Historical painting - high style

DEFINITION

Known as "high style", Historical Painting was the accepted and only road to artistic greatness for 18th and early 19th-century painters in America and Europe. The theory was based on a reverence for the Old Masters, especially those of the Florentine School and Raphael (1483-1520), who was considered the greatest of them all. Renaissance Venetians painters were considered undesirable because of their lavish use of color. Characteristics of the approach were perfect form, accuracy of historical time and place, references to ???the ancients', grand-scale heroes and heroines, beautifully framed canvases, models from statuary rather than real people, and appeal to reason and not emotions. Avoided should be all references to contemporary time and place because the present implied change and instability. This meant that still life, genre, and portraits because they referenced specific persons were out of bounds of the High Style. Environments of the artist should only be referenced allegorically with ???immutable principles of the past??? (9) and not to actual circumstances. The motif of Historical Painting called for a ???tableaux??? of figures in realist style representing famous persons in history at a time when they were making history. The object of painting in this manner was the betterment of mankind. Historical Painting was rooted in the humanism dating to the 17th century and codifications of those theories in the 1760s by Johann Joachim Winckelmann. It was a turning away from religious subjects that were so prevalent during the early Renaissance. Historical Painting emanated from the ideas that intellectual development and moral rectitude were linked, and that artwork appealing only to the emotions was a corruption of this process. Examples of High Style painting in American Art are "Declaration of Independence" by John Trumbull (Thomas Jefferson and others signing the document); Benjamin West, ???The Death of Wolfe??? (the moment when Quebec of French Canada fell to the British); John Vanderlyn, ???Marius Amid the Ruins of Carthage (Greek and Roman wars); and Ralph Earl, "British Troops at Concord" (American Revolution scene). Source: James Thomas Flexner, "History of American Painting", Vol. III (LPD)

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