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LA RISCOPERTA DELLA TRADIZIONE MEDIOEVALE NELLA SCULTURA FRANCESE DOPO IL 1870. «LES VÉRITABLES ORIGINES DE LA RENAISSANCE»

 

Laura Lombardi

 

 

Around 1860, Academic sculptors seem inclined to relinquish the model originated by Greek and Roman tradition to embrace Renaissance-inspired models, as it is the case of the so-called 'neo-florentines' (Dubois, Mercié, René de Saint Marceaux...). After 1870, another group rather turns to the French Middle Ages, among them most notably Dalou, Falguière, Dampt, Frémiet, Bartholomé. Many critics and scholars support this new trend, nurtured by works on medieval topics published in the same years, or by researches on Italian fifteenth-century artists, such as Ghiberti, although considered mainly for its Burgundian background. In fact, Courajod writes that “Jacopo, Donatello e Ghiberti ont été réalistes et gothiques avant de se constituer en fondateurs de la Renaissance classique”. Journals such «Gazette des Beaux-Arts» or «Revue des Deux-Mondes» provide a forum for this debate between two rival aesthetic as well as ideological perspectives, which causes a dramatic change within the Academy and the École du Louvre. On the one hand, sculptors turn to the renaissance heritage in order to express a more markedly modern sensitivity, and at the same time to preserve an harmonious formal language; on the other, the option for fourteenth-century models stems from the need of expressing the contemporary existential condition, with all its anxiety and internal cleavages. Louis Courajod e Louis de Fourcaud will join their voices in advocating for a rediscovery of a French 'popular' tradition, exempt from all the sophistication and artistocratic aestheticism which marked the neo-renaissance taste: this trend will gather momentum after 1880, in the years marked by the ‘triumph’ of Rodin, defined by Walter Pater as “Michelangelo’s genius spiritualised by a Medieval dream”.