What does style do? Classification and agency of antiquity in neoclassical art and art theory

Begin - Einde 
2021 - 2021 (lopend)
Vakgroep Kunst-, Muziek- en Theaterwetenschappen



Style, defined as the formal and visual characteristics of a human action or artefact is loaded with meaning and associations. Style can work as a distinction mechanism shaping social relations, while the appropriation of styles can serve diverse ideologies. Style often functions as a gateway to the past: it gives us a direct view on how the past looked like and even constructs our appreciation of it. Style also elicits feelings for that past, ranging from awe to repulsion. The arabesques on Rococo wallpaper can evoke melancholic reveries for a past bygone, an Expo 58 side table with hooked feet and pastel colours can make one long for the promising years of reconstruction after WWII, furniture in Second Empire-style gives some a headache, while the rigorous Classicism of Albrecht Speer comes across as threatening to many. In short, style does something, but the question is what and how. In recent research in archaeology, anthropology, and sociology style has returned on the agenda as a phenomenon that is essential to understand culture at large. Surprisingly, art history does not follow this renewed interest. Although style is one of the founding concepts of the discipline, art history tends to dismiss style as a mere system for classification that does not explain art’s working, meaning and mechanisms. This research program puts style back on the art historical agenda by looking at how style exerts agency. The art period we now call Neoclassicism (1750-1820) is crucial to understand the complexities of style. Style in the visual and applied arts, architecture, and the performing arts of this period was more than just a question of appropriation, imitation and transformation of stylistic models from Antiquity. The Neoclassical style ‘staged’ Antiquity in a most ambiguous attempt to revive, feel and experience it. To understand how style works, this program focuses on how artistic and learned circles in Rome, Paris, London, and Berlin dealt with the complexities of style




Externe medewerkers

Stijn Bussels

Art History Leiden University