Artibus et Historiae no. 3 (II)

1981, ISSN 0391-9064

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PHILIPP P. FEHL - Franciscus Junius and the Defense of Art

This essay seeks to introduce the reader to two works by the philologist Franciscus Junius (1590-1677) on the history, theory, and language of the praise and criticism of the fine arts in classical antiquity, De Pictura Veterum (or, in Junius' own English translation, The Painting of the Ancients) and the Catalogus Architectorm, Mechanicorum, sed paecipue Pictorum, Statuariorum... et Operum quae fecerunt. These books, once considered on indispensable guide to the study of classical archaeology and the development of an informed and just love of art, experienced a remarkable change of fortune in the course of the nineteenth century and are now rather forgotten even though, together, they still remain the richest and most perceptive collection and interpretation of passages from classical literature which address themselves to or, more often, deal in passing with the fine arts or with works of art. The chief purpose of Junius' work is to create or recreate, by the presentation of ancient texts in the form of a coherent argument, a kind of constitution for the exercise of the fine arts in which delight, dignity, and social usefulness are naturally joined.

Junius, who does not attempt to be original but rather just and thorough, joins the theorists, as well as some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, in taking the philosophers' suspicions of art (joined by the strictures of religion) most seriously. It is here proposed that the value of his moral, but by no means pedantic, system of the arts can only be appreciated if we too (guided, perhaps, by Sir Philip Sidney's Defense of Poetry) will reconsider the justice of these charges. Junius' work gains a particular significance because it was written at the court of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel who was, next to the king, the greatest collector of works of art and antiquities in England. Arundel's love of art was not a mere passion but an aspect of his comprehension of his grandeur. His purpose was unquestionably informed by Castiglione's Courtier, whose book also is a guide to the better understanding of Junius' argument concerning the blessings of art in the life of a nation. The essay also reviews, in passing, the connection of Junius to the Leiden school of humanistic studies, notably of his father, Franciscus Junius the Elder, and of J. G. Vossius, his brother in law, who also was his mentor. It continues with a consideration of the changing purposes of archaeological studies which brought about the decline and eventually the eclipse of the reputation of Junius' work. These changes are traced to Winckelmann's and Lessing's (somewhat conflicting) objections to some of the premises of Junius' work and the credibility of certain of his best witnesses from antiquity itself. In the end his view of history and the redeeming role of art in a timeless structure of truth is confronted with the truths of modern historicism which, at best, will look upon Junius' educational hopes (if it deigns to notice them) as a time-bound, if be autiful, illusion.

Among the works of art considered in the essay are Van Dyck's " Madagascar Portrait" in Vienna and its copy at Knole, Adriaen van der Werffs frontispiece to the 1694 edition of De Pictura Veterum, Rembrandt's " Aristotle with the Head of Homer", and Rubens "Outbreak of War".

Junius' two books on art (edited and, in part, translated by the late Keith Aldrich, Raina Fehl, and the writer of this essay), will be published in 1982-1983 by the University of California Press under the collective title The Literature of Classical Art.

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