Comparison of the arts

The comparison (Paragone) of the arts is a theme that animated the debate on artistic subject in the Renaissance. Paragone (comparison) is an Italian termthat called a controversy as to which of the arts would be the superior one, that became particularly alive between the artists of the Renaissance and Mannerism, leaving long descendants.

The rivalry between the arts was ancient, and during the Middle Ages much literature was produced on the subject. Originally the dispute confronting the visual arts, considered simple mechanical techniques, and intellectual arts such as poetry and music, which is associated to the world of reason and the prestigious Greek tradition were covered with muses protective, whereas none of the visual arts was under the tutelage of a deity.

Starting from anecdotes reported in the Naturalis historia of Pliny the Elder, from the second half of the fifteenth century in Italy there developed a debate on which artistic form was the major, from an aesthetic point of view and skill of the craftsman. This debate, which developed throughout the sixteenth century, was attended by the humanists, the literati, the poets, the musicians and all the greatest figurative artists of the time. Leonardo da Vinci, as “genius in all the arts poured”, for example, supported the primacy of painting, proclaiming its supremacy over music and poetry, since it was “science” that represents “with more truth and certainty the works of nature” and as imitating was equivalent to recreating, the painter approached more than any other to the divine creative act .

Michelangelo and others supported the primacy of sculpture, in particular that of “levare” materia (like marble sculpture, unlike that of “putting” like terracotta), since the sculptural work was the only one that allowed appreciate a subject in multiple views, simply walking around.

To this objection the painters replied that even the painted things allowed “all the fate of the views” and “without having a walk around”: typical examples were the figures represented near mirrors, in which multiple views of the subject could be seen simultaneously. Lorenzo Lotto, for example, painted the Triple portrait of goldsmith (front, profile and three quarters) and Gian Girolamo Savoldo, inspired by a lost work by Giorgione, portrayed a man in armor next to two mirrors, which multiply the side view and tergal .

The question of the “comparison” took particular importance in the courts and in artistic centers such as Venice and Florence . In the latter, in 1547, the contribution of Benedetto Varchi was particularly important, who asked the opinion by letter to all the major artists active at the court of Cosimo I and not only: in these letters, largely preserved, and in other writings connected to the issue can be read from the positions taken by Pontormo, Vasari, Cellini, Bronzino and others. Bronzino, for example, painted a double portrait of the Dwarf Morganton the two sides of a canvas. In addition to the double, frontal and tergal views, painting also showed the passing of time: in fact, if on the recto the man is about to leave for hunting, on the back he shows proudly the captured prey.

Treaties and debates
Leonardo da Vinci set out the subject with a large number of arguments in his Painting Treaty, where he defined the main constituent lines of the paragon focused on the comparison between painting and sculpture. He established art in general as a sister of science, and specified his analysis, declared that he found no essential differences between painting and sculpture, but later he went on to say that the painter’s work was cleaner, more complex, complete and intellectual, since the sculptor’s one was dirtier, simple, limited and manual. He also considered the imitation of nature in a more formidable and exciting way than that produced by sculpture, which naturally imitated the volumes that nature presents and therefore did not require a great deal of mental preparation: ] like the pictorial illusion or a profound knowledge of mathematics and perspective, associating it with the painting of the liberal arts. He also defended painting against poetry and music, indicating that art can only excite the viewer through the senses,soul. Although his writings were not printed, his ideas were disclosed by Castiglione, who commented on his El Cortesà.

The debate reached its first highest point in the middle of the 16th century, it became a dominant theme for Mannerist art criticism, when the poet Benedetto Varchi in 1547 gave two lectures at the Academy of Arts of Design of Florence, which later printed and published with great publicity. In the first Varchi conference, he proposed that the idea or concept be superior to material realization, highlighting the central role that rhetoric assumed in the visual arts. Secondly, he invited remarkable artists to give their opinions, three painters – Pontormo, Bronzino and Vasari-, and three sculptors – Cellini, Tribolo and Michelangelo – served as referees, although their preference for sculpture was clearly influenced by the enormous prestige that Michelangelo had regarded as an incomparable genius for his contemporaries.

The question about which of the arts could best represent nature, on the other hand, has been of great importance for critics in defining the characteristics of each art, but each of them, at the same time, passed to seek an expansion of its potential, imitating the effects of other categories. As an example, he developed the technique of painting Trompe l’Oeil, a great three-dimensional illusion, the sculpture sought the effects of light and shade characteristic of painting and poetry was impregnated with pictorial and scenographic images, in search of giving visual form to the verbal descriptions. Also from a point of moral, since for them the artistic imitation of nature had to be faithful and capable of conveying true knowledge. This generated another dispute over what would be the best source of knowledge, this time between art and nature itself, as, as a result of human intelligence, and believing the man created In the image of God, art would be closer to the divine idealization of what is manifested in nature, which had obvious defects, irregularities and limitations. In addition, the artist could transcend nature and create new things, what nature, the static conception of the universe at this time, is not able to do it.

Famous positions
Numerous art theorists and artists have mixed themselves with writings and works of art. Some striking interventions:

Leon Battista Alberti wrote treatises on all art forms but chose painting.
On Jan van Eyck’s paintings, the same body is often frequently reflected, which would be one of the ways in which he measured himself with sculpture.
Benedetto Varchi gave a lecture for the Florentine Academy (1546) in which he examined the arguments of sculptors versus painters and quoted from a survey by Michelangelo, Bronzino, Cellini and Vasari, among others.
Vincenzo Borghini put painters above sculptors in his manuscript Selva di Notizie (1564).
Lucas d’Heere defended painting for the Antwerp rhetoric chamber De vintieren (1565).
Giorgio Vasari noted in Le vite that drawing was the father of all others, but already in the introduction he had hinted his true preference: he described the painter’s legend of Apelles and Campaspe as a wonderful thing and the sculptor myth of Pygmalion as a disgrace. The frescoes he made in the Sala delle Arti of his Florentine house can also be read as a eulogy of painting above the other.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1766) made a plea for sculpture from the Laocoöng group.

The topic of the parangone, with its various branches, throughout the centuries, produced a large amount of literature and inspired many artists and aesthetic currents without any of the parties being able to ensure their supremacy. Although the original term is rarely applied to contemporary arts and continues to belong more to a topic of the history of art, the problem remains unresolved until today. Many artists continue to show great interest in transcending the limits of each mode of art, while others defend by setting limits that should not be overcome, otherwise the genres are destabilizing, falsifying and depriving them of giving its focus and its characteristic strength, and others are concerned about how art should imitate nature, with the repetition or variation of arguments made for a long time and incorporating into the discussion the new arts and disciplines of knowledge that appear.

Source from Wikipedia