CALL FOR PAPERS – Venezia Arti, s. II, 3/XXX (2021)
If we thought of the pair of terms Original/Copy as a hendiadys, we would almost certainly commit an anachronism. Taking, for example, Vasari’s Lives, which can rightly be considered a watershed in the millenary reflection on art, the term ‘original’ boasts only 9 occurrences: in almost all cases, but not always, the meaning of the word is positive, and refers to works by established protagonists of the history of Italian art; nonetheless the issue of originality appears marginal in these passages. The term ‘copy’, on the other hand, recurs 88 times, many of which, however, mean the conspicuous quantity of something (“gran copia de’ lumi” etc.). In short, the problem begins to arise more specifically from the seventeenth century (Mancini, Giustiniani, Passeri), and only shortly thereafter will the hendiadys truly become the probative basis of the connoisseurship, from Lanzi onwards.
However, opposing the two terms is not simply a question of settling the true from the false, or of certifying only the authenticity of a sign using complementary methods, which include physical and chemical analyses, historical and philological investigations, observation by experts, and documentary checks. Rather, it is an eminently historiographical and theoretical problem. In some cases, from the nineteenth century to date, when it has been assumed as an absolute confirmation of artistic quality, the concept of “original” has ended up neglecting many other previous scenarios, closely and mutually unrelated: among them, the theme of artistic tradition; the organisation of the workshops of artists from the most ancient ages (with the widespread and articulated technique of casts, ‘positive’ replicas, pantographs…) to the medieval one (with sketchbooks), the ‘Renaissance’ turn, and Canova (who prepared the plaster casts with repères, useful reference points for his collaborators for the realisation of innumerable copies of the same original). We can also mention the autoptic re-appropriation and/or variants of classical works of art; the transmigration of Pathosformeln, so carefully investigated by Warburg; the bond represented by the patrons’ wishes – which regulated the events of art at least until the death of the great sculptor from Possagno – the century-old debate on the roles in the definition of inventio, dispositio and compositio; the weight of the art market, and the high frequency of autograph and workshop replicas.
In a collection of essays that has just been published (Incursioni. Arte contemporanea e tradizione. Milan, Feltrinelli, 2020), Salvatore Settis – who curated the Serial Classic exhibition for Fondazione Prada Milan a few years ago – addresses the practice of ‘copying’ as an act of homage to Greek art, rather than a typical attempt at deception, which is typical of counterfeits. He also lists a well-reasoned sequence of methods to compare modern or contemporary artists with their ‘sources’: “allusione, appropriazione, citazione, confronto, influenza, ispirazione, parafrasi, pastiche, prelievo, prestito, ripresa, traslazione…”. Before him, Panofsky, Benjamin, Wittkower, Gombrich, Baudrillard, Lowe also dealt – in negative terms – with this point.
In contemporary art, as a matter of fact, the topic of originality becomes even more complex and weasel: in the most recent examples of artistic expression, is the concept of authenticity still endowed with value? If the artistic object can no longer be classified within a canon that clearly places it among paintings, sculptures, engravings etc., if it arises from the work of someone who is no longer an ‘author’, but the terminal of an interdisciplinary and multilingual collaboration in which the plurality of contributions becomes the real strength, and if this object is designed to be replicated, it is evident that the theory of authenticity must be rethought.
In one of his memorable books (Culture and Explosion. Berlin, De Gruyter, 2009), the founder of the semiotics of culture, Jurij M. Lotman, wrote that “the artistic text does not have a singular solution… ”, and “a work of art can be used an infinite number of times”.
The next issue of Venezia Arti tries to investigate this fundamental set of problems from the Middle Ages to the present day, in the Western arts as well as in the Eastern ones, where, as it is well known, the theme of copying takes on particular relevance.
Finally, as is the custom in Venezia Arti’s new series, the 2021 issue will also host selected free-topic contributions in the section Alia itinera.