Studia IV


In Kenneth Clark's prodigious scientific work mainly on Renaissance painting, there are two brilliant essays he wrote in his old age and which are extremely important. Both stem from two series of conferences he held for the British TV. One is Civilization, its subtitle being: A Personal Outlook. The other is Romantic Rebellion. Romantic versus Classic Art, London, 1973, published in Romanian by the Meridiane Publishing House in 1981.

Kenneth Clark had two reasons to study Romanticism in art (not Romantic art): the former was the fact that this cultural movement is topical scientifically, but not only: Romanticism is open, it endures in spirit up to the contemporary world and it points to the near future. The latter reason, which appears visible as early as Civilization, is the awareness of how fragile civilization is, which so many personalities had in the 19th century. Using Romantic versus Classic Art as a subtitle, which is one of the traditional defining antinomies of Romanticism, Kenneth Clark succeeds in proving in his personal way that this antinomy of Goethe's, which seems total (expressed as such in Goethe's conversations with Eckerman, on April 2, 1829, das Klassische nenne ich das Gesunde, das Romantische das Kranke: I call classic what is healthy and Romantic what is sick) gets melted in an osmosis, in an area of inter-connectious where it is useless to set limits in exegesis. There, the simple admittance of the fact is constructive. But this vision seems hardly new, quite to the contrary, it is to be found in many studies on Romanticism in literature. The novelty of Clark's outlook is that he studies painting this way. There is where the earliest and most explicit options to move away from the classical attitude as well as Romanticism's own image as a rebellion against the classic and neo-classical art and about the classical Antiquity appear.

Scholars of the art of the Antiquity, especially the German archeological school, with A. Mau and G. Rodenwaldt, have admitted that painting has had, since the earliest times, the role of a pioneer in figurative art. The Romantic colours are, beyond any doubt, one of the symptoms of this spirit, one of its great contributions to European civilization. In an implicit or explicit way, the book written by Kenneth Clark contains an impressive number of issues, apparently negligible, because, as the space was limited, they could not be developed. But actually, they are the pillars proper of the author's outlook on Romanticism in art. This is why I believe we should deal for a longer time with them, so the one who reads the book from the beginning until the end will recapture the complex image that the author had about the issue. This image can, in fact, be seen more or less and under diverse angles in the many works published during the author's lifetime.

As it is natural, the Romantic rebellion starts even in the classical territories, using the latter's whole figurative repertoire. This is why, with good reason, the book starts with a chapter on David, a leading intellectual personality of the French revolution. The sharp criticism of the old regime from the point of view of the new human rights is placed behind the legendary shield of the Roman virtue. The exemplary Rome, especially the one of Titus Livius, is a guide not only to lawyers, but also to artists. The references to it are grouped under three large headings: a) the use of actual historical facts to compare or assimilate them to contemporary events, to give them historical legitimacy along a traditional civilization line; b) the freedom-regnum opposition, which was a lever of the Roman social republican ideology, but also of the revolutionary French ideology, and before that, of the British one; c) deliberately or involuntarily going to the Roman political or law institutions. Therefore, Louis XVI was assimilated with Tarquinius Superbus and Caesar, so the end of the royal reign of the former could be completed with the death of the latter.

In full revolutionary tension, Babeuf - the example is typical for the contamination with the Roman Antiquity - pleads not guilty to the charge of adfectatio regni made against Tiberius Gracchus, thus showing the latter innocent. The empty rhetoric, but which in such cases is desperate, has always been in good companionship with the guillotine or the firing squad. Marat, the „friend of the people", the great loser and the innocent criminal, talking about the plebs, about the destiny-disinherited that the rich called bastards, and for whom the Romantic sympathies were largely created by Dickens, turned to imperial Rome, too, reminding his listeners how it vain gloriously used to call these people proletarians. We remember (Paul M. Martin, Présence de l'histoire romaine dans la révolution Française, in the volume Influence de la Grèce et de Rome sur l'Occident moderne, Paris, 1977) that Desmoulins was a lawyer, Babeuf had learned everything by himself, and Murat called himself a doctor; so we see just how superficial these ties were, actually more like pretexts and psychological motivations.

But Kenneth Clark shows that David's passionate belief in the ideals of the Revolution was capable not only of making him give up the painting of his beginnings - an academic style founded precisely on the Antiquity's ideals - but also to rebel against it, by reviving the Greek and Roman virtues. Some of his paintings with Ancient themes are indeed exciting, based on Plato's idea that art should influence human behaviour. If in those times, education in Latin was a priority, knowledge of the Greek culture and Antiquity had a different status. They were only barely visible by way of the Latin authors, and only the travellings of the Romantics and their love for the Levant finally built a very unreal picture of them. David's genius is obvious, therefore in an authentic and revealing manner; he detached himself from Winckelmann's theories and the practical concepts of Rafael Mengs. Leonidas and the Death of Socrates show a certain degree of intuition that had something to do with the archeological discoveries in Italy and Greece. The diggings in Herculanum and Pompeii (Elisabeth Chevallier, Les peintures découvertes à Herculanum, Pompei et Stabies vues par les voyageurs du XVIII siècle, in the book Influences...) brought to light paintings that were exaggeratedly proclaimed, in the first moments of enthusiasm, more beautiful than those by Rafael. They started to be discovered in 1739 and were published in 1757-1765, but the edition was not brought forth for sale. They were distributed only in 1780, engraved in the 12 volumes of the book Les antiquités d'Herculanum by Pierre Sylvain Marechal. In 1779, David went to Portici and saw the originals of these paintings. Now we know why in Brutus there are curtains hanging on columns resembling the mystical veils, or the open palm is seen from the front in Socrates, Belizarius, Leonidas, as well as pieces of furniture à l'antique in his paintings; they later came into fashion as accessories of the interior decoration under the Directorate and the first Empire. The echo of these paintings is so strong with French painters who had gone to the Rome Academy, that Ingres had to look for a long time for a solution when he painted the portrait of Madame Moitessier and finally found nothing better than to show her personifying Arcadia, like in the famous fresco from Herculanum. To say nothing of Flaxman, or their second hand sources, such as Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce, published by Le Roy as early as 1758, when artists themselves began to prolong the traditional trip to Rome, first by going to the South of Italy, then to Egypt and North Africa and finally to Greece or Asia Minor where they encountered the remains of various brilliant civilizations (L. Hautcoeur, Rome et la renaissance de l'antiquité à la fin du XVIII-e siècle, Paris, 1912).

Among the travels that have marked the Romantic epoch (Marian Popa, Călătoriile epocii romantice, The Travellings of the Romantic Epoch, Univers, 1972), reviving as a literary motif an old Greek metaphor of life as a journey, there are the travels of the artists themselves, which had increasing effects on the renewal of arts. Kenneth Clark never forgets to stress their importance in the education of painters such as Turner, for instance.

It is interesting to remember that Romanticism started as a renaissance (in its own way) of the Antiquity, as the Renaissance itself meant a parallel revival and distancing from the Antiquity, which it split from, encoding it. Clark's book has the merit of suggesting this reiteration of the attraction-rejection process in the European civilization, a reiteration that occurs precisely in its great moments. And then it is natural that painting, the most polysemantic pioneer of the figurative arts, be the most favourable one to abolishing the differences between what we are accustomed to mean by historical-cultural categories. In literature one can talk about pre-Romanticism and Romanticism proper, as opposed to classicism, with all their ethnic, philosophical and thematic differences and specific traits; painting uses the contrast between them in one work. And since we are still dealing with David, it is enough to mention Napoleon Crossing the Alps: classical draping, typically Romantic soaring ascension, Renaissance-type grandeur and monumental character.

Why did Clark consider it useful to begin his book on Romanticism in painting with an artist that was so closely connected to the French Revolution? Because this crucial moment that marked the Romantic spirit for ever and finally generated Romanticism, is the climax at social level of the intellectual rebellion that defined Romanticism proper. In 1685, Louis XIV retracted the Nantes document and in 1688, the second British revolution brought William of Orange to the throne. Now everybody knows these two events, as well as the religious implications in England, were the spark that lit up the gun powder that had accumulated for a century. The explosion blew out the weakened scaffolding of the traditional European society: the mediaeval one. (It had been the direct heir of the late Roman colonization.)

One whole century, called the Enlightenment, opposed, as strongly as it could, conformist attitudes, the church, absolutism, and, finally, classicism: the religious rebellion of Pierre Bayle, the rationalist rebellion of Saint-Evremond, John Toland, the philosophical rebellion of Spinoza and John Locke, the new critical exegesis of history represented by Richard Simon and Vico, then Rousseau, Voltaire and Friedrich Schlegel's philosophy of history, August Wilhelm Schlegel - the great theoretician of Romanticism - then Sturm und Drang, and Goethe. The century of the Enlightenment is a century when religious belief was lost, a century that did away with God and his secular version, royal absolutism, a period of prolonged crisis for the European mind (Paul Hazard, Criza conştiinţei europene, 1680-1715, The Crisis of the European Mind, Univers, 1973); it politicized the mentality of the continent to such an extent that, as Kenneth Clark points out, a simple ballet, a happy comedy like the Marriage of Figaro, were just before the French Revolution regarded as ideological bombs. The same politicization of art, brought about by the same secular mind made David's paintings, especially the Death of Marat no less than visual manifestos. This was unconceivable in the Anglo-Saxon world, where the political institutions had become individualized and had won their right to existence by social, not by cultural struggle.

But, again, as everybody knows, Romanticism asserted itself as an independent movement by a cultural-political battle fought in France on February 18, 1830 (the opening in Paris of Hernani by Victor Hugo); the defining revolt of Romanticism was to be the guiding light of all revolutionary movements in Europe after Napoleon, in the first half of the 19th century.

To the extent that classicism is reason and balance, Romanticism means the rebellion against the despotic self-content of the former. In Europe's situation described above, Romanticism is an ambivalence of the modern mind, oscillating between tradition and revolution, between the oppression of the „old regime" and the excessive cruelty of establishing a new one. This is a psychic trauma, under the sign of the guillotine and of the firing squad, a trauma following which the constructivism that defines our civilization must rebuild after every swing its accurate matrix, which is unalienable. This is why Romanticism must not be judged in opposition to classicism, but as complementary to it. Kenneth Clark shows clearly that rationalism can be separated from feelings, without seriously frustrating the human being. This „Romantic" rationalism is fully characteristic of the painting, which is anti-academic in its substance, of Ingres or Millet. The conventional character of Homer's Apotheosis is a tribute paid to the need for order that even the most rebellious Romantic soul feels; it has nothing to do with the sterile academic style. This painting must not be regarded as an allusion or revival of the intellectual atmosphere that gave birth in 1715 to the organization of Homer's apotheosis. Then those who supported the Ancient wanted to win over the modern ones, and Madame Dacier criticized the Forward to Pope's translation, saying that the Illiad had the greatest order in the world, being the most classical work possible. The Romantic painters who painted classical works, did nothing but feverishly search for the best formula to show an idea that had obsessed them all their lives. Their thirst for the absolute is the ultimate proof of their Romantic character.

Connected to classicism as we have seen, Romanticism is in painting, too, the bearer of a social revolutionary message. Forget the typical case of David, for a minute. But Kenneth Clark reminds us what happened to the innocent paintings of Millet, how much the painter had to defend himself against the accusation of being a socialist, for the only reason that he had chosen peasants and workers as subject-matter. Beyond any doubt, Socialist Romanticism is one of the important components of the Romantic movement, led by Fourier, Saint-Simon, Hugo and Lamartine. Once the revolution won and the middle class came to power, increasing masses of people were hit not only by merciless exploitation, but also by alienation by uprooting and physical and moral extreme fatigue. Let us remember that only 18 years after the battle for Hernani, in February, the Communist manifesto was published in London. There had only been half a century since the overthrow of the old world, and the new one proved to be more cruel. The old social Romantic rebellion thought evil was represented by a person (the absolute monarch) or a super-national organization overlapping the state (the Catholic church). Now, a new form of ideological rebellion was added, expanded on a wide range, between Marx's dialectical materialism and the spiritual vision of the Old Testament, with mystical atheism, present in the poetic and graphical work of William Blake.

So far, we have placed the Romantic rebellion between two poles, classicism and the revolution; let us see now their complementary elements, which generated new defining traits of Romanticism: Kenneth Clark mentions one: the fear that struck Europe following the 1755 earthquake that destroyed Lisbon. One year after that and after Winckelmann's Reflections, a work by Burke was published: Research into the Origins of the Sublime, the manifesto of the Romantic movement, which later influenced all arts. Only in 1764 did Sir Horace Walpole publish the Castle of Otranto, the first thrilling Romantic literary work. (By a strange coincidence (?), Napoleon will name his minister of the police, the dark, feared Fouche, Duke of Otranto). But in 1750 the Prisons by Piranesi appeared, which had been finished in 1745: Clark proves that way that the fear motif did not come from any natural disaster or any other different event.

The numerous archeological discoveries that had brought forth many remarkable traces of the Roman world, reviving the Antiquity more than during the Renaissance, had implicitly made the contemporaries wonder: how could that world disappear? What did the people who lived in these giant buildings, compared to which the St. Peter cathedral in Rome was just another monument, feel? Did that world disappear being gnawed by the very monumental buildings it had erected? Human ability and the triumph of reason of civilization can be threatening; they bring about fear, because man becomes the prisoner of his own gigantic work, which imprisons him and crushes him. Kenneth Clark does not make a simplistic comparison between the paintings of Piranesi and a postcard of the Liverpool street in London. This was the second face of classicism, of the rational, its oppressing, prison-like face. Mankind chose norms and rules for itself and ended up by chaining itself, whether those meant the conformist attitude of thought or the wig, or the ceremonial dress. Reason could not unchain itself from conformist attitudes all by itself, anymore. Any attempt was superficial and almost sterile, without having any echo; this only happened later, when it was accompanied by the rebellion of feeling. And by the return to nature. And, similarly to any Romantic idea, nature is, in its turn, ambivalent. The serene nature of Constable's and the roaring, merciless one of Turner's. Man can rule the former, but he falls prey to the latter like the dust of the road and the sand of the seas. The surrounding nature and human nature is always changing. Coming back to it like Rousseau does not mean at all that man is now at peace with himself. The merriest scenes painted by Goya only cover unrest, an irrational unrest, because under the serene landscape of the human character lie the subconscious and the unconscious.

Goya is another great artist of the caprice; thinking of him, of Piranesi and Paganini, we could say that the Romantic rebellion is a caprice. True, the slumber of reason begets monsters, but can the individual reason as a physical and moral person, be for ever awake? Of course not, but this is not where the evil is. The evil is the fearsome fact that sometimes large human groups sink into the slumber of reason. The Romantic rebellion is not anti-rational and even less irrational, Goya is dominated by the „increasingly strong feeling of time, with all its frustrations, on the one hand, and on the other hand, by the lack of perspective, even illusory, that doctrine or religion can offer" (Modest Morariu, Goya. Caprice, Meridiane, 1973). Same as Piranesi, Goya is aware of the fragile nature of the civilization under the destroying power of time and the irrational inner mind, in a permanent struggle with reason, which makes it possible for man to live in society. This fragile balance is not always destroyed by the irrational, reason itself can destroy it, and time kills everything.

Kenneth Clark reminds us of a painting called Old Women. There, time is represented as a winged old man. The allegory is extremely rich. (Allegory was Romanticism's favourite mode of expression in art, from Philipp Otto Runge to Rodin; A. Fletcher, Allegory, the Theory of a Symbolic Mode, Cornell, 1964). First of all there is Chronos himself, not the one who eats his children, which was kept in the dining room of the old artist in his house close to Madrid, but rather a character inspired from the relief of the apotheosis at the basis of the column at the Vatican: there, as in Goya's painting, the character is in levitation, the wings and the relaxed position of the body do not suggest the effort of flying. So, time itself is raising a broom, which relates to the symbolic act of sweeping after a festival, as Rabelais took it up from the folk tradition. The representation of time as a winged character was one of Goya's preoccupations as early as 1807, the painting under discussion being created later; at about 1800 he was canvas for Godoy a painting entitled Time, Truth, History, in whose early variants the surrounding space was populated by owls and other frightening flying creatures, which shows the persistence of the spiritual climate of Caprices.

The allegorical polysemantic images combine philosophy and politics. The two decrepit women, the mistress and the maid holding a mirror on the back of which it is written Qué tal? (How is it?) represent what is left of a world's splendours, leftovers that time will throw into the wastebasket. The ugly and the decrepit, the grotesque of oral stories and the folklore imagery had penetrated often enough into the classical culture, even starting with the Greek Antiquity. This kind of drawings by Leonardo are one of the most telling examples of the influence of the Northern folk mind, which was strong in the work of Bosch. Rabelais was to become the interpreter of this mind, along with folk painting and Goya's Caprices. They eventually became the archetypal matrixes of the Romantic ideology. The old woman wears jewelry in her hair, their form is that of an arrow (Cupid's arrow for Godoy and others). She is Queen Maria Luiza, her face is extremely similar to that in the queen's portraits, especially in the painting representing the family of Carol IV (José Gudiol, Goya, Paris, 1970). Time devours everything, the great and the poor of the world. The poor brought before the firing squad, in the painting called May 3, 1808, are also the victims of time dressed in the officer steel uniform of war. Its horrors, increasingly great and absurd, are seen by Goya not only in terms of human and material loss. As Kenneth Clark rightly shows, some images of the War's Disasters can barely be looked at. Fear reaches there a climax of horror. The most terrible consequences of violence for violence's sake, of bestiality for bestiality's sake are the mortal wound inflicted on the human soul. This wound is perpetuated in each generation and begets all sorts of endemic psychic maladies. A great part of the Romantic unrest exhibited by the post 1830 generations is due to the consequences of the violence of the French Revolution terror and of Napoleon's adventures in wars from Egypt to Moscow. Seen from this angle, Romanticism is to a large extent, an epiphenomenon of Napoleon's campaigns.

When Delacroix paints the Entrance of the Crusaders in Constantinople or the ceiling of the National Assembly showing Atilla destroying the culture of Italy, he continues Goya's fears regarding the fragile nature of our civilization, its capacity to resist its own self-destructive impulse.

This idea that the Romantics were so keen on comes had its roots the 18th century, but it had been detected before in all epochs of Europe's history (the opposition between the noble Barbarian and the corrupt civilized man in the Hellenistic period, between the savage nobleman and the civilized Barbarian in the 16th century, between the civilized Easterner and the Barbarian European at the time when Romanticism was discovering and admiring the values of Asian cultures and especially those of the Far Eastern art - Clark quotes here the example of the paintings with oriental subjects by Ingres and Delacroix). Blake expresses in his illustrations to Steadman's book his revolt against the cruelty applied by Europeans to the Surinam blacks, where an uprising had taken place. This, because in the England of his time, Homer was the epitome of the humanism of the pre-historical times and Ossian of the „good savage" in the European historical times (Margaret Rubel, Savage and Barbarian. Historical Attitude in the Criticism of Homer and Ossian in Britain, 1760-1800, Amsterdam, 1978). Napoleon saw in Ossian (Macpherson's, of course) man's return to nature, namely to order, because after the chaos of the Revolution, Napoleon represented order. This fictitious poet was so highly esteemed that Ingres was required to paint him on the ceiling of the Imperial bedroom in Quirinal, where Bonaparte never got to sleep.

Towards history, Romanticism is, as always, ambivalent. Whether he was a leftist or a rightist, the Romantic always acknowledged progress, as a reason for social existence. This idea had been supported by the French Revolution. Macintosh, an Irishman, like Herder, referred to progress as to a series of falls and leaps forth. In his opinion, the revolution in France was such a fall, which brought about the establishment of the new, simplistic regime of the Directorate and the Consulate. To Burke, the outbreak of the French Revolution meant the beginning of a new epoch of barbarity. The Antiquity itself was seen through the same glass: Gibbon writes the history of the decay and fall of the Roman Empire, and at the beginning of the 17th century, Cantemir wrote the history of the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, and Montesquieu published his considerations on the causes of the Romans' greatness and decay. Ideas are never born out of nothing, they change, they get more nuances; so, if we compare evolutionism to progress, we can refer to Winckelmann, Vico, Vasari, Pliny and the Hellenistic Stoics, making corsi e ricorsi equal as well as ekpýrosis and palingenesis.

The rigid nature of the traditional, classic societies is followed in post-revolutionary Europe by the idea of progress and movement as a natural form of existence and of social development, as a defining manifestation of rebellion. Movement is the most faithful symbol of the Romantic soul, and, most certainly, is the strongest trait of the pre-Romantic period. We will have to dwell more on this issue, as it influences Kenneth Clark's whole book. But in order to understand it, we must make a sketch of the 18th century's philosophical and scientific concepts and of those in the early 19th century, to show that Romanticism's ties with them are stronger than it is usually believed.

Romantic art (if we are to stick to this terminology of Hegel's aesthetics, who used Romantic, symbolic and classic the three main types of art) is said, with good reason, not to have had its own style, and Romanticism, in general, is said not to have had a philosophy. Kenneth Clark considers the Romantic rebellion in art placed under the sign of the movement and of force as a form of letting out the impetuous nature of the Romantic soul, as an image that the Romantics themselves had of society and the cosmos in general.

The numerous galleries in Piranesi's Prisons are vectors of possible movements (they are not actualized, as characters are absent, and this is precisely where their supreme symbolic value and the fear they inspire come from); these galleries are dead ends, they lead nowhere, suggesting the futile struggle in the labyrinth of a diabolical prison that could be the human condition itself. With Blake, movement reaches cosmic proportions, being more often than not, in a spiral (as in the illustrations to Dante's Inferno): or it can be sinking in water abysses (Urizen). Gericault's horses, Delacroix' tigers or horses are a frantic unleashing of the threatening potential of the rapid and unpredictable force and movement. (Delacroix' lion hunt excels in zigs and zags, and Clark considers this a symptom of the paranoid psychosis of Piranesi); Turner is an artist not only obsessed with the disastrous effects of terrestrial nature's movements, but also a visionary of the universe's genesis. Finally, he will come to suggest the absorbing vortex, which results in destruction and palingenesis, only by way of colour. Colour itself is an expression means of Romanticism in painting. The Romantic colour means mixture, a dissolving of colours in nuances that flood the paintings in a continuous flow, drowning, with Turner, like a giant sea, the borderless figures (rari nantes in gurgito vasto - one could use this line from Virgil as a subtitle to the painting Light and Colour). The force of labour with Millet, or the extreme fatigue following it, the storm pulling out trees from their roots or the rhythms of Degas' dancers are different examples of the Romantic kinetics, which becomes an architecture of feelings in Rodin's sculpture.

Blake shows Newton (1642-1727) making measurements with his pair of compasses, like the deity, and thus building geometry (in the meaning of Greek classical philosophy); this must not only be regarded as an iconography of representation, but as a highly significant image of the philosophical motivations with Blake and his contemporaries. In the late 17th century the concept of force appears, and Newton explains nature by the place and interaction of bodies in the universe; this idea makes necessary the determination of movement and of the bodies' positions function of forces, on the one hand, and the mutual determination of the latter function of the former, on the other hand. Newton is also a forerunner of the field theory, calculating force for each point in space. The Newtonian materialism is, however, deist, because it accepts the idea of the initial impulse, which was later rejected by the thinking of the 18th century, when science was split from philosophy. The victories of science had an increasingly deep impact on the philosophical mind. The Newtonian concept of mechanical force becomes the metaphysical force of Leibniz' monads, as in his vision, the unity of the world was material. Leibniz stresses the infinite complexity of small universes, showing reason's tendency to bend onto itself: this would become the landmark of Kant's philosophy. In the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, the declared or undeclared aim of science was the search for unique laws in microcosms and macrocosms. Leibniz and Kant are, in their rationalism of non-identity, tributaries to the Newtonian mechanics, while Hegel's rationalism of contradictions may have been the philosophical starting point of Maxwell's field theory. The dynamist conception in philosophy and science will soon have an echo in social thinking and practice.

The free economy of Adam Smith is linked to the Newtonian mechanics. B. G. Kuznetsov is completely right when he stresses (Reason and Being, the Political Publishing House, 1979) that in the social thought of the 18th century, as in physics, emphasis was placed on local events and individual destinies, which, it is well-known, abundantly generated, with other factors, Romantic individualism.

During the Enlightenment age, when the „personal stimuli played in society a similar role to that of impulses received by isolated bodies", individualism was born as well as the Romantic sentimental subjectivism and kinetics. The Newtonian mechanics is present in the attitude of the Encyclopaedists: according to it, the harmony of the universe is the result of the behaviour of matter's isolated particles and of the purely local processes of it, all of these being subject to the most general laws of movement. Kuznetsov also makes another very interesting point for the Romantic movement: „the old passion for Shakespeare was connected to the reflection of the local impulses' power in his tragedies and chronicle plays" and he goes on saying that pre-Romanticism is structured on the Voltaire-Rousseau or reason-feeling antithesis: „the rationalism of the 18th century could not go deep into the intimacy of the century's culture, without at least one emotional component, without a certain passage from reason to feeling. And here, in this passage, science, Newton, dynamism had their special part. To find in the human society the equivalents of Newton's mechanics with its force of the particles, which not only move, but attract, push and reject each other, one had to pass on from Descartes' man, who only knew cogito as a predicate of the spirit, to the man who feels and is sympathetic". This passage, which was to become later the starting point of the Romantic rebellion, first discarded God as the one who made order in the universe and as a moral authority, as long as moral human feelings were considered natural to man as a living creature. By stating that painting opened the way, we thought of Turner's non-figurative paintings: in their essence, they are representations or suggestions of force fields. His vortexes are cosmic spiraling forces where this force has not yet become matter, light has not yet delineated its colours, space has not yet broken out of the chains of time (M. Butlin, E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, Yale, 1977). Blake understood Newton's importance for the Romantic mind-set and we deeply believe that Turner was a forerunner of what was to become Maxwell's magnetic field theory; all this, despite the fact that as far as colour and light are concerned, far from the electromagnetic interpretation of the Scottish physicist, the great artists studied and chose Goethe's Farbenlehre, based on the experience of the senses and not on Newton's light theory: Light and Colour is called by the painter Goethe's Theory.

Why did Turner turn to Goethe? Clark does not forget to remind the painter's slightly sceptical position on the theory of colours. He must have been attracted by Goethe's pantheist idea, taken from Spinoza, about the unity of nature. He suggested that one in the mixing of colours of his non-figurative paintings. Of course, to very many people, Goethe was no more a philosopher than Voltaire or Rousseau. In a very beautiful book, Constantin Noica denies him (Despărţirea de Goethe, Breaking with Goethe, Univers, 1976). But if we look at things from the perspective of dismantling the classic-Romantic opposition (which we owe to Goethe himself), that Romantic renegade, who was also called the Olympian of Weimar, without being seen as more of a „philosopher" that he actually was, seems to be the typical, and, of course, unique representative in his own way, of the Romantic „philosophy", if we are to be indulgent enough to accept the name philosophy for the Romantic ideology: for who else but Goethe was looking for the primary plant and the Urphanomen, the proto-chronic primary phenomenon of the Romantic aspirations?

So far, we have been careful not to establish periods regarding pre-Romanticism and Romanticism or other limits and definitions of the former, for fear of ending up in the murky waters of theological disputes. So, we will not insist on the suggestion regarding Goethe, but we will only tell a story, which is interesting, if only for fun: in the early 70s, a professor of the Humboldt University of Berlin received me in his study (which used to belong to Rodenwaldt), and asked me the following question, to start a debate: „do you, too, deny Goethe?"

Kenneth Clark wrote about Constable and his obsession with clouds, about his interest in how clouds were classified by Luke Howard, and he tells in passing that the latter's work made Goethe laugh a lot. We cannot deny the Appolinic patriarch of Weimar, at least not yet, before we say how much he owed to Herder, the forerunner of Romanticism and of folklore art, and how he was partially aware of his debt. The one who said that Romantic meant sick would have been as amazed as he was with Howard's classification if someone had pointed out to him that the pillar of his whole work, Faust, was full of Romantic fantasies, coming out from one another as the changing clouds of the sky.

And if anyone had demonstrated this to him, the classical Goethe of his mature and old age years would have answered as firmly as possible that all these fantasies were nothing but transpositions of motifs in the folk literature, many of them common with several peoples, stressing in the most Herder-like manner, that nothing could be more classical than those motifs, that the people was the source of all arts, and that it had always been so from the beginnings of the European culture, from Homer and the Greek tragedy. So, here we are, down from Mount Olympus in the dark valleys of the archetypes, because, as we said before, Goethe not only remained all his life a Romantic deep in his heart, but often he was Romantic by that typical rigidity, at exactly the time when he thought he was perfectly classical. By going to the folk literature and imagery, as if to archetypes, Romanticism opened up to another important field that was to define it: the world of the subconscious and of the unconscious, that land beyond fear and horror, beyond the forest of the symptomatic fast heartbeat of its restlessness and ambivalence, coming from having lived through an historical time of turmoil. The return to the „soul of the people", to the eternal matrix, to that culture that was perfectly possible to define and which existed side by side with the monks' education and tradition up until the turn of the 19th century, the folk culture that is so beautifully presented by Rabelais in all its complexity for Western Europe and about which M. Bakhtin wrote so many pages of subtle analysis (François Rabelais, Univers, 1974), is the most significant Romantic gesture, the best suited to point to the unity of European culture in its double aspect: the ancestral folklore and the bookish Mediterranean learning, which was historical and rationalistic.

The return to folk culture was a lucid act of Romanticism, complementary to the idea of the fragile civilization which it served to enhance. The new bourgeois structures, the concentration of human masses in cities, their alienation will soon lead to the destruction of the ancestral folk culture and its replacement with a corrupted, degraded and degrading form of bookish culture, as an instrument of technology and the urban life. The new popular art and culture of the West, as urban attitudes take over the rural milieu, was to end up becoming kitsch. Once again the Romantic soul was to be frustrated, once again the appeal to the folk ancestral imagery and themes became an alarm signal in painting and literature and finally in Wagner's music.

This is why we should deal a little more with the meaning of archetypes in the Romantic movement, to try to see in them not only the most common factor of that movement, which can almost be defined only by negative terms, but also that basis of tranquillity and stability that the mind unconsciously craved for, even if its characteristic traits were the tearing apart, fear, horror, unrest, the idea of the civilization being unstable and fragile, questioning the meaning of the world civilization itself (which was controversial compared to barbarity). Rejecting by rebellion the classicism that was too full of norms, Romanticism will search in that direction, too, a gravitational centre: the abuse of reason's laws will be replaced with vague, fluid laws, changing ones like the shape of the clouds, with the archetypes of the subconscious and the unconscious, imagined as dark old women. The slumber of reason will produce the monsters of the irrational, but Romanticism will find its catharsis by letting out the soul's depths strange images and feelings that will appear in the works created under the thrill of this movement. Over the visible natural beauty or ugliness the inner visions will be superimposed (in the manner of Blake or Goya), ascribing another meaning to naturalism, taking it away from its classical meaning, where it consisted of general forms; now it acquired formal particular values, to express at the same time the subconscious and the unconscious (the whole range from Blake to Baudelaire and Zola, from Goya to Rodin). Now, we must necessarily point out the very important difference between the irrational and the visionary mind when we refer to Romanticism. Beauty becomes this way as strange as ugliness, and the attraction to the ugly, the exotic and gigantic things, a manifestation of the particular. Wordsworth's Foreword to the Lyrical Ballads (second printing of 1800) was compared with that to Hugo's Cromwell (1827). The latter said: „Beauty has only one face, ugliness, one thousand. From the human point of view, beauty is only a form seen in its most simple aspect, in its absolute symmetry, in its most intimate harmony with our body. Beauty is a complete ensemble, but it is restricted by us. To the contrary, what we call ugly is a detail of a great ensemble that escapes us and which cannot be harmonized with man, but only with the whole creation. This is why ugliness shows us new but incomplete aspects all the time". The quoted lines are typical for the Romantic mind: Protagoras and Aristotle agree well with the idea of the absolute, with the well-known „cosmic spirit", which is characteristic of Hegel and the Romanticism.

Kenneth Clark reminds us of the way Gericault and Rodin were preoccupied with showing parts of the human body (the Cathedral). In 1853, Aesthetikdes Hasslichenby Karl Rosenkranz was published and it confirmed the above.

By bringing forth the subconscious, Romanticism stresses the common denominator of man and the animals. Clark puts together the head of a girl and that of a horse, both done by Gericault, who used to say that he started to draw a man and ended by drawing a lion. But, to come back to Romanticism in painting and the archetypal symbols of its images, we will provide a few examples from the book by Gilbert Durand (The Anthropological Structures of the Imaginary, Univers, 1977); this book is full of references to the Romantic literature and gives these examples as the most significant. Half of Goya's Caprices show horrible women, instances of the Terrible Mother, a symbol of the devouring time. Blake's vortexes are, as we mentioned before, symbols of sinking into the origins, suggesting the darkness and viscosity of the digestive tube and the sinking of Urizen in the black waters of materialism.

Blake, Goya and Turner's giants are, in the same daylight regime of the image, symbols of the reversibility of the microcosm into the macrocosm, as symptoms of a schizoid state. In the nighttime regime of the image, the reversal and doubling are symbolized by the mirror or a series of mirrors as in Blake's Crystal Cabinet. The sea is the great swallower and begetter of life, in its two aspects, stormy and calm, both painted by Turner very many times; similarly, the wave, the water elements in general are linked to femininity as a symbol of she who gives life through the image of the long hair (remember Degas's girls combing their hair). The centre as a means to dramatize time in a field of forces is another theme with symbolic value in the non-figurative paintings of the mentioned British painter. Romanticism in painting eliminated myth almost completely, going directly to the symbol as an incarnation of the archetype. Here too, Baudelaire, who was at the crossroads between Romanticism and symbolism, was right in saying that the „Romantic art" and modern art were the same thing to him.


Kenneth Clark's book is an example of the living interest that contemporary culture shows for Romanticism. This historical interest was evidenced among the first by Théophile Gautier, who participated in the battle for Hernani, in his book A History of Romanticism, published in 1874. The historical approach was but one of the attitudes concerning Romanticism. Clark was attracted to that movement, studying it with special sensitivity, which is the main quality of his essay. Equally compelling are the sociological, literary, and artistic approaches, that together form an impressive bibliography. The result of the many investigations was that the public became interested in the work of important Romantic personalities. In art, W. Blake and Turner seem to be at the top of this interest. Kenneth Clark is successful precisely because of the versatility of his expose, which forms a complex image of Romanticism in Western art without clinging to particular fields or controversial definitions.

The Romanian culture was equally attracted to defining the aspects of the national Romanticism. It is enough to mention here just a few books that are remarkable for their consistency and subtlety: the course held by Dimitrie Popovici, a former student of Paul Hazard, held at the Cluj University in 1951 -1952 and published as Romantismul românesc, Romanian Romanticism, Albatros, 1972, the study written by Paul Cornea, Originile romantismului românesc, the Origins of Romanian Romanticism, Minerva, 1972, as well as the attempt made by Mircea Anghelescu to define a Romanian pre-Romantic cultural atmosphere (1971).

Kenneth Clark's work makes very clear the changing and polymorphical nature of the Romantic movement. The same is shown brilliantly in the short essay by G. Calinescu (Clasicism, Romantism, Baroc, Classicism, Romanticism, Baroque, in Pagini de estetică, Aesthetics Pages, Bucharest 1968). We wish to tell Paul Cornea that Romanticism means: a) a group of authors of one or all artistic and intellectual fields; b) an attitude or a state of mind typical for the European culture in the first half of the 19th century; c) a psychic frame common to humans of all times and places. In this latter meaning, of Camus' rebellious man, one can refer to a Hellenistic Romanticism (W. Tatarkiewicz, the History of Aesthetics, Meridiane, 1978, volume I, p. 254 and foll.) and to its fundamental text, the Treaty about the Sublime by Pseudo-Longinus, or to a Romanticism of the year 1600 (Idem, ibidem, volume IV, p. 42) and to the idea in Shakespeare's Winter's Tale that art itself is nature, an idea the great poet's whole work is structured on.

Romantic art does not have its own style, and therefore it does not exist as such, except the mentioned old fashioned definition of Hegel's, where an attempt was made to reconcile Classicism and Romanticism. So, we cannot use this term to define works of art outside the historical time of the Romantic movement, as it happened with the following terminology: Baroque, Rococo, impressionism, expressionism, cubism. These are used by experts of Ancient art to define instances of painting and art of the Hellenistic and late Roman periods.

We cannot find a recurrence of any integral Romanticism in the far or recent past of the European civilization. Clark finishes his book by saying that any Romantic comeback would be without any value whatsoever. At the opposite pole, I ask this question: will the great spiritual seismic movements of our century, the horror we feel (not the one of B class movies and literature), but the fear of the dismantling microcosm and the pollution of the planet, the unrest haunting us, and which cannot be alleviated at all by the consumer's civilization, beget a new redeeming Romanticism that could be defined, apart from work and creation, by humanistic enthusiasm and more love, by an art with more feeling in it? The fact that people hope and try to escape the „evil of the century" - the obsession of the exploding nothingness concentrated in weapons is not a fashion or a „Romantic" illusion, but an encouraging reality. The great step forward made by our fragile civilization could still be the opening to a re-purified nature in the direction of sensitivity, to freedom that will not generate oppression, to contemplating the millennia-old creative effort of man. Because, in extremis, except for the stupid step into nothingness, any other step would be Romantic.