The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Paul Oskar Kristeller

The Modern System of the Arts:

A Study in the History of Aesthetics

Part I *

Journal of the History of Ideas, 12 (4)

Oct. 1951, 496-527.



      PART I

I – Introduction 

II – Antiquity

III – Middle Ages

IV – Renaissance

V – France in the 17th Century


18th Century

 VI – France

VII – England

VIII – Germany

 IX – Conclusions

Dedicated to Professor Hans Tietze on his 70th birthday


I - Introduction

The fundamental importance of the eighteenth century in the history of aesthetics and of art criticism is generally recognized.  To be sure, there has been a great variety of theories and currents within the last two hundred years that cannot be easily brought under one common denominator.  Yet all the changes and controversies of the more recent past presuppose certain fundamental notions which go back to that classical century of modern aesthetics.  It is known that the very term “Aesthetics” was coined at that time, and, at least in the opinion of some historians, the subject matter itself, the “philosophy of art,” was invented in that comparatively recent period and can be applied to earlier phases of Western thought only with reservation. [1]  It is also generally agreed that such dominating concepts of

* Part II appeared in the Jan. 1952 issue.

 I am indebted for several suggestions and references to Professors Julius S. Held, Rensselaer Lee, Philip Merlan, Ernest Moody, Erwin Panofsky, Meyer Schapiro, and Norman Torrey.

1. B. Croce, Estetica come scienza dell’espressione e linguistica generate: Teoria e storia, 5th ed. (Ban, 1922; first ed., 1901); Problemi di estetica, 2nd ed. (Ban, 1923); ,Storia dell’estetica per saggi (Ban, 1942). Katharine E. Gilbert and Helmut Kuhn, A History of Esthetics (New York, 1939).  See also: J. Koller, Entwurf zur Geschichte und Literatur der Aesthetik von Baumgarten bis auf die neueste Zeit (Regensburg, 1799).  R. Zimmermann, Aesthetik, pt. I: Geschichte der Aesthetik als philosophicher Wissenschaft (Vienna, 1858).  M. Schasler, Kritische Geschichte der Aesthetik (Berlin, 1872).  K. Heinrich von Stein, Die Entstehung der neneren Aesthetik (Stuttgart, 1886).  Willliam Knight, The Philosophy of the Beautiful, vol. I (Being Outlines of the History of Aesthetics) (London, 1891).  B. Bosanquet, A History of Aesthetic, 3rd ed. (London, 1910).  Max Dessoir, Aesthetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft (Stuttgart, 1906).  Ernest Bergmann, Geschichte der Aesthetik und Kunstphilosophie: Ein Forschungsbericht (Leipzig, 1914).  Frank P. Chambers, Cycles of Taste (Cambridge, Mass., 1928); The History of Taste (New York, 1932).  A. Baeumler, Aesthetik (Handbuch der Philosophie, I, C; Munich-Berlin, 1934).  For poetry and literature: G. Saintsbury, A History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe, 3 vols. (Edinburgh, 1900-04; extremely weak on the theoretical side).  For music: H. Sahlender, Die Bewertung der Musik im System der Kuenste: Eine historisch-systematische Untersuchung (thes. Jena, 1929).  For the visual arts: A. Dresdner, Die Kunstkritik: Ihre Geschichte und Theorie, vol. I (Munich, 1915). Julius Schlosser, Die Kunstliteratur (Vienna, 1924). Lionello [Venturi, History of Art Criticism (New York, 1936); ,Storia della critica d’arte (Rome, 1945).  R. Wittkower, “The Artist and the Liberal Arts,” Eidos I (1950), 11-17.  More special studies will be quoted in the course of this paper.]

HHC: [bracketed] displayed on page 497 of original.


modern aesthetics as taste and sentiment, genius, originality and creative imagination did not assume their definite modern meaning before the eighteenth century.  Some scholars have rightly noticed that only the eighteenth century produced a type of literature in which the various arts were compared with each other and discussed on the basis of common principles, whereas up to that period treatises on poetics and rhetoric, on painting and architecture, and on music had represented quite distinct branches of writing and were primarily concerned with technical precepts rather than with general ideas. [2]  Finally, at least a few scholars have noticed that the term “Art,” with a capital A and in its modern sense, and the related term “Fine Arts” (Beaux Arts) originated in all probability in the eighteenth century. [3]

In this paper, I shall take all these facts for granted, and shall concentrate instead on a much simpler and in a sense more fundamental point that is closely related to the problems so far mentioned, but does not seem to have received sufficient attention in its own right.  Although the terms “Art,” “Fine Arts” or “Beaux Arts” are often identified with the visual arts alone, they are also quite commonly understood in a broader sense.  In this broader meaning, the term “Art” comprises above all the five major arts of painting, sculpture, architecture, music and poetry.  These five constitute the irreducible nucleus of the modern system of the arts, on which all writers and thinkers seem to agree. [4]  On the other hand, certain additional arts are sometimes added to the scheme, but with less regularity, depending on the different views and interests of the authors concerned: gardening, engraving and the decorative arts, the dance and the theatre, sometimes the opera, and finally eloquence and prose literature. [5]

2. M. Menendez y Pelayo, Historia de las Ideas estéticas en Espalia III (Buenos Aires, 1943).  E. Cassirer, Die Philosophie der Aufklärung (Tübingen, 1932), 368ff.  T. M. Mustoxidi, Histoire de l’Esthétique francaise (Paris, 1920).

3. L. Venturi, “Per il nome di ‘Arte,’” La Cultura, N.S. I (1929), 385-88.  R. G. Collingwood, The Principles of Art (Oxford, 1938), 5-7.  See also the books of Parker and McMabon, cited below.

4. Theodore M. Greene, The Arts and the Art of Criticism (Princeton, 1940), 35ff.  P. Frankl, Das System der Kunstwissenschaft (Brflnn-Leipzig, 1938), 501ff.

5. See the works of Zimmermann and Schasler, cited above, note 1.


The basic notion that the five “major arts” constitute an area all by themselves, clearly separated by common characteristics from the crafts, the sciences and other human activities, has been taken for granted by most writers on aesthetics from Kant to the present day.  It is freely employed even by those critics of art and literature who profess not to believe in “aesthetics”; and it is accepted as a matter of course by the general public of amateurs who assign to “Art” with a capital A that ever narrowing area of modern life which is not occupied by science, religion, or practical pursuits.

It is my purpose here to show that this system of the five major arts, which underlies all modern aesthetics and is so familiar to us all, is of comparatively recent origin and did not assume definite shape before the eighteenth century, although it has many ingredients which go back to classical, medieval and Renaissance thought.  I shall not try to discuss any metaphysical theories of beauty or any particular theories concerning one or more of the arts, let alone their actual history, but only the systematic grouping together of the five major arts.  This question does not directly concern any specific changes or achievements in the various arts, but primarily their relations to each other and their place in the general framework of Western culture.  Since the subject has been overlooked by most historians of aesthetics and of literary, musical or artistic theories, [6] it is hoped that a brief and quite tentative study may throw light on some of the problems with which modern aesthetics and its historiography have been concerned.


II - Antiquity

The Greek term for Art (τέχνη) and its Latin equivalent (ars) do not specifically denote the “fine arts” in the modern sense, but were applied to all kinds of human activities which we would call crafts or sciences.  Moreover, whereas modern aesthetics stresses the fact that Art cannot be learned, and thus often becomes involved in the curious endeavor to teach the unteachable, the ancients always understood by Art something that can be taught and learned.  Ancient statements about Art and the arts have often been read and understood as if they were meant in the modern sense of the fine arts.  This may in some

6.  I have come across only two authors who saw the problem quite clearly: H. Parker, The Nature of the Fine Arts (London, 1885), esp. 1-30.  A. Philip McMahon, Preface to an American Philosophy of Art (Chicago, 1945).  The latter study is better documented but marred by polemical intentions.  I hope to add to their material and conclusions.


cases have led to fruitful errors, but it does not do justice to the original intention of the ancient writers.  When the Greek authors began to oppose Art to Nature, they thought of human activity in general.  When Hippocrates contrasts Art with Life, he is thinking of medicine, and when his comparison is repeated by Goethe or Schiller with reference to poetry, this merely shows the long way of change which the term Art had traversed by 1800 from its original meaning. [7]  Plato puts art above mere routine because it proceeds by rational principles and rules, [8] and Aristotle, who lists Art among the so-called intellectual virtues, characterizes it as a kind of activity based on knowledge, in a definition whose influence was felt through many centuries. [9]  The Stoics also defined Art as a system of cognitions, [10] and it was in this sense that they considered moral virtue as an art of living. [11]

The other central concept of modern aesthetics also, beauty, does not appear in ancient thought or literature with its specific modern connotations. The Greek term καλόν and its Latin equivalent (pulchrum) were never neatly or consistently distinguished from the moral good. [12]  When Plato discusses beauty in the Symposium and the Phaedrus, he is speaking not merely of the physical beauty of human persons, but also of beautiful habits of the soul and of beautiful cognitions, whereas he fails completely to mention works of art in this connection.[13]  An incidental remark made in the Phaedrus [14] and elaborated by Proclus [15] was certainly not meant to express the modern triad of Truth, Goodness and Beauty.  When the Stoics in one of their famous statements connected Beauty and Goodness, [16] the context as well as Cicero’s Latin rendering [17] suggest that they meant by

7. [HHC: Greek not reproduced] Hippocrates, Aphorisms, 1. Seneca, De brevitate vitae, 1. Schiller, Wallensteins Lager, Prolog, 138. Goethe, Faust I, Studierzimmer 2, 1787.

8. Gorgias, 462 b if.

9. Nicomachean Ethics, VI 4, 1140 a 10.

10. Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, ed. H. von Arnim, I, p. 21; II, p. 23 and 30; III, p. 51.

11 Ibid., III, pp. 49 and 148f.

12. R. G. Collingwood, “Plato’s Philosophy of Art,” Mind, N.S. 34 (1925), 154-72, esp. 161f.

13. Symposium, 210 a ff. Phaedrus, 249 d.

14. [HHC: Greek not reproduced] 246 d—e.

15. Commentary on Plato’s Alcibiades I (ed. Cousin, 356-57).  I am indebted for this reference to Dr. Laurence Rosán. The καλόν does not denote aesthetic beauty in this passage any more than in Plato, and to interpret the [HHC: Greek not reproduced] as Truth seems arbitrary.  Yet the passage may have influenced its editor, Cousin.

16 Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta III, p. 9ff. [HHC: Greek not reproduced]

17. Ibid., III, p. 101., and I, pp. 47 and 84. Cicero, De finibus III, 26 (quod honestum sit id solum bonum).


“Beauty” nothing but moral goodness, and in turn understood by “good” nothing but the useful.  Only in later thinkers does the speculation about “beauty” assume an increasingly “aesthetic” significance, but without ever leading to a separate system of aesthetics in the modern sense.  Panaetius identifies moral beauty with decorum, [18] a term he borrows from Aristotle’s Rhetoric, [19] and consequently likes to compare the various arts with each other and with the moral life.  His doctrine is known chiefly through Cicero, but it may also have influenced Horace.  Plotinus in his famous treatises on beauty is concerned primarily with metaphysical and ethical problems, but he does include in his treatment of sensuous beauty the visible beauty of works of sculpture and architecture, and the audible beauty of music. [20]  Likewise, in the speculations on beauty scattered through the works of Augustine there are references to the various arts, yet the doctrine was not primarily designed for an interpretation of the “fine arts.” [21]  Whether we can speak of aesthetics in the case of Plato, Plotinus or Augustine will depend on our definition of that term, but we should certainly realize that in the theory of beauty a consideration of the arts is quite absent in Plato and secondary in Plotinus and Augustine.

Let us now turn to the individual arts and to the manner in which they were evaluated and grouped by the ancients.  Poetry was always most highly respected, and the notion that the poet is inspired by the Muses goes back to Homer and Hesiod.  The Latin term (vates) also suggests an old link between poetry and religious prophecy, and Plato is hence drawing upon an early notion when in the Phaedrus he considers poetry one of the forms of divine madness. [22]  However, we should also remember that the same conception of poetry is expressed with a certain irony in the Ion [23] and the Apology, [24] and that even in

18. Cicero, De officiis I 27, 93ff.  R. Phillippson, “Das Sittlichschoene bei Panaitios,” Philologus 85 (N.F. 39, 1930), 357-413.  Lotte Labowsky, Die Ethik des Panaitios (Leipzig, 1934.

19. III 7, 1408 a 10ff.

20. Enn. V 8, 1. I 6, 1-3.  See also I 3, 1.  There is no evidence that Plotinus intended to apply his remarks on music to all the other fine arts, as E. Krakowski believes (Une philosophie de l’amour et de la beauté: L’esthétique de Plotin et son influence [Paris, 1929], 112ff.).  The triad of Goodness, Truth and Beauty is made a basis of his interpretation by Dean William R. Inge (The Philosophy of Plotinus II [London, 1918], 74ff. and 104) but does not occur in the works of Plotinus.

21. K. Svoboda, L’esthétique de Saint Augustin et ses sources (Brno, 1933).  E. Chapman, Saint Augustine’s Philosophy of Beauty (New York, 1939).  E. Gilson, Introduction a l’étude de Saint Augustin, 3rd ed. (Paris, 1949), 279f.

22. 245a.

23. 533eff.

24. 22aff.


the Phaedrus the divine madness of the poet is compared with that of the lover and of the religious prophet. [25There is no mention of the “fine arts” in this passage, and it was left to the late sophist Callistratus [26] to transfer Plato’s concept of inspiration to the art of sculpture.

Among all the “fine arts” it was certainly poetry about which Plato had most to say, especially in the Republic, but the treatment given to it is neither systematic nor friendly, but suspiciously similar to the one he gives to rhetoric in some of his other writings.  Aristotle, on the other hand, dedicated a whole treatise to the theory of poetry and deals with it in a thoroughly systematic and constructive fashion.  The Poetics not only contains a great number of specific ideas which exercised a lasting influence upon later criticism; it also established a permanent place for the theory of poetry in the philosophical encyclopaedia of knowledge.  The mutual influence of poetry and eloquence had been a permanent feature of ancient literature ever since the time of the Sophists, and the close relationship between these two branches of literature received a theoretical foundation through the proximity of the Rhetoric and the Poetics in the corpus of Aristotle’s works.  Moreover, since the order of the writings in the Aristotelian Corpus was interpreted as early as the commentators of late antiquity as a scheme of classification for the philosophical disciplines, the place of the Rhetoric and the Poetics after the logical writings of the Organon established a link between logic, rhetoric and poetics that was emphasized by some of the Arabic commentators, the effects of which were felt down to the Renaissance. [27]

Music also held a high place in ancient thought; yet it should be remembered that the Greek term μουσική, which is derived from the Muses, originally comprised much more than we understand by music.  Musical education, as we can still see in Plato’s Republic, included not only music, but also poetry and the dance. [28Plato and Aristotle, who also employ the term music in the more specific sense familiar to us, do not treat music or the dance as separate arts but rather as

25. 244 a if.

26. Descriptiones, 2.

27. L. Baur, “Die philosophische Einleitungslitteratur bis zum Ende der Scholastik,” in: Dominicus Gundissalinus, De divisions philosophiae, ed. L. Baur (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophic des Mittelalters, IV, 2-3, Muenster, 1903), 316ff.  See also J. Mariétan, Problème de la classification des sciences d’Aristote a St. Thomas (thes. Fribourg, 1901).

28. Republic II, 376 e ff.


elements of certain types of poetry, especially of lyric and dramatic poetry. [29]  There is reason to believe that they were thus clinging to an older tradition which was actually disappearing in their own time through the emancipation of instrumental music from poetry.  On the other hand, the Pythagorean discovery of the numerical proportions underlying the musical intervals led to a theoretical treatment of music on a mathematical basis, and consequently musical theory entered into an alliance with the mathematical sciences which is already apparent in Plato’s Republic, [30]  and was to last far down into early modern times.

When we consider the visual arts of painting, sculpture and architecture, it appears that their social and intellectual prestige in antiquity was much lower than one might expect from their actual achievements or from occasional enthusiastic remarks which date for the most part from the later centuries. [31]  It is true that painting was compared to poetry by Simonides [32] and Plato, [33] by Aristotle [34] and Horace, [35] as it was compared to rhetoric by Cicero, [36] Dionysius of Halicarnassus [37] and other writers. [38]  It is also true that architecture was included among the liberal arts by Varro [39] and Vitruvius, [40] and

29. Poetics 1, 1447 a 23ff. Laws II, 669 e f. 30 VII, 531 a ff.

30. Dresdner, l.c., 19ff. E. Zilsel, Die Entstehung des Geniebegriffs (Tübingen, 1926), 22ff.  B. Schweitzer, “Der bildende Künstler und der Begriff des Künstlerischen in der Antike,” Neue Heidelberger Jahrbücher, N.F. (1925), 28-132.  Hans Jucker, Vom Verhältnis der Römer zur bildenden Kunst der Griechen (Frankfurt, 1950).  For ancient art theories in general: Eduard Mueller, Geschichte der Theorie der Kunst bei den Alten, 2 vols. (Breslau, 1834-37).  Julius Walter, Die Geschichte der Aesthetik im Altertum (Leipzig, 1893).  For Plato and Aristotle: G. Finsler, Platon und die Aristotelische Poetik (Leipzig, 1900).  S. H. Butcher, Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry and Fine Art, 4th ed. (London, 1911).  A. Rostagni, “Aristotele e Aristotelismo nella storia dell’estetica antica,” Studi italiani di filologia classica, N.S. 2 (1922), 1-147.  U. Galli, “La mimesi artistica secondo Aristotele,” ibid., N.S. 4 (1927), 281-390.  E. Cassirer, “Eidos und Eidolon: Das Problem des Schönen und der Kunst in Platons Dialogen,” Vorträge der Bibliothek Warburg, II: Vorträge 1922-23, I (Leipzig-Berlin, 1924), 1-27.  R. G. Collingwood, “Plato’s Philosophy of Art,” Mind, N.S. 34 (1925), 154-72.  E. Bignami, La Poetica di Aristotele e il concetto dell’arte presso gli antichi (Florence, 1932).  P.-M. Schuhi, Platon et l’art de son temps (Arts plastiques; Paris, 1933).  R. McKeon, “Literary Criticism and the Concept of Imitation in Antiquity,” Modern Philology, 34 (1936-37), 1-35.

32 Plutarch, De gloria Atheniensium 3, 346 F ff.

33. Republic X, 605 a ff.

34. Poetics 1, 1447 a 19ff.; 2, 1448 a 4ff.

35. De arte poetica 1ff.; 361ff.

36. De inventione II, 1.

37. De veteribus scriptoribus 1.

38. Quintiian, Institutio Oratoria XII, 10, 3ff.

39. F. Ritschl, “De M. Terentii Varronis disciplinarum libris commentarius,” in his Kleine philologische Schriften III (Leipzig, 1877), 352-402.

40. Cf. De architectura I, 1, 3ff.


painting by Pliny [41] and Galen, [42] that Dio Chrysostom compared the art of the sculptor with that of the poet, [43] and that Philostratus and Callistratus wrote enthusiastically about painting and sculpture. [44]  Yet the place of painting among the liberal arts was explicitly denied by Seneca [45] and ignored by most other writers, and the statement of Lucian that everybody admires the works of the great sculptors but would not want to be a sculptor oneself, seems to reflect the prevalent view among writers and thinkers. [46]  The term δημιονργός, commonly applied to painters and sculptors, reflects their low social standing, which was related to the ancient contempt for manual work.  When Plato compares the description of his ideal state to a painting [47] and even calls his world-shaping god a demiurge, [48] he no more enhances the importance of the artist than does Aristotle when he uses the statue as the standard example for a product of human art. [49]  When Cicero, probably reflecting Panaetius, speaks of the ideal notions in the mind of the sculptor, [50] and when the Middle Platonists and Plotinus compare the ideas in the mind of God with the concepts of the visual artist they go one step further. [51]  Yet no ancient philosopher, as far as I know, wrote a separate systematic treatise on the visual arts or assigned to them a prominent place in his scheme of knowledge. [52]

41. Natural History XXXV, 76f.

42. Protrepticus (Opera, ed. C. G. Kuehn, I [Leipzig, 1821], 39).

43. Oratio XII. Cf. S. Fern, “Ii discorso di Fidia in Dione Crisostomo,” Annali della R. Scuola Normale Supériore di Pisa, Lettere, Storia e Filosofia, Ser. II, vol. V (1936), 237-66.

44. Philostratus, Imagines.  Callistratus, Descriptiones. Ella Birmelin, “Die Kunsttheoretischen Gedanken in Philostrats Apollonios,” Philologus 88, N.F. 42 (1933), 149-80; 392-414.

45. Epistolae Morales 88, 18.

46. Somnium 14.  Cf. Plutarch, Pericles 1-2.

47. Republic V, 472 d.  Cf. VI, 501 a ff.

48. Timaeus 29 a.

49. Physics II 3, 194 b 24f. and 195 a 5f.  Metaphysics IV 2, 1013 a 25f. and b 6f.

50. Orator 8f.

51. W. Theiler, Die Vorbereitung des Neuplatonismus (Berlin, 1930), 1ff.  Birmolin, l.c., p. 402ff.  Plotinus, Enn. I 6, 3; V 8, 1.  E. Panofsky, Idea (Leipzig-Berlin), 1924.  The ancient comparison of God with the craftsman was reversed by the modern aestheticians who compared the “creative” artist with God.  Cf. Milton C. Nahm, “The Theological Background of the Theory of the Artist as Creator,” this Journal, 8 (1947), 363-72.  E. Kris and 0. Kurz, Die Legende vom Künstler (Vienna, 1934), 47ff.

52. The opinion of S. Haupt (“Die zwei Bücher des Aristoteles [HHC: Greek not reproduced], Philologus 69, N.F. 23 [1910], 252-63) that a lost section of Aristotle’s Poetics dealt with the visual arts, as well as with lyrical poetry, must be rejected.


If we want to find in classical philosophy a link between poetry, music and the fine arts, it is provided primarily by the concept of imitation ([HHC: Greek not reproduced]).  Passages have been collected from the writings of Plato and Aristotle from which it appears quite clearly that they considered poetry, music, the dance, painting and sculpture as different forms of imitation. [53]  This fact is significant so far as it goes, and it has influenced many later authors, even in the eighteenth century. [54]  But aside from the fact that none of the passages has a systematic character or even enumerates all of the “fine arts” together, it should be noted that the scheme excludes architecture, [55] that music and the dance are treated as parts of poetry and not as separate arts, [56] and that on the other hand the individual branches or subdivisions of poetry and of music seem to be put on a par with painting or sculpture. [57]  Finally, imitation is anything but a laudatory category, at least for Plato, and wherever Plato and Aristotle treat the “imitative arts” as a distinct group within the larger class of “arts,” this group seems to include, besides the” fine arts” in which we are interested, other activities that are less “fine,” such as sophistry, [58] or the use of the mirror, [59] of magic tricks, [60] or the imitation of animal voices. [61]  Moreover, Aristotle’s distinction between the arts of necessity and the arts of pleasure [62] is quite incidental and does not identify the arts of pleasure with the “fine” or even the imitative arts, and when it is emphasized that he includes music and drawing in his scheme of education in the Politics, [63] it should be added that they share this place with grammar (writing) and arithmetic.

53. 8ee above, note 31.  Cf. esp. Plato, Republic II, 373 b; X, 595 a ff.  Laws II, 668 b f.  Aristotle, Poetics 1, 1447 a 19ff.  Rhetoric I 11, 1371 b 6ff.  Politics VIII 5, 1340 a 38f.

54. It seems clear, at least for Plato (Republic X and Sophist 234 a ff.) that he arrived at his distinction between the productive and imitative arts without any exclusive concern for the “fine arts,” since imitation is for him a basic metaphysical concept which he uses to describe the relation between things and Ideas.

55. Perhaps lyrical poetry is also excluded.  It is not discussed by Aristotle, except for certain special kinds, and there are passages in Plato’s Republic (X, 595 a) that imply that only certain kinds of poetry are imitative.

56. See above, note 29.

57. Aristotle, Poetics 1, 1447 a 24ff.

58. Plato, Sophist 234 e f.

59. Republic X, 596 d f.

60. Ibid., 602 d. Cf. Sophist, 235 a.

61. Plato, Cratylus, 423 c.  Cf. Aristotle, Poetics 1, 1447 a 21 (a controversial passage).  See also Rhetoric III 2, 1404 a 20ff. for the imitative character of words and language.

62. Metaphysics I 1, 981 b 17ff.

63. VIII 3, 1337 b 23ff.


The final ancient attempts at a classification of the more important human arts and sciences were made after the time of Plato and Aristotle.  They were due partly to the endeavors of rival schools of philosophy and rhetoric to organize secondary or preparatory education into a system of elementary disciplines (τά έγκύκλιа).  This system of the so-called “liberal arts” was subject to a number of changes and fluctuations, and its development is not known in all of its earlier phases. [64Cicero often speaks of the liberal arts and of their mutual connection, [65]  though he does not give a precise list of these arts, but we may be sure that he did not think of the fine arts” as was so often believed in modern times.  The definitive scheme of the seven liberal arts is found only in Martianus Capella: grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.  Other schemes which are similar but not quite identical are found in many Greek and Latin authors before Capella.  Very close to Capella’s scheme, and probably its source, was that of Varro, which included medicine and architecture, in addition to Capella’s seven arts. [66]  Quite similar also is the scheme underlying the work of Sextus Empiricus.  It contains only six arts, omitting logic, which is treated as one of the three parts of philosophy.  The Greek author, Sextus, was conscious of the difference betwen the preliminary disciplines and the parts of philosophy, whereas the Latin authors who had no native tradition of philosophical instruction were ready to disregard that distinction.  If we compare Capella’s scheme of the seven liberal arts with the modern system of the “fine arts,” the differences are obvious.  Of the fine arts only music, understood as musical theory, appears among the liberal arts.  Poetry is not listed among them, yet we know from other sources that it was closely linked with grammar and rhetoric. [67]  The visual arts have no place in the scheme, except for occasional attempts at inserting them, of which we have spoken above.  On the other hand, the liberal arts include grammar and logic, mathematics and astronomy,

64. Moritz Guggenheim, Die Stellung der liberalen Künste oder encyklischen Wissenschaften im Altertum (progr. Zirich, 1893).  E. Norden, Die antike Kunstprosa II, 4th ed. (Leipzig-Berlin, 1923), 670ff.  H.-J. Marrou, Histoire de l’éducation dane l’antiquité (Paris, 1948), 244f. and 523f.; also Saint Augustin et la fin de la culture classique (Paris, 1938), 187ff. and 211ff.

65. Pro Archia poeta 1, 2: “etenim omnes artes quae ad humanitatem pertinent habent quoddam commune vinculum.”

66. See above, note 39.

67. Charles S. Baldwin, Ancient Rhetoric and Poetic (New York, 1924), esp. 1ff., 63ff., 226ff.


that is, disciplines we should classify as sciences.

The same picture is gained from the distribution of the arts among the nine Muses.  It should be noted that the number of the Muses was not fixed before a comparatively late period, and that the attempt to assign particular arts to individual Muses is still later and not at all uniform.  However, the arts listed in these late schemes are the various branches of poetry and of music, with eloquence, history, the dance, grammar, geometry and astronomy. [68]   In other words, just as in the schemes of the liberal arts, so in the schemes for the Muses poetry and music are grouped with some of the sciences, whereas the visual arts are omitted.  Antiquity knew no Muse of painting or of sculpture; they had to be invented by the allegorists of the early modern centuries.  And the five fine arts which constitute the modern system were not grouped together in antiquity, but kept quite different company: poetry stays usually with grammar and rhetoric; music is as close to mathematics and astronomy as it is to the dance, and poetry; [69] and the visual arts, excluded from the realm of the Muses and of the liberal arts by most authors, must be satisfied with the modest company of the other manual crafts.

Thus classical antiquity left no systems or elaborate concepts of an aesthetic nature, [70] but merely a number of scattered notions and suggestions that exercised a lasting influence down to modern times but had to be carefully selected, taken out of their context, rearranged, reemphasized and reinterpreted or misinterpreted before they could be utilized as building materials for aesthetic systems.  We have to admit the conclusion, distasteful to many historians of aesthetics but grudgingly admitted by most of them, that ancient writers and thinkers, though confronted with excellent works of art and quite susceptible to their charm, were neither able nor eager to detach the aesthetic quality of these works of art from their intellectual, moral, religious and practical function or content, or to use such an aesthetic quality as a standard for grouping the fine arts together or for making them the subject of a comprehensive philosophical interpretation.

68. J. von Schiosser, “Giusto’s Fresken in Padua und die Vorläufer der Stanza della Segnatura,” Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses XVII, pt. 1 (1896), 13-100, esp. 36.  Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encycl paedie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft 16 (1935), 680ff., esp. 685f. and 725ff.

69. Carolus Schmidt, Quaestiones de musicis scriptoribus Romanis ... (thes. Giessen, Darmstadt, 1899).

70. Schlosser, Kunstliteratur, 46ff.


III – Middle Ages

The early Middle Ages inherited from late antiquity the scheme of the seven liberal arts that served not only for a comprehensive classification of human knowledge but also for the curriculum of the monastic and cathedral schools down to the twelfth century. [71]  The subdivision of the seven arts into the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric, dialectic) and Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music) seems to have been emphasized since Carolingian times. [72]  This classification became inadequate after the growth of learning in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.  The classification schemes of the twelfth century reflect different attempts to combine the traditional system of the liberal arts with the threefold division of philosophy (logic, ethics and physics) known through Isidore, and with the divisions of knowledge made by Aristotle or based on the order of his writings, which then began to become known through Latin translations from the Greek and Arabic. [73]  The rise of the universities also established philosophy, medicine, jurisprudence and theology as new and distinct subjects outside the liberal arts, and the latter were again reduced from the status of an encyclopaedia of secular knowledge they had held in the earlier Middle Ages to that of preliminary disciplines they had held originally in late antiquity.  On the other hand, Hugo of St. Victor was probably the first to formulate a scheme of seven mechanical arts corresponding to the seven liberal arts, and this scheme influenced many important authors of the subsequent period, such as Vincent of Beauvais and Thomas Aquinas.  The seven mechanical arts, like the seven liberal arts earlier, also appeared in artistic representations, and they are worth listing: lanificium, armatura, navigatio, agricultura, venatio, medicina, theatrica. [74]  Architecture as

71. P. Gabriel Meier, Die sieben freien Künste im Mittelalter (progr. Einsiedeln, 1886-87).  Norden, l.c. A. Appuhn, Das Trivium und Quadrivium in Theorie und Praxis (thes. Erlangen, 1900).  P. Abelson, The Seven Liberal Arts (thes. Columbia University, New York, 1906).  For artistic representations of this scheme, see P. d’Ancona, “Le rappresentazioni allegoriche delle arti liberali nel medio evo e nel rinascimento,” L’Arte 5 (1902), 137-55; 211-28; 269-89; 370-85.  E. Male, L’art religieux du XIIIe siècle en France, 4th ed. (Paris, 1919), 97ff.

72. P. Rajna, “Le denominazioni Trivium e Quadrivium,” Studi Medievali, N.S. 1 (1928), 4-36.

73. Besides the works of Baur and Mariétan, cited above (note 27), see M. Grabmann, Die Geschichte der scholastischen Methode II (Freiburg, 1911), 28ff.

74. Hugonis de Sancto Victore Didascalicon, ed. Ch. H. Buttimer (Washington, 1939), bk. II, ch. 20ff.


well as various branches of sculpture and of painting are listed, along with several other crafts, as subdivisions of armatura, and thus occupy a quite subordinate place even among the mechanical arts. [75]   Music appears in all these schemes in the company of the mathematical disciplines, [76] whereas poetry, when mentioned, is closely linked to grammar, rhetoric and logic. [77]  The fine arts are not grouped together or singled out in any of these schemes, but scattered among various sciences, crafts, and other human activities of a quite disparate nature. [78]  Different as are these schemes from each other in detail, they show a persistent general pattern and continued to influence later thought.

If we compare these theoretical systems with the reality of the same period, we find poetry and music among the subjects taught in many schools and universities, whereas the visual arts were confined to the artisans’ guilds, in which the painters were sometimes associated with the druggists who prepared their paints, the sculptors with the goldsmiths, and the architects with the masons and carpenters. [79]  The treatises also that were written, on poetry and rhetoric, on music, and on some of the arts and crafts, the latter not too numerous, have all a strictly technical and professional character and show no tendency to link any of these arts with the others or with philosophy.

The very concept of “art” retained the same comprehensive meaning it had possessed in antiquity, and the same connotation that it was teachable. [80]  And the term artista coined in the Middle Ages indicated either the craftsman or the student of the liberal arts. [81]  Neither for Dante [82] nor for Aquinas has the term Art the meaning

75. Ibid., ch. 22.  For the position of the architect in particular, see N. Pevsner, “The Term ‘Architect’ in the Middle Ages,” Speculum XVII (1942), 549-62.

76. Cf. G. Pietzsch, Die Klassifikation den Musik von Boetius bis Ugolino von Orvieto (thes. Freiburg, 1929).

77. Ch. S. Baldwin, Medieval Rhetoric and Poetic (New York, 1928).  E. Faral, Les arts poétiques du XIIe et du XIIIe siècle (Paris, 1924).  R. McKeon, “Poetry and Philosophy in the Twelfth Century,” Modern Philology 43 (1946), 217-34.

78. E. De Bruyne, Etudes d’Esthétique médiévale II (Bruges, 1946), 371ff., and III, 326ff.

79. Schlosser, Kunstliteratur, 65.  N. Pevsner, Academies of Art, Past and Present (Cambridge, 1940), 43ff.  M. Wackernagel, Der Lebeneraum des Künstlers in den Florentinischen Renaissance (Leipzig, 1938), 306ff.

80. De Bruyne, l.c.

81. C. Du Cange, Glossarium Mediae et Infimae Latinitatis I (Paris, 1937), 413.

82. D. Bigongiari, “Notes on the Text of Dante,” Romanic Review 41(1950), 81f.


we associate with it, and it has been emphasized or admitted that for Aquinas shoemaking, cooking and juggling, grammar and arithmetic are no less and in no other sense artes than painting and sculpture, poetry and music, which latter are never grouped together, not even as imitative arts. [83]

On the other hand, the concept of beauty that is occasionally discussed by Aquinas [84] and somewhat more emphatically by a few other medieval philosophers [85] is not linked with the arts, fine or otherwise, but treated primarily as a metaphysical attribute of God and of his creation, starting from Augustine and from Dionysius the Areopagite.  Among the transcendentals or most general attributes of being, pulchrum does not appear in thirteenth-century philosophy, although it is considered as a general concept and treated in close connection with bonum.  The question whether Beauty is one of the transcendentals has become a subject of controversy among Neo-Thomists. [86]   This is an interesting sign of their varying attitude toward modern aesthetics, which some of them would like to incorporate in a philosophical system based on Thomist principles.  For Aquinas himself,

83. L. Schuetz, Thomas-Lexikon, 2nd ed. (Paderborn, 1908), 65-68.  A. Dyroff, “Zur allgemeinen Kunstlehre des hl. Thomas,” Abhandlungen run Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, Festgabe Clemens Bäumker (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, Supplement band II, Münster, 1923), 197-219.  De Bruyne, l.c., III, 316ff.  J. Maritain, Art et Scolastique (Paris, 1920), 1f. and 28f.  G. G. Coulton, Art and the Reformation (Oxford, 1928), 559ff.

84. M. De Wulf, “Les theories esthétiques propres a Saint Thomas,” Revue Neo-Scolastique 2 (1895), 188-205; 341-57; 3 (1896), 117-42. M. Grabmann, Die Kulturphilosophie des Hl. Thomas von Aquin (Augsburg, 1925), 148ff.  I. Chapman, “The Perennial Theme of Beauty,” in Essays in Thomism (New York, 1942), 333-46 and 417-19.  E. Gilson, Le Thomisme, 5th ed. (Paris, 1945), 382-83.

85. M. Grabmann, “Des Ulrich Engelberti von Strassburg O.P. (+ 1277) Abhandlung De pulchro,” Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Philologische und Historische Klasse (Jahrgang 1925), no. 5.  Cf. H. Pouillon, “Le premier Traité des propriétés transcendentales, La Summa de bono du Chancelier Philippe,” Revue Néoscolastique de Philosophie 42 (1939), 40-77.  A. K. Coomaraswamy, “Medieval Aesthetic,” The Art Bulletin 17 (1935), 31-47; 20 (1938), 66-77 (reprinted in his Figures of Speech or Figures of Thought [London, 1946], 44-84.  I am indebted for this reference to John Cuddihy).  E. Lutz ,“ Die Ästhetik Bonaventuras,” Studien zur Geschichte der Philosophie: Festgabe Clemens Bäumker gewidmet (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, Supplementband, Müinster, 1913), 195-215.

86. Maritain, l.c., p. 31ff., esp. 40.  Chapman, l.c. L. Wencelius, La philosophie de l’art chez les Néo-Scolastiques de langue francaise (Paris, 1932), esp. 93ff.


or for other medieval philosophers, the question is meaningless, for even if they had posited pulchrum as a transcendental concept, which they did not, its meaning would have been different from the modern notion of artistic beauty in which the Neo-Thomists are interested.  Thus it is obvious that there was artistic production as well as artistic appreciation in the Middle Ages, [87] and this could not fail to find occasional expression in literature and philosophy.  Yet there is no medieval concept or system of the Fine Arts, and if we want to keep speaking of medieval aesthetics, we must admit that its concept and subject matter are, for better or for worse, quite different from the modern philosophical discipline.

IV –Renaissance

The period of the Renaissance brought about many important changes in the social and cultural position of the various arts and thus prepared the ground for the later development of aesthetic theory.  But, contrary to a widespread opinion, the Renaissance did not formulate a system of the fine arts or a comprehensive theory of aesthetics.

Early Italian humanism, which in many respects continued the grammatical and rhetorical traditions of the Middle Ages, not merely provided the old Trivium with a new and more ambitious name (Studia humanitatis) but also increased its actual scope, content and significance in the curriculum of the schools and universities and in its own extensive literary production.  The Studia humanitatis excluded logic, but they added to the traditional grammar and rhetoric not only history, Greek and moral philosophy, but also made poetry, once a sequel of grammar and rhetoric, the most important member of the whole group. [88]  It is true that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries poetry was understood as the ability to write Latin verse and to interpret the ancient poets, and that the poetry which the humanists defended against some of their theological contemporaries or for which they were crowned by popes and emperors was a quite different thing from what we understand by that name. [89]  Yet the name poetry, meaning at first Latin poetry, received much honor and

87. M. Schapiro, “On the Aesthetic Attitude in Romanesque Art,” in Art and Thought, Essays in Honor of A. K. Coomaraswamy (London, 1947), 130-50.

88. See my article, “Humanism and Scholasticism in the Italian Renaissance,” Byzantion 17 (1944-45), 346-47, esp. 364-65.

89.  K. Vossler, Poetische Theonien in der italienischen Frührenaissance (Berlin, 1900).


glamor through the early humanists, and by the sixteenth century vernacular poetry and prose began to share in the prestige of Latin literature.  It was the various branches of Latin and vernacular poetry and literature which constituted the main pursuit of the numerous “Academies” founded in Italy during that period and imitated later in the other European countries. [90]  The revival of Platonism also helped to spread the notion of the divine madness of the poet, a notion that by the second half of the sixteenth century began to be extended to the visual arts and became one of the ingredients of the modern concept of genius. [91]

With the second third of the sixteenth century, Aristotle’s Poetics, along with his Rhetoric, began to exercise increasing influence, not only through translations and commentaries, but also through a rising number of treatises on Poetics in which the notions of Aristotle constituted one of the dominant features. [92]  Poetic imitation is regularly

90. M. Maylender, Stonia delle Accademie d’Italia, 5 vols. (Bologna, 1926-30).  See also Pevsner, l.c., 1ff.

91. Zilsel, l.c., 293ff.

92. J. E. Spingarn, A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance, 6th ed. (New York, 1930).  G. Toffanin, La fine dell’umanesimo (Turin, 1920).  Donald L. Clark, Rhetoric and Poetry in the Renaissance (New York, 1922).  Charles S. Baldwin, Renaissance Literary Theory and Practice (New York, 1939).  Among the commentators, Franciscus Robortellus groups poetry with rhetoric and various parts of logic (In librum Aristotelis de arte poetica explicationes [Florence, 1548], p. 1) and takes Poetics 1447 a 18ff. to refer to painting, sculpture and acting (p. l0f“[HHC – Latin not reproduced].”;.  Vincentius Madius and Bartholomaeus Lombardus also group poetry with logic and rhetoric (In Aristotelis librum de poetica communes explanationes [Venice, 1550], p. 8) but interpret the same passage in terms of painting and music (p. 40-41): “[HHC – Latin not reproduced].”;Petrus Victorius states that Aristotle does not list all the imitative arts in the beginning of the Poetics (Cornmentarii in primum librum Anistotelis de arte poetarum, 2nd ed. [Florence, 1573], p. 4) and refers the imitation through voice not to music, but to the copying of the song of birds (p. 6: “[HHC – Latin not reproduced].”;and of other animals (p. 7).  Lodovico Castelvetro repeatedly compares poetry to painting and sculpture as to other imitative arts (Poetica d’Aristotele volgarizzata et sposta [Basel, 1576], p. 14ff.; 581) but recognizes music and the dance as parts of poetry (p. 13: “la poesia di parole, di ballo e di suono”).  Significant is his attempt to relate poetry to the realm of the soul as opposed to the body (p. 342: “[HHC – Italian not reproduced].”; Cf. H. B. Chariton, Castelvetro’s Theory of Poetry [Manchester, 1913], 39). Fran-[ cesco Patrici, anti-Aristotelian in poetics as well as in philosophy, rejects the principle of imitation altogether and calls it a term with many meanings, unfit to serve as a genus for several arts (Della Poetica, La Deca disputata [Ferrara, 1586], p. 63): “[HHC – Italian not reproduced].” Bernardino Daniello (Della poetica [Venice, 1536], p. 69f.) compares the poet not only to the painter but also to the sculptor. Antonius Minturnus compares poets, musicians and painters as imitators (De poeta [Venice, 1559], p. 22: “[HHC – Italian not reproduced].” but stresses repeatedly that music in ancient times was joined to poetry (p. 49; 60; 91: “[HHC – Italian not reproduced].”; 391) and compares poetry also with history and other sciences (p. 76; 87ff.; 4401.).  In another work, the same author, echoing Aristotle’s Poetics, compares poetry to painting and acting (L’arte poetica [Naples, 1725], p. 3: “[HHC – Italian not reproduced].”) and treats music and dance as parts of poetry (ibid.).  Johannes Antonius Viperanus defines poetry as imitation through verse and thus differentiates it from other forms of imitation.  Lucian can be called a poet, “[HHC – Italian not reproduced].”  (Dc poetica libri tres [Antwerp, 1579], p. 10).  Giovanni Pietro Capriano divides the imitative arts into two classes, the noble and the ignoble.  The former appeal to the noble senses of seeing and hearing and have durable products, such as poetry, painting and scul­ture, the latter for which no examples are given appeal to the three lower senses and produce no lasting works (Della vera poetica [Venice, 1555], fol. A 3-A 3v. Cf. Spingarn, p. 42).  Music is treated as a part of poetry (ibid.).  Other writers on poetics whom I have examined, such as Fracastoro or Scaliger, have nothing to say on the other “fine arts,” except for occasional comparisons between poetry and painting.  B. Varchi also groups poetry with logic, rhetoric, history and grammar (Opere, ed. A. Racheli, II [Trieste, 1859], p. 684). Cf. Spingarn, 25.]

HHC: [bracketed] displayed on page 512 of original.


discussed along Aristotelian lines, and some authors also notice and stress the analogies between poetry, painting, sculpture and music as forms of imitation.  However, most of them know that music for Aristotle was a part of poetry, and that he knew other forms of imitation outside of the “fine arts,” and hardly anyone among them is trying to establish the “imitative arts” as a separate class.

Musical theory retained during the Renaissance its status as one of the liberal arts, [93] and the author of an early treatise on the dance tries to dignify his subject by the claim that his art, being a part of music, must be considered as a liberal art. [94]  It seems that the prac-

93. A. Pellizzari, Il Quadrivio nd Rinascimenta (Naples, 1924), 63ff.

94. Guglielmo Ebreo Pesarese, Trattato dell’arte del ballo (Scelta di curiosità letterarie, 131, Bologna, 1873), p. 3 and 6-7.


tice of the Improvvisatori as well as the reading of classical sources suggested to some humanists a closer link between music and poetry than had been customary in the preceding period. [95]  This tendency received a new impetus by the end of the sixteenth century, when the program of the Camerata and the creation of the opera brought about a reunion of the two arts.  It would even seem that some of the features of Marinismo and baroque poetry that were so repulsive to classicist critics were due to the fact that this poetry was written with the intention of being set to music and sung. [96]

Still more characteristic of the Renaissance is the steady rise of painting and of the other visual arts that began in Italy with Cimabue and Giotto and reached its climax in the sixteenth century.  An early expression of the increasing prestige of the visual arts is found on the Campanie of Florence, where painting, sculpture, and architecture appear as a separate group between the liberal and the mechanical arts. [97]  What characterizes the period is not only the quality of the works of art but also the close links that were established between the visual arts, the sciences and literature. [98]  The appearance of a distinguished artist who also was a humanist and writer of merit, such as Alberti, was no coincidence in a period in which literary and classical learning began, in addition to religion, to provide the subject matter for painters and sculptors.  When a knowledge of perspective, anatomy, and geometrical proportions was considered necessary for the painter and sculptor, it was no wonder that several artists should have made important contributions to the various sciences.  On the, other hand, ever since Filippo Villani, the humanists, and their journalist successors in the sixteenth century looked with favor upon the work of contemporary artists and would lend their pen to its praise.  From the end of the fourteenth century through the sixteenth the writings of the artists and of authors sympathetic to the visual arts

95. Raphael Brandolini, De musica et poetica opusculum (ms. Casanatense C V 3, quoted by Adrien de La Fage, Essais de diphtherographie musicale … [Paris, 1864], 61ff.).

96. Lodovico Zuccolo, Discorso delle ragioni del numero del verso italiano (Venice, 1623), 65ff. ( mentre si addatta non la musica a i versi, ma questi si accommodano a quella contro ogni dovere,” p. 65).

97. Schlosser, “Giusto’s Fresken,” 70ff.; Kunstliteratur, 66.

98. Dresdner, 77ff. L. Olschki, Geschichte den neusprachlichen wissenschaftlichen. Literatur, I: Die Literatur den Technik und der angewandten Wissenschaften vom Mittelalter bis stir Renaissance (Heidelberg, 1919), 31ff.


repeat the claim that painting should be considered as one of the liberal, not of the mechanical arts.  It has been rightly noted that the classical testimonies in favor of painting, mainly from Pliny, Galen and Philostratus, were not as authoritative and strong as the Renaissance authors who quoted them in support of their claim believed or pretended to believe. [99]  Yet the claim of Renaissance writers on painting to have their art recognized as liberal, however weakly supported by classical authority, was significant as an attempt to enhance the social and cultural position of painting and of the other visual arts, and to obtain for them the same prestige that music, rhetoric, and poetry had long enjoyed.  And since it was still apparent that the liberal arts were primarily sciences or teachable knowledge, we may well understand why Leonardo tried to define painting as a science and to emphasize its close relationship with mathematics. [100]

The rising social and cultural claims of the visual arts led in the sixteenth century in Italy to an important new development that occurred in the other European countries somewhat later: the three visual arts, painting, sculpture and architecture, were for the first time clearly separated from the crafts with which they had been associated in the preceding period.  The term Arti del disegno, upon which “Beaux Arts” was probably based, was coined by Vasari, who used it as the guiding concept for his famous collection of biographies.  And this change in theory found its institutional expression in 1563 when in Florence, again under the personal influence of Vasari, the painters, sculptors and architects cut their previous connections with the craftsmen’s guilds and formed an Academy of Art (Accademia del Disegno), the first of its kind that served as a model for later similar institutions in Italy and other countries. [101The Art Academies followed the pattern of the literary Academies that had been in existence for some time, and they replaced the older workshop tradition with a regular kind of instruction that included such scientific subjects as geometry and anatomy. [102]

99. Schiosser, Kunstliteratur, 50; 79f.; 98; 136; 138; 385.  Anthony Blunt, Artistic Theory in Italy 1450-1600 (Oxford, 1940), 48ff. K. Birch-Hirschfeld, Die Lehre von den Malerei (thes. Leipzig, 1911), 25.  For a French example of 1542, see F. Brunot, Histoire de la langue française … VI, 1 (1930), 680.

100. The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, ed. Jean Paul Richter, I, 2nd ed. (London, 1939), 31ff.

101. Schlosser, Kunstliteratur, 385ff.  Olschki, II (Bildung und Wissenschaft im Zeitalter den Renaissance in Italien, Leipzig, 1922), 188ff.  Blunt, 55ff.  Pevsner, 42ff.

102. Pevsner, 48.


The ambition of painting to share in the traditional prestige of literature also accounts for the popularity of a notion that appears prominently for the first time in the treatises on painting of the sixteenth century and was to retain its appeal down to the eighteenth: the parallel between painting and poetry.  Its basis was the Ut pictura poesis of Horace, as well as the saying of Simonides reported by Plutarch, along with some other passages in Plato, Aristotle and Horace.  The history of this notion from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century has been carefully studied, [103]  and it has been justly pointed out that the use then made of the comparison exceeded anything done or intended by the ancients.  Actually, the meaning of the comparison was reversed, since the ancients had compared poetry with painting when they were writing about poetry, whereas the modern authors more often compared painting with poetry while writing about painting.  How seriously the comparison was taken we can see from the fact that Horace’s Ars poetica was taken as a literary model for some treatises on painting and that many poetical theories and concepts were applied to painting by these authors in a more or less artificial manner.  The persistent comparison between poetry and painting went a long way, as did the emancipation of the three visual arts from the crafts, to prepare the ground for the later system of the five fine arts, but it obviously does not yet presuppose or constitute such a system.  Even the few treatises written in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century that dealt with both poetry and painting do not seem to have gone beyond more or less external comparisons into an analysis of common principles. [104]

103. Rensselaer W. Lee, “Ut pictura poesis: The Humanistic Theory of Painting,” The Art Bulletin 22 (1940), 197-269.  See also W. G. Howard, “Ut pictura poesis,” Publications of the Modern Language Association 24 (1909), 40-123.  Lessing, Laokoon, ed. William G. Howard (New York, 1910), p. L ff.  Denis Mahon, Studies in Seicento Art and Theory (London, 1947).

104. Due dialoghi di M. Giovanni Andrea Gilio da Fabniano, “[HHC – Italian not reproduced].” (Camerino, 1564). Antonius Possevinus, De poesi et pictura ethnica humana et fabulosa coliata cum vera honesta et sacra (1595), in his Bibliotheca selecta de ratione studiorum II (Cologne, 1607), 407ff. (this treatise is based on an explicit comparison between the two arts, cf. 470: “[HHC – Italian not reproduced].”).  Filippo Nufies, Arte poetica, e da pintura e symmetria, com principios de perspectiva (Lisbon, 1615; not seen; the Arte de pintura was reprinted separately in 1767; cf. Innocenzo Francisco da Silva, Diccionario Bibliographico Portuguez II [Lisbon, 1859], 303-04).


The sixteenth century formulated still other ideas that pointed in the direction of later developments in the field of aesthetics.  Just as the period attached great importance to questions of “precedence” at courts and in public ceremonies, so the Academies and educated circles inherited from the medieval schools and universities the fancy for arguing the relative merits and superiority of the various sciences, arts or other human activities.  This type of debate was by no means limited to the arts, as appears from the old rivalry between medicine and jurisprudence, [105] or from the new contest between “arms and letters.”  Yet this kind of discussion was also applied to the arts and thus helped to strengthen the sense of their affinity.  The parallel between painting and poetry, in so far as it often leads to a plea for the superiority of painting over poetry, shows the same general pattern. [106]  No less popular was the contest between painting and sculpture, on which Benedetto Varchi in 1546 held a regular inquiry among contemporary artists, whose answers are extant and constitute interesting documents for the artistic theories of the time. [107]  The question was still of interest to Galileo. [108]  The most important text of this type is Leonardo’s Paragone, which argues for the superiority of painting over poetry, music, and sculpture. [109In a sense, this tract contains the most complete system of the fine arts that has come down to us from the Renaissance period.  However, the text was not composed by Leonardo in its present form, but put together from his scattered notes by one of his pupils, and again rearranged by most of the modern editors.  In any case, architecture is omitted, the separation between poetry and music is not consistently maintained, and the comparison seems to be extended to the mathematical disciplines

105. E. Garin, La disputa delie Anti nel Quattrocento (Florence, 1947).

106. Schlosser, Kunstiiteratur, 154ff.

107. G. G. Bottari, Raccolta di liettere sulla pittura scultura ed architectura I (Rome, 1754), 12ff. Cf. Schlosser, Kunstliteratur, 200ff.  See also Varchi’s own lecture on this subject (Opere, ed. A. Racheli, II [Trieste, 1859], 627ff.).

108. Letter to Lodovico Cardi da Cigoli (1612), in his Opere, Edizione Nazionale XI (Florence, 1901), 340-43.  On the authenticity of this letter, see Margherita Margani, “Sull’autenticità di una lettera attribuita a G. Galilei,” Atti della Reale Accademia delle Science di Torino 57 (1921-22), 556-68.  I am indebted for this reference to Edward Rosen.

109. The Literary Works, l.c. Paragone: A Comparison of the Arts by Leonardo da Vinci, ed. Irma A. Richter (London, 1949).  Lionardo da Vinci, Das Buch von den Malerei, ed. H. Ludwig, I (Vienna, 1882).  Miss Richter changes the arrangement of the manuscript, which in its turn is not due to Leonardo himself.


with which painting, as a science, is closely linked for Leonardo.

Another line of thinking which might be called the amateur tradition appears in several writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, probably first in Castiglione’s Courtier. [110]  The exercise, as well as the appreciation of poetry, music and painting are grouped together as pursuits appropriate for the courtier, the gentleman, or the prince.  Again, the occupation with these “fine arts” is not clearly marked off from fencing, horseriding, classical learning, the collecting of coins and medals and of natural curiosities or other equally worthy activities.  But there seems to be a sense of the affinity between the various arts in their effect upon the amateur, and by the first half of the seventeenth century, the taste and pleasure produced by painting, music and poetry is felt by several authors to be of a similar nature. [111]  It does not seem that Plotinus’ view that beauty resides in the objects of sight, hearing, and thought exercised any particular influence at that time. [112]

The most explicit comparison between poetry, painting, and music that I have been able to discover in Renaissance literature is the appendix which the Bohemian Jesuit, Jacobus Pontanus, added to the third edition of his treatise on poetics. [113]  In stressing the affinity

110. B. Castiglione, Il Cortegiano, Bk. I. Giovanni Battista Pigna, Il Principe (Venice, 1561), fol. 4 v-5. Peachham’s Compleat Gentleman (1622), ed. G. S. Gordon (Oxford, 1916), chs. 10-13.

111. Lodovico Zuccolo (Discorso delle ragioni del numero del verso Italiano, Venice, 1623), speaking of our judgment concerning verse and rhythm in poetry, refers for a comparison to painting and music (p. 8: “[HHC – Italian not reproduced].” cf. B. Croce, Storia dell’estetica per saggi [Ban, 1942], 44f.).  A comparison between painting and music is made also by Richard Asheley in the preface of his translation of Louis Le Roy (1594); cf. H. V. S. Ogden, “The Principles of Variety and Contrast in Seventeenth Century Aesthetics and Milton’s Poetry” this Journal 10 (1949), 168.

112. Enn. I 6, 1. Marsilius Ficinus, Commentarium in Convivium Platonis de amore, Oratio 5, cap. 2 (Marsilio Ficino’s Commentary on Plato’s Symposium, ed. Sears R. Jayne, The University of Missouri Studies XIX, 1 [Columbia, 1944], 65-66).  Cf. his Theologia Platonica, Bk. XII, chs. 5-7 (Opera [Basel, 1576], I, 275ff.).  See also St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae II, I, 27, 1.

113. Jacobi Pontani de Societate Jesu Poeticarum Institutionum libri III. Editio tertia cum auctario… (Ingolstadt, 1600), 239-50: “Auctarium.  Collatio Poetices cum pictura, et musica” (I have used the copy of Georgetown University; the passage is lacking in the first edition of 1594, of which Columbia University has a [copy, and in the second edition of 1597 owned by the Newberry Library and kindly examined for me by Hans Baron; my attention was drawn to it by K. Boninski, Die Antike in Poetik und Kunsttheorie II [Leipzig, 1924], 37ff. and 328ff.]

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between the three arts as forms of imitation aiming at pleasure, the author goes beyond his classical sources. [114]  He argues for the status of painting as a liberal art, as many others had done before, but also places musical composition (not musical theory) as a separate art on the same plane with poetry and painting.  The passage is quite remarkable, and I should like to think that it was influential, since the work was often reprinted, in France also, where much of the later discussion on these topics took place. [115]

Renaissance speculation on beauty was still unrelated to the arts and apparently influenced by ancient models.  Nifo’s treatise de pulchro, still quoted in the eighteenth century, dealt exclusively with personal beauty. [116]  Francesco da Diacceto’s main philosophical work, which carries the same title, continues the metaphysical speculations of Plotinus and of his teacher Ficino and does not seem to have exercised any lasting influence. [117]

That the Renaissance, in spite of these notable changes, was still far from establishing the modern system of the fine arts appears most clearly from the classifications of the arts and sciences that were pro-

114.  “[HHC – Latin not reproduced].”

115. A. de Backer and Ch. Sommervogel, Bibliothèque des écrivains de la Compagnie de Jésus, new ed., II (Liege-Lyon, 1872), 2075-81, list several French printings of the work, of which at least one is clearly based on the third edition. See also the catalogue of the Bibliothèque Nationale, which lists a 3rd ed. issued in Avignon, 1600.

116, Augustinus Niphus, de pulchro, de arnore (Lyons, 1549).  The work is quoted by J. P. de Crousaz, Traité du Beau, 2nd ed. (Amsterdam, 1724), I, 190.  I have not seen Marcus Antonius Natta, De pulcro (Pavia, 1553; cf. Catalogo ragionato dei libri d’arte e d’antichità posseduti dal Conte Cicognara I [Pisa, 1821], 188f.).

117. See my article, “Francesco da Diacceto and Florentine Platonism in the Sixteenth Century,” Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati IV (Studi e Testi 124, Vatican City, 1946), 260-304, esp. 279ff.


posed during that period.  These schemes continued in part the traditions of the Middle Ages, as is clear in the case of such Thomists as S. Antonino or Savonarola. [118]  On the whole, however, there is a greater variety of ideas than in the preceding period, and some of the thinkers concerned were neither backward nor unrepresentative.  Vives, Ramus, and Gesner largely follow the old scheme of the liberal arts and the university curriculum of their time. [119]  Neither Agrippa of Nettesheim [120] nor Scaliger, [121] nor in the seventeenth century Aisted [122] or Vossius, [123] shows any attempt to separate the fine arts

118. Baur, l.c., 391ff. Spingarn, 24.

119. Johannes Ludovicus Vives, De disciplinis, in his Opera omnia VI (Valencia, 1785).  Petrus Ramus, Collectaneae, Praefationes, Epistoiae, Orationes (Marburg, 1599).  Conrad Gesner (Bibliotheca Universalis II, Zurich, 1548) places poetry between rhetoric and arithmetic; music between geometry and astronomy; and lists architecture, sculpture and painting scattered among the mechanical arts such as transportation, clothmaking, alchemy, trade, agriculture and the like.  Gesner is important as the author of a classification scheme designed for bibliographical purposes.  The later history of such schemes has been studied, and it appears that the arts, meaning the visual arts and music, did not attain a distinct place in them before the eighteenth century, whereas up to the present day poetry, for obvious reasons, has never been combined with the other arts in these bibliographical schemes.  Cf. Edward Edwards, Memoirs of Libraries (London, 1859), 747ff. W. C. Berwick Sayers, An Introduction to Library Classification, 7th ed. (London, 1946), 74ff.  My attention was drawn to this material by Prof. Thomas P. Fleming.

120. Henricus Cornelius Agrippa ab Nettesheim, De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum (no place, 1537), gives a random list of arts and sciences, in which poetry appears between grammar and history, music between gambling and the dance, painting and sculpture between perspective and glassmaking (speculania), architecture between geography and metal work.  In his De occulta philosophia (Opera I [Lyons, s.a.], bk. I, ch. 60; ci. E. Panofsky, Albrecht Dürer I [Princeton, 1943], 168ff.), Agrippa distinguishes three kinds of melancholy and inspiration which he assigns, respectively, to the manual artists such as painters and architects, to the philosophers, physicians and orators, and to the theologians.  It is significant that he has the manual artists share in inspiration, but does not link them with the poets mentioned in the same chapter, and he clearly places them on the lowest of the three levels.

121. In a rather incidental passage, he groups architecture with cooking and agriculture; singing and the dance with wrestling; speech with navigation (Julius Caesar Scaliger, Poetices libri septem [no place, 1594], bk. III, ch. 1, p. 206).  Varchi has several random groupings of the arts and finally gives the prize to medicine and next to architecture (Opere II, 631ff.).  Nizolius classes poetry with grammar, rhetoric and history (Robert Flint, Philosophy as Scientia Scientiarum and a History of Classifications of the Sciences [New York, 1904], 98f.).

122. He includes poetry under philology, and music under theoretical philosophy (Ibid, 113-15)


from the sciences; they list them scattered among all kinds of sciences and professions, [123] and the same is still true of the eighteenth-century Cyclopaedia of E. Chambers. [124]  Francis Bacon connects poetry with the faculty of imagination, [125] but does not mention the other arts, and the same is true of Vico, [126] whom Croce considers the founder of modern aesthetics. [127]  Bonifacio stresses the link between poetry and painting, but otherwise does not separate the fine arts from the sciences, [128] and the same is true of Tassoni. [129]  Even Muratori, who again stresses imagination in poetry and at times compares poetry and painting, when he speaks of the arti connected with poetry means eloquence and history, in other words, the studia humanitatis. [129a]  The

123. Gerardus Johannes Vossius, De artium et scientiarum natura ac constitutione libri quinque (in his Opera III, Amsterdam, 1697).  He lists four groups of arts: The vulgar arts such as tailoring and shoemaking; the four popular arts of reading and writing, of sports, of singing and of painting (this group is borrowed from Aristotle’s Politics VIII 3, 1337 b 23ff.); the seven liberal arts; the main sciences of philosophy (with eloquence), jurisprudence, medicine and theology.

124. 5th ed. (London, 1741), III (first published in 1727).  He classes painting with optics under mixed mathematics, music again under mixed mathematics, architecture and sculpture with the trades also under mixed mathematics, gardening with agriculture, and poetry with rhetoric, grammar and heraldry.

125. Of the Advancement of Learning (The Philosophical Works of Francis Bacon, ed. John M. Robertson [London, 1905], 79 and 87ff.).  Cf. F. H. Anderson, The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (Chicago, 1948), 149.

126. Vico’s theory of phantasy refers to poetry only.  In an incidental passage he lists two groups of arts: the visual arts, and oratory, politics, medicine (De antiquissima Italorum sapientia, ch. 2, in Le orazioni inaugurali… , ed. G. Gentile and F. Nicolii [Ban, 1914], 144).

127. Estetica, l.c., 243ff.

128. Giovanni Bonifacio, L’Arte de’ Cenni.. (Vicenza, 1616).  He combines painting with poetry on account of their similarity, but places them between rhetoric and history (553ff.).  Music appears between astrology and arithmetic (517ff.), architecture with sculpture between navigation and woolmaking (614ff.).

129. Alessandro Tassoni, Dieci libri di pensieri diversi, 4th ed. (Venice, 1627).  He places poetry between history and oratory (597ff.), puts architecture after agriculture and before decoration, sculpture, painting and clothing (609ff.), whereas music appears between arithmetic and astronomy (657ff.).  Benedetto Accolti, another forerunner of the Querelle des anciens et modernes who lived in the fifteenth century, discusses only military art and politics, philosophy, oratory, jurisprudence, poetry, mathematics and theology (Dialogus de praestantia virorum sui aevi, in Philippi Villani liber de civitatis Florentiae famosis civibus, ed. G. C. Galletti [Florence, 1847], 106-07 and 110-28).

129a. Lodovico Antonio Muratoni, Della perfetta poesia italiana, ch. 6: “[HHC – Italian not reproduced].”  (in his Opere IX, pt. I [Arezzo, 1769], 56).  These three arts are called “figliuole o ministre della filosofia morale” (ibid.), and the analogy with painting, based on the concept of imitation, is applied to all three of them (ibid., 59).


modern system of the fine arts does not appear in Italy before the second half of the eighteenth century, when such writers as Bettinelli began to follow the lead of contemporary French, English and German authors. [130]


V – France in the Seventeenth Century

During the seventeenth century the cultural leadership of Europe passed from Italy to France, and many characteristic ideas and tendencies of the Italian Renaissance were continued and transformed by French classicism and the French Enlightenment before they became a part of later European thought and culture.  Literary criticism and poetic theory, so prominent in the French classical period, seem to have taken little notice of the other fine arts. [131]  Only La Mesnardière in his Poetics has an introductory remark on the similarity between poetry, painting and music, a point he calls a commonplace in Latin and Italian treatises on poetics, [132] which is but vaguely reminiscent of such writers as Madius, Minturno, and Zuccolo, but for which we can indicate no specific source unless we assume the author’s familiarity with the appendix of Jacobus Pontanus. [133]

130. Dell’Entusiasmo delle Belle Arti (1769).  The author lists as Belle Arti: poetry, eloquence, painting, sculpture, architecture, music and the dance (Savenio Bettinelli, Opere II [Venice, 1780], 36ff.).  In the preface, apparently added in 1780, he cites the Encyclopedic, André, Batteux, Schatfibury (sic), Sulzer and others (11).

131. F. Brunetière, L’évolution des genres dans l’histoire de la littérature, 5th ed. (Paris, 1910).  A. Soreil, Introduction a l’histoire de l’Esthétique française: Contribution a l’étude des theories littéraires et plastiques en France de Ia Plêiade au XVIIIe siècle (thes. Liege, Brussels, 1930).

132. Mais entre les plus agréables (i.e., arts and sciences), dont le principal objet est de plaire a la phantasie, on sçait bien que la peinture, la musique et la poësie sont sa plus douce nourriture” (Jules de La Mesnardiere, La poétique I [Paris, 1639], 3).  “Plusieurs livres sont remplis de la grande conformité qui est entre ces trois Arts.  C’est pourquoy, sans m’arrester a des redites importunes, dont les Traittez de Poësie Latins et Italiens ne sont desia que trop charges…” (ibid., 4).  Cf. Soreil, 48. Helen R. Reese, La Mesnardière’s Poetique (1639): Sources and Dramatic Theories (Baltimore, 1937), 59.

133. See above, notes 92, 111, 113-15.  It is also instructive to compare the subtitles in the Italian and French editions of Cesare Ripa’s famous Iconologia.  In Italian (Padua, 1618): Opera utile ad Oratori, Predicatori, Poeti, Pittori, Scultori, Discgnatori, e ad ogni studioso, per inventar concetti, emblemi ed imprese, per divisare qualsivoglia apparato Nuttiale, Funerale, Trionfale.  In French (Paris, 1644): Oeuvre ... necessaire a toute sorte d’esprits, et particulièrement à ceux qui aspirent a estre, ou qui sont en effet orateurs, poëtes, sculpteurs, peintres, ingenieurs, autheurs de medailles, de devises, de ballets, et de poëmes dramatiques.


Yet the Siècle de Louis XIV was not limited in its achievements to poetry and literature.  Painting and the other visual arts began to flourish, and with Poussin France produced a painter of European fame.  Later in the century Lulli, although of Italian birth, developed a distinctive French style in music, and his great success with the Parisian public went a long way to win for his art the same popularity in France it had long possessed in Italy. [134]

This rise of the various arts was accompanied by an institutional development which followed in many respects the earlier Italian model, but was guided by a conscious governmental policy and hence more centralized and consistent than had been the case in Italy. [135]  The Académie Française was organized in 1635 by Richeieu for the cultivation of the French language, poetry, and literature after the model of the Accademia della Crusca. [136]  Several years later, in 1648, the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture was founded under Mazarin after the model of the Accademia di S. Luca in Rome, and tended to detach French artists from the artisans’ guilds to which they had previously belonged. [137]  Many more Academies were founded by Colbert between 1660 and 1680.  They included provincial academies of painting and sculpture, [138] the French Academy in Rome, dedicated to the three visual arts, [139] as well as Academies of Architecture, [140] of Music, [141] and of the Dance. [142]  However, the system of

134. J. Econcheville, De Lulli à Rameau, 1690-1730: L’Esthétique musicale (Paris, 1906).

135. My attention was called to this problem by Dr. Else Hofmann.  Cf. Pevsner, 84ff.  La Grande Encyclopedic I, 184ff.  L’Institut de France: Lois, Statuts at Réglements concernant les anciennes Académies et l’Institut, de 1635 à 1889, ed. L. Aucoc (Paris, 1889).  Lettres, Instructions et Mémoires de Colbert, ed. P. Clement, V (Paris, 1868), LIII ff. and 444ff.

136. Aucoc, p. XXI-XLIII.

137. Aucoc, p. CIV ff. Pevsner, 84ff.

138. Founded in 1676. Aucoc, CXXXVIII ff.

139. Founded in 1666. Lettres  de Colbert, p. LVIII ff. and 510f.

140. Founded in 1671. Aucoc, CLXVI if. Lettres...  de Colbert, LXXII.

141. This Academy, which was nothing else but the Paris Opera, can be traced back to a privilege granted to Pierre Pernin in 1669; cf. La Grande Encyclopedic I, 224f.  The Opera was definitely established in 1672 when a similar privilege was granted to Lulli, authorizing him “d’establir une académie royale de musique dans nostre bonne ville de Paris... pour faire des representations devant nous… des pièces de musique qui seront composées tant en vers francais qu’autres langues estrangères, pareille et semblable aux academies d’Italie” (Lettresde Colbert, 5351.).

142. Founded in 1661. La Grande Encyclopedic I, 227.


the arts that would seem to underly these foundations is more apparent than real.  The Academies were founded at different times, and even if we limit ourselves only to the period of Colbert, we should note that there were also the Académie des Sciences [143] and the Académie des Inscriptions et Médailles, [144] which have no relation to the “Fine Arts”; that there was at least a project for an Académie de Spectacles to be devoted to circus performances and other public shows; [145] and that the Académie de Musique and the Académie de Danse, like this projected Académie de Spectacles, were not organizations of distinguished professional artists or scientists, like the other Academies, but merely licensed establishments for the regular preparation of public performances. [146]  Moreover, an extant paper from the time of Colbert that proposed to consolidate all Academies in a single institution makes no clear distinction between the arts and the sciences [147] and lends additional though indirect support to the view that Colbert’s Academies reflect a comprehensive system of cultural disciplines and professions, but not a clear conception of the Fine Arts in particular.

Along with the founding of the Academies, and partly in close connection with their activities, there developed an important and extensive theoretical and critical literature on the visual arts. [148]  The Conferences held at the Académie de Peinture et Sculpture are full of

143. Founded in 1666. Aucoc, IV. Lettres… de Colbert, LXII ff.

144. Founded in 1663.  It changed its name to Académie Royale des Inscriptions et belles-lettres in 1716.  Aucoc, IV and LI ff.

145. The privilege granted to Henri Guichard in 1674 but not ratified authorizes him  de faire construire des cirques et des amphithéâtres pour y faire des carrousels, des tournois, des courses, des joustes, des luttes, des combats d’animaux, des illuminations, des feux d’artifice et généralement tout ce qui peut imiter les anciens jeux des Grecs et des Romains,” and also “d’establir en nostre bonne ville de Paris des cirques et des amphithéâtres pour y faire lesdites représentations, sous le titre de l’Académie Royale de spectacles” (Lettres… de Colbert, 551f.).

146. This appears clearly from the charters, cited or referred to above.

147. A note prepared by Charles Perrault for Colbert in 1666 proposes an Académie générale comprising four sections: belles-lettres (grammaire, eloquence, poésie); histoire (histoire, chronologie, géographie); philosophie (chimie, simples, anatomie, physique experimentale); mathématiques (géometrie, astronomie, algèbre).  Lettres… de Colbert, 512f.  Poetry appears thus among belles-lettres with grammar and eloquence, and the other fine arts are not mentioned.

148. Lee, l.c. Soreil, l.c.  A. Fontaine, Les doctrines d’art en France… De Poussin à Diderot (Paris, 1909).


interesting critical views, [149] and separate treatises were composed by Du Fresnoy, De Piles, Fréart de Chambray, and Félibien. [150]  Du Fresnoy’s Latin poem De arte graphica, which was translated into French and English and made the subject of notes and commentaries, was in its form a conscious imitation of Horace’s Ars poetica, and it begins characteristically by quoting Horace’s Ut pictura poesis and then reversing the comparison. [151]  The parallel between painting and poetry, as well as the contest between the two arts, were important to these authors, as to their predecessors in Renaissance Italy, because they were anxious to acquire for painting a standing equal to that of poetry and literature.  This notion, which has been fully studied, [152] remained alive until the early eighteenth century, [153] and it is significant that the honor painting derives from its similarity to poetry is sometimes extended, as occasionally in the Italian Renaissance, to sculpture, architecture and even engraving as related arts. [154]   Even the term Beaux Arts, which seems to have been intended at first for the visual arts alone, corresponding to Arti del Disegno, seems sometimes for these authors to include also music or poetry. [155]  The comparison between painting and music is also made a few times, [156] and Poussin himself, who lived in Italy, tried to transfer the theory of the Greek musical modes to poetry and especially to painting. [157]

149. Conférences de l’Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, ed. Félibien (London, 1705).  Conferences de l’Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, ed. H. Jouin (Paris, 1883).  Conferences inédites de l’Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, ed. A. Fontaine (Paris, n.d.).

150. Cf. Lee, l.c., and Schiosser, l.c.

151. Ut pictura poesis erit; similisque poesi sit picture…” (C. A. Du Fresnoy, De arte graphica [London, 1695], 2).

152. Fontaine, l.c.; Lee, l.c.

153. P. Marcel, “Un débat entre les Peintres et les Poètes au debut du XVIIIe siècle,” Chronique des Arts (1905), 182-83; 206-07.

154. Cf. L’Art de Peinture de C. A. Du Fresnoy, ed. R. de Piles, 4th ed. (Paris, 1751), 100. Félibien, Entretiens sur les vies… 4 (Paris, 1685),

155. Conferences, ed. Jouin, 240. R. de Piles, Abrégé de la vie des Peintres . (Paris, 1699), 23.  Cf. Brunot, Histoire de la langue française, 6, 1681.

156. Conferences, ed. Félibien, preface (“dans la musique et dans la poësie qui conviennent le plus avec la Peinture”).  Félibien, Entretiens sur les vies et sur les ouvrages des plus excellens peintres anciens et modernes, pt. IV (Paris, 1685), 155.  R. de Piles, Cours de Peinture par principes (Paris, 1708), 9. Conferences, ed. Jouin, 240; 277-78; 328.

157. N. Poussin, Traité des modes, in his Correspondance, ed. Ch. Jouanny (Paris, 1911), 370ff. Cf. Conferences, ed. Jouin, 94. Soreil, 27.


One of the great changes that occurred during the seventeenth century was the rise and emancipation of the natural sciences.  By the second half of the century, after the work of Galileo and Descartes had been completed and the Académie des Sciences and the Royal Society had begun their activities, this development could not fail to impress the literati and the general public.  It has been rightly observed that the famous Querelle des Anciens et Modernes, which stirred many scholars in France and also in England during the last quarter of the century, was due largely to the recent discoveries in the natural sciences. [158]  The Moderns, conscious of these achievements, definitely shook off the authority of classical antiquity that had weighed on the Renaissance no less than on the Middle Ages, and went a long ways toward formulating the concept of human progress.  Yet this is only one side of the Querelle.

The Querelle as it went on had two important consequences which have not been sufficiently appreciated.  First, the Moderns broadened the literary controversy into a systematic comparison between the achievements of antiquity and of modern times in the various fields of human endeavor, thus developing a classification of knowledge and culture that was in many respects novel, or more specific than previous systems. [159]  Secondly, a point by point examination of the claims of the ancients and moderns in the various fields led to the insight that in certain fields, where everything depends on mathematical calculation and the accumulation of knowledge, the progress of the moderns over the ancients can be clearly demonstrated, whereas in certain other fields, which depend on individual talent and on the taste of the critic, the relative merits of the ancients and moderns cannot be so clearly established but may be subject to controversy. [160]

158. This aspect has been studied especially by Richard F. Jones (Ancients and Moderns, St. Louis, 1936).  For a broader treatment of the Querelle: H. Rigault, Histoire de la querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, in his Oeuvres complètes I [Paris, 1859].  H. Gillot, La Querelle des anciens et des modernes en France [Paris, 1914].  O. Diede, Der Streit der Alten und Modernen in der englischen Literaturgeschichte des XVI. und XVII. Jahrhunderts (thes. Greifswald, 1912).  J. Delvaille, Essai sur l’histoire de l’idee de progrès jusqu’a la fin du XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1910), 203ff.  J. B. Bury, The Idea of Progress (London, 1920), 78ff.

159. Brunetière (120) emphasizes that Perrault extended the discussion from literary criticism toward a general aesthetics, by drawing upon the other arts and even the sciences.  The Italian forerunners of the Querelle had no system of the arts and sciences comparable to that of Perrault or Wotton, see above, note 128.

160. Rigault (323f.) recognizes this distinction in Wotton, and Bury (104f. and 121ff.) attributes it to Fontenelle and Wotton.  We shall see that it is also present in Perrault.  For Wotton, see below.


Thus the ground is prepared for the first time for a clear distinction between the arts and the sciences, a distinction absent from ancient, medieval or Renaissance discussions of such subjects even though the same words were used.  In other words, the separation between the arts and the sciences in the modern sense presupposes not only the actual progress of the sciences in the seventeenth century but also the reflection upon the reasons why some other human intellectual activities which we now call the Fine Arts did not or could not participate in the same kind of progress.  To be sure, the writings of the Querelle do not yet attain a complete clarity on these points, and this fact in itself definitely confirms our contention that the separation between the arts and the sciences and the modern system of the fine arts were just in the making at that time.  Fontenelle, as some scholars have noticed, indicates in an occasional statement of his Digression that he was aware of the distinction between the arts and the sciences. [161]

Much more important and explicit is the work of Charles Perrault.  His famous Parallèle des Anciens et des Modernes discusses the various fields in separate sections which reflect a system: the second dialogue is dedicated to the three visual arts, the third to eloquence, the fourth to poetry, and the fifth to the sciences. [162]  The separation of the fine arts from the sciences is almost complete, thought not yet entirely, since music is treated in the last book among the sciences, whereas in his poem, Le Siècle de Louis le Grand, which gave rise to the whole controversy, Perrault seems to connect music with the other arts. [163]  Moreover, in his prefaces Perrault states explicitly that at

161. Fontenelle (Digression sur lea Anciens et les Modernes, 1688, in his Oeuvres IV [Amsterdam, 1764], 114-31, esp. 120-22) admits the superiority of the ancients in poetry and eloquence, but stresses the superiority of the moderns in physics, medicine and mathematics.  Significant is the emphasis on the more rigorous method introduced by Descartes.

162.. Charles Perrault, Parallèle des Anciens at des Modernes, 4 vols. (Paris, 1688-96).  These are the subjects treated in the fifth dialogue (vol. 4, 1696): astronomie, géographie, navigation, mathématiques (geometry, algebra, and arith­metic), art militaire, philosophie (logique, morale, physique, metaphysique), méde­cine, musique; jardinage, art de la cuisine, vehicles, imprimenie, artillerie, estampes, feux d’artiflce.

163. This is the grouping in the poem (Parallèle, vol. I (Paris, 1693), 173ff.): oratory, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, gardening, music.  In the second dialogue also Perrault compares the visual arts repeatedly with music which he calls a bel art (146 and 149).  Another work connected with the Querelle, Francois de Caffière’s Histoire poëtique de la guerre nouvellement déclarée entre les anciens et les modernes (Amsterdam, 1688; first ed., Paris, 1687) deals primarily with poetry and eloquence, but gives one section (Book 11, p. 213ff.) to painting, sculpture and [music.  This is brought out in the title of the anonymous English translation: Characters and Criticisms, upon the Ancient and Modern Orators, Poets, Painters, Musicians, Statuaries, and other Arts and Sciences (London, 1705).  Cf. A. C. Guthkelch, The Library, 3rd ser., vol. 4 (1913), 270-84.]

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least in the case of poetry and eloquence, where everything depends on talent and taste, progress cannot be asserted with the same confidence as in the case of the sciences which depend on measurement. [164]  Equally interesting, though unrelated to the Querelle, is another writing of Perrault, Le Cabinet des Beaux Arts (1690).  This is a description and explanation of eight allegorical paintings found in the studio of a French gentleman to whom the work is dedicated.  In the preface, Perrault opposes the concept Beaux Arts to the traditional Arts Libéraux, which he rejects, [165] and then lists and describes the eight “Fine Arts” which the gentleman had represented to suit his taste and interests: Élloquence, Poésie, Musique, Architecture, Peinture, Sculpture, Optique, Méchanique. [166]  Thus on the threshold of the eighteenth century we are very close to the modern system of the Fine Arts, but we have not yet quite reached it, as the inclusion of Optics and Mechanics clearly shows.  The fluctuations of the scheme show how slowly emerged the notion which to us seems so thoroughly obvious.

164. “Si nous avons un avantage visible dans les Arts dont les secrets se peuvent calculer et mesurer, il n’y a que la seule impossibilité de convaincre les gens dans les choses de gout et de fantaisie, comme sont les beautez de la Poësie et de l’Éloquence qui empesche que nous ne soyons reconnus les maîtres dans ces deux Arts comme dans tous les autres” (Parallèle I [Paris, 1693], preface).  “Les Peintres, les Sculpteurs, les Chantres, les Poëtes / Tous ces hommes enfin en qui l’on voit regner / Un merveilleux scavoir qu’on ne peut enseigner” (Le genie, verse epistle to Fontenelle, ibid., 19Sf.).  “Si j’avois bien prouvé, comme il est facile de le faire, que dans toutes les Sciences et dans tous les Arts dont les secrets se peuvent mesurer et calculer, nous l’emportons visibiement sur les Anciens; il n’y auroit que l’impossibiité de convaincre les esprits opiniastres dans les choses de goust et de fantaisie, comme sont la plupart des beautez de l’Éloquence et de la Poësie, qui pust empescher que les Modernes ne fussent reconnus les maistres dans ces deux arts comme dans tous les autres” (ibid., 202).  Cf also vol. III, preface.  In his general conclusion also (IV, 292f.) Perrault excepts poetry and eloquence from his proof for the superiority of the Moderns.

165. “Apres avoir abandonné cette division (of the seven liberal arts), on a choisi entre les Arts qui méritent d’être aimés et cultivés par un honnête homme ceux qui se sont trouvées étre davantage du gout et du genie de celui qui les a fait peindre dans son cabinet” (p. if.).

166. Eloquence, poetry, and music are put together in one group, as are the three visual arts (p. 2).