Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

'Specimens of Antient Sculpture': Imperialism and the decline of art

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Andrew Ballantyne


Full text for this publication is not currently held within this repository. Alternative links are provided below where available.


When Richard Payne Knight wrote his commentaries on ancient sculpture, his analysis was characteristically wide-ranging. The observations are informative about the sculptures themselves, but scholarship has advanced, and the writings have been superseded. The remarks with which Knight positioned the works in their various cultural and political contexts are of continuing interest, particularly because they show him making connections between the organization of society and the qualities of its art. The great evil of Knight's own day was, as he saw it, Napoleon's imperialism; and he projected this current concern back into the analysis of ancient sculpture, so that the unmatched beauty of the works from ancient Greece began its decline from the moment when Alexander the Great started his empire-building campaigns. For Knight, as for Winckelmann, the artistic and architectural productions of the ancient Greeks were ideal because they were the productions of an ideal society. This analysis is complicated by the fact that attributions have changed, and the relative merits of individuals' works have shifted. The engraved plates that illustrate the commentaries remain impressive, however, and they are themselves artistic productions, the aim of which was to give a clear impression of the sculpture. Knight's commentary includes critical remarks when their effects were too picturesque, despite his fondness for such effects in their proper place.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Ballantyne A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Art History

Year: 2002

Volume: 25

Issue: 4

Pages: 550-565

ISSN (print): 0141-6790

ISSN (electronic): 1467-8365

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1111/1467-8365.00344


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric