Mannerism and Method: Class and Artistic Agency in the Writing of Anthony Blunt, 1934 to 1949
- Journal Article
In his essay “The Architecture of Mannerism” (1946), Nikolaus Pevsner remarked that while little had been published on Mannerism in England, and even less on Mannerist architecture, Anthony Blunt was one of the few English scholars active in the field. Blunt’s first two published books, Artistic Theory in Italy 1450–1600 (1940) and François Mansart and the Origins of French Classical Architecture (1941), dealt with the style in both art and architecture. While comparatively brief when set beside his work on the baroque, Blunt’s engagement with Mannerism has particular historiographic significance because of the contingency of its methods. His approach to art history was incredibly malleable, reflecting personal influences and the wider debates surrounding both method and the topic of Mannerism itself. Originally an “art for art’s sake” formalist, Blunt dramatically turned around this time to experiments in a social history of art, one which was at least partly based on the role of class. These methods would come under fervent criticism from their methodological rivals which called, in turn, for a renewed focus on artistic agency. Blunt’s lecture “Mannerism in Architecture” (1949), which he gave towards the end of his focus on this period, reflects these methodological positions while also marking a partial personal denouement with a social reading of Mannerist architecture, therein reaffirming the agency of the architect. The tension between these two divergent historical positions in Blunt’s work—one which emphasises social forces, the other asserting agency—was neither an accident nor the inevitable deductive result of probing into Mannerism. Instead, they were methods marked by the unique conditions of Blunt’s circumstances. Firstly, his commitment to communism in the 1930s, then the influence of Frederick Antal and finally the counter-influence of such figures as Rudolf Wittkower. These were some of the contingent factors underpinning Blunt's historical methods. This paper investigates this relation between Mannerism and historical method in Blunt’s work and extends its theses to the constellation of colleagues and papers within which Blunt’s writing on Mannerism was nested. © 2020 Informa UK Limited. Show more
Journal / seriesArchitectural Theory Review
Pages / Article No.
SubjectAnthony Blunt; Artistic agency; Ernst Gombrich; Frederick Antal; Mannerism; Social history of art
Organisational unit09605 - Delbeke, Maarten / Delbeke, Maarten
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