Catriona MacLeod questions lack of sculpture during Romantic period

MacLeod discussed critics’ considerations of romantic sculptures like Bernini’s ‘Apollo and Daphne.’ Photo courtesy of Khan Academy.
MacLeod discussed critics’ considerations of romantic sculptures like Bernini’s ‘Apollo and Daphne.’ Photo courtesy of Khan Academy.

On Oct. 13, Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pennsylvania Catriona MacLeod visited the College to deliver her lecture, “What’s the matter with Romantic Sculpture?”

Macleod’s talk posed an intriguing question about the development of the romantic period. While romanticism had a rich multitude of art forms, such as painting, music and poetry, there seems to be a lack of sculpture in romanticism, specifically German romantic sculpture.

Art history students may have noticed this phenomenon. Once they reach the romantic era, those flashcards of works suddenly feature more paintings and fewer sculptures.

“Romanticism … simply did not know what to do with sculpture,” Macleod said.

Much of her lecture focused on the intersecting opinions of German poet and critic August Wilhelm Schlegel and German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Macleod created a dialogue between the two by citing quotes representative of their ideologies.

Macleod described Schlegel as someone who demanded fidelity to the classics and disliked those who tried to break their rules, such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini. She delved into Schlegel’s problems with a Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne.” The sculpture tells the story of Apollo’s chase in pursuit of Daphne and captures the very moment that Daphne turns into a tree, just as Apollo reaches her. This work tries to encapsulate the sense of flight in Daphne’s response, something that sculpture should not do, according to Schlegel.

Macleod mentioned the opinion of Schlegel’s brother Friedrich, who was also a prominent member in the field.

“Early romantic theory, such as the philosophy of Friedrich Schlegel, tries to overcome the boundaries between the arts, favoring generic hybrids, and striving to create correspondences between object and subject world,” Macleod said.

Macleod then turned to Hegel, emphasizing his preference for other art forms.

“Sculpture has to give way to painting and music to give way to inner life. In this regard, Hegel claims the potential of painting to take a viewer beyond the purely material, a manifestation of the material and spiritual,” Macleod said.

To Hegel, sculpture instead represents a “spirit trapped within a body.” Much of Hegel’s philosophy focused on what is known as absolute idealism. He rejected the more modern concept that art exists for art’s sake. To Hegel, the artist could never construct the ideal sculpture because of its physicality. Instead, paintings became more iconic, such as Raphael’s “The Sistine Madonna.” This painting “truly was an icon for the German romantics,” Macleod said.

Macleod compared the theories proposed by Schlegel and Hegel to accommodate sculpture to modernity. Hegel’s aesthetics, unlike Schlegel’s, depend on mutually exclusive pairings. He presents a more developmental triadic kind of art in which each individual art should exhibit a succession of classical and romantic forms,” Macleod said.

Macleod partly attributes this gap in the history of sculpture to the production of smaller, reproducible items. This instilled a culture of sculpture copying, thus devaluing the art form. Instead of high art, sculpture became a type of cultural currency during the romantic period.

While the 18th and 19th centuries lacked sculpture in a traditional sense, Macleod noted the rise in monuments as an art form. One of the most prominent contributors to the German monument was German sculptor Christian Daniel Rauch, who is well known for his statues in Berlin’s Opera Square. Rauch, according to Macleod, “takes sculpture further away from ideality in the direction of the monument, which functionalizes the medium and relocates it into public spaces, where it is pressed into the service of the Prussian state.”

She quoted German philosopher Carl Seidel, who said, “The public monument, the statue commemorating the state or men revered in the arts and sciences, is far beyond any pure poeticizing of the human form … [and] unquestionably the highest achievement of contemporary sculpture.”

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *