`HANS KÖRNER. Auf der Suche nach der wahren Einheil. Ganzheils

'HANS KÖRNER. Auf der Suche nach der wahren Einheil. Ganzheilsvorstellungen in der französischen Malerei und Kunstliteralur vom minieren 17.
bis zum mittleren 19, Jahrhundert. München: Fink 1988. DM 138.00
Near ihc cnd of his book (248), on occasion of criticizing ihe beloved
exercise of ircaiing Delacroix as ihe predeccssor of impressionism, Körner
lurns against all ihose teleological models of history which lakc each
historical period as preparaiory io the following and ihc following as
fulfilment of ihe preceding. Bul, in facl, the author himsclf did nothing eise
but follow ihc modcl of a step-by-step development from the classical Italian
art theory to the romantic aeslhetics of genius. The subtitle of Ihc book,
•Ganzheitsvorstellungen in der französischen Malerei und Kunsiliteratur,"
describes the projeel exactly and 'unit£' may indeed be ihe central lernt of
any classical and postclassical art theory to which all further determinations
are subordinated. Therefore, a monographical ireatment appears to be more
than promising.
In the preface, Körner cxplains his methodological orientation. Against
ihe frequent tendency to stylize a general "organic unity" (whalcver ihat may
mean) as a fundamental condition of any kind of aesthetic concretion,
Körner postulates the neecssily always to ask about ihc particularity of the
4 1 luslon Dich). An Inda of kons in Entfish Emblem Boote 1500-1700,
(Norman/London: U of Oklahoma P. \*>86).
406 / Hubertus Kohle
respective unity coneept. Wiih this demand he turns against methods widely
spread, especially in an history, in which grids of composilion are used to
describe varying aesthetie phenomena, without being examined for iheir
historic relevancc.
The auihor ihcn examines the ideas of whai should be understood by
arlistie uniiy by analyzing both paintings and (exis. Yet, the Interpretation
of texts takes priority, so ihal non-art historieal interests are also responded
lo. Like almost any other study in classical European an theory, here too
the starting point is Albcrti. Albcrti regards composilion, i.e. the level of
installment of unity, as the arrangement of human bodies: for the
Renaissance, in gcneral, pictorial order is not an abstract qualily but the
order of the picturc objects. In the ncoclassical theory of the seventeenth
Century the author pereeives an understanding distinctively orienied towards
the enlirety of the picturc. Fölibien, Lc Brun, and especially Dcpilcs do not
think of pictorial coherence as depending upon Single objects but on the
overall disposition of the wholc. Such a theory appears to respond to
dcvclopments of painting experience, especially to that of Poussin, who
through the modal determination of the picture tends to subtract the power
of expression from the figure and its gestic and mimic modulation and
transfers it to the overall atmosphere of the picture.
The relativization of the traditional idea of imitation causes the paihos
of Diderot's idea of unity. For the cnlightcncd philosopher the modcl of
naturc is dissolved into an infinite nuinncr of relations. Art's foremost task
is to reveal these relations in a transformed form. Duc to its limited mcans
art can only be "asymptotic approximation," never a copy. The uniiy of the
work of art becomes a paradoxical form of autonomous reflexion. The
rclation to the model is no longer established through the objects that
constitute unity but lies in unity itsclf. Here the objects are nothing morc
than the phenomcnal expression of universal rclation.
Düring French Neoclassicism the absolute of unity and the discredit cast
upon rcprcscniationalism Icad to a point whcre unity not only comprehensivcly emphasizes the pictorial contents, but installs itsclf as a transfigural
scheme. At this point Körner replaccs text exegesis wiih picturc exegesis:
David construets pictures into which figures are filted. Pictorial order
becomes all powerfull and restricts the protagonist's activity. The idea of the
vivid pictorial organism is dead. As Körner puts it trenchantly, the artist no
longer wishes to order objects but to objectize order.
The Romantic movement indeed docs without the compulsive character
of neoclassical composilion, but it takes on and even forces the relativization
of figure and object. For onee and all the unity of the work of art is kept in
the subjectively created autonomy of the pictorial strueture and is no longer
based on the interaction of objects. With Dclacroix, for example, colour
Auf dar Suche nach der wahren Einheit / 407
dismisses -is function as "sigmfier" and bccomcs "signi/icaie'1 that receives all
its dignily from ihe idea of arlislic gcnius.
This Short summary, which in an almosl hazardous way narrows the widih
and differendation of Körner's argumenta tion, Shows clcarly ihat wc are bj'
no means dealing with an example of positivistio faelual rescarch, but with
Lho largo scalc attempt of a spcculativc prcsentaiion, inat from a certain
context of aesthetic theory reconstructs the development from the
heterogencous lo the autonomous work of an and from the objectorientated tn the picuirc-nricrLied artist. My following critique does not
relaic to the fascinatingly cxplicatcd hasic postulate—which is unfortunately
sometimcs clutlcred wiih too many names and texts — but is concentrated
on Single issues — wbich, for tbc sake of the evidentiat value of the step-by~
Step development, appear snmetinies distorted.
I have no objeetions against the first Chapter dealing with <he Step from
the arrangcmcnl of bodies to pictorial composilion. Here Körner Claims the
idea of a supcr-rcprcsentational pictorial lotaliiy for the entirety of Frerch
Classicism. Going back to the latcst comprehensive study of French
seventeenth Century arl theory (Thomas Putifarkcn, Roger de Piks' Theory
of Art {1985) one would rather tend to see this idea in connection with the
first stauneti Rubeniste Roger de Piles, whereas theorists like Felibien and
Le Brun still interprelcd pictures rather in terms of aeling protagonists.
Korner does indeed qualify his thesis when hc Claims, for example, for
Poussin (30) (in contrast 10 David, with whom he deals Jäter) that here
super-rcpresenlationality of composition musl not be understood as being
stränge or even oppositc to the ohjects. In spitc of that the potential of
pictorial autonomy assumed this seems to be clearly overestimated,
Even though the basic thesis that postulates a division of "Büdsunime"
and "Bildkörpcr" is wilhoul any doubt correet and may stiil loday need to be
stressed, I encounter ee riain diffkulties regarding Kürner's Interpretation of
David. It appears qu est io nable to rac whelher, in connection with David hs
pictures, one should indeed speak of an absolulely condusive Overall
disposition, to which all figures are subordinated. Certainly, the linear
strueture Körner ascribes excmplarily to the "Sabines" lacks plausibilily. I
think one should speak more carefully of a trenchant disIntegration of figure
and narrative context, of figure and space, in which the classical hierarehical
construclion of pictorial protagonist and assisting figures Is lost. Nevertheicss, cspociaNy in this chapicr oii Frcnch Neocfassicism it bccomcs clcar
Lhat organic unity can be scarcely taken for an aesthetic Constanl.
The intellceuial achievement of Kümer's book is only marginally affcclcd
by this critique. Ttie connection the aulhor establishes between Diderot and
David or between the usually opposed styles of Neoclassicism and
Romaniicism is sometimcs of an originalily of the highest Order. Jl reveals
40« / David V. Pugh
a commanding knowledgc not only of ihe practical and theorctical aspects
of art but also — and most of all — of the philosophical tradition.