Modern Intellectual History

Articles

THE “HARD FORM” OF SCULPTURE: MARBLE, MATTER AND SPIRIT IN EUROPEAN SCULPTURE FROM THE ENLIGHTENMENT THROUGH ROMANTICISM*

LINDA WALSHa1

a1 Department of Art History, The Open University, London

Abstract

The apparently distinct aesthetic values of naturalism (a fidelity to external appearance) and neoclassicism (with its focus on idealization and intangible essence) came together in creative tension and fusion in much late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century sculptural theory and practice. The hybrid styles that resulted suited the requirements of the European sculpture-buying public. Both aesthetics, however, created difficulties for the German Idealists who represented a particularly uncompromising strain of Romantic theory. In their view, naturalism was too closely bound to the observable, familiar world, while neoclassicism was too wedded to notions of clearly defined forms. This article explores sculptural practice and theory at this time as a site of complex debates around the medium's potential for specific concrete representation in a context of competing Romantic visions (ethereal, social and commercial) of modernity.

Footnotes

* Thanks are due to Jason Gaiger and Anne Vanal, particularly for their help with German-language texts. Comments from Cordula Grewe, Anthony La Vopa and two anonymous reviewers were extremely constructive in assisting with revisions.