Thursday, September 04, 2014


The Myth of Arcadia

Kenneth Clark (1903-1983), Civilisation (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), pp. 113-114 (with illustration in color, instead of in black and white):
Then, in the first years of the sixteenth century, the Venetian painter Giorgione transformed this happy contact with nature into something more openly sensual. The ladies who, in the Gothic gardens, had been protected by voluminous draperies, are now naked; and, as a result, his Fête Champêtre [77] opens a new chapter in European art. Giorgione was, indeed, one of the inspired, unpredictable innovators who disturb the course of history; and in this picture he has illustrated one of the comforting illusions of civilised man, the myth of Arcadia which had been popularised some twenty years earlier by the poet Sannazaro. Of course, it's only a myth. Country life isn't at all like this, and even on a picnic ants attack the sandwiches and wasps buzz round the wine-glasses. But the pastoral fallacy had inspired Theocritus and Virgil, and had not been unknown in the Middle Ages. Giorgione has seen how fundamentally pagan it is. The pleasant contrast of sun and shade, the flapping leaves, the sound of water trickling from a well, mixed with the sound of a lute, all these are sensual pleasures, and require for their fulfilment the forms and rhythms of antique sculpture. This arcadia is as much a tribute to antiquity as were the republican virtues of the Florentine humanists, and as much a part of the rediscovery of man: but in his sensual rather than his intellectual nature.

77 Giorgione, Fête Champêtre

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