Critical Inquiry 9 (2):379-404 (1982)

Abstract
In the chapter on multiplicity and unity, the affective or anthropological motifs are both more complex and more interesting. Wölfflin’s initial distinction is between “the articulated system of forms of classic art and the flow of the baroque” . Imagery of fluidity pervades the chapter, for water, according to Wölfflin, “was the period’s favourite element” . “Now, and now only,” he says, “the greatness of the sea could find its representation”, and as if to inculcate this affinity he places the reproduction of a baroque seascape by Jan van Goyen at the head of the introduction to the book and a riverscape by Peter Brueghel at the head of this chapter, even though neither painting is discussed where it is reproduced. In fact it is worth observing that Wölfflin does not discuss any water paintings in this chapter, though of course he does so elsewhere. Where fluidity becomes the meaning of his category, it is absent from the contents of the paintings. Wölfflin’s procedure, as I have argued, is both objectively analytical and subjectively interpretive, and in this chapter he seems careful to preserve the distance between the forms he describes and the significances he reveals. Were he to treat water paintings here, he would obscure the fact that his analyses are always the prelude to translations.Though he conceals the fact, Wölfflin has here effected a translation of the baroque into itself, of water painting into fluidity. Baroque art has declared its true meaning, which is to be an art of flux—of time and, throughout this chapter, of momentariness. Suddenly here the baroque comes into its own, with a surprising reversal in Wölfflin’s categories. Until now he has associated the baroque with lawlessness and confusion, and classicism with the unifying force of symmetrical organization around a center. Unity is repose—the equation had been made explicitly in the discussion in Classic Art of Michelangelo’s Medici Madonna —and clearly in Principles of Art History Wölfflin seems to say that the unification achieved in Leonardo’s Last Supper was later lost Tiepolo’s version.21 As Wölfflin says in the first sentence of chapter 4, “The principle of closed form of itself presumes the conception of the picture as a unity.” But as the baroque now comes into its own, it appears that the unity of classicism is an illusory, “multiple unity,” whereas the true or “unified unity” actually pertains to the baroque. It is the usurping baroque, rather than the deposed classic, that now has “a dominating central motive.” And So Wölfflin returns in this chapter to the two Last Suppers in order to rescind his earlier position. He still claims that Leonardo’s painting is unified, but he offers Tiepolo’s version to illustrate the “possibility of surpassing this unity” . In becoming itself, baroque art has overthrown classicism.21. “Tiepolo composed a Last Supper which, while it cannot be compared with Leonardo as a work of art, stylistically presents the absolute opposite. The figures do not unite in the plane, and that decides”
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DOI 10.1086/448206
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