the subject.

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