Kaks geeniust. Lomazzost Diderot'ni


  • Holger Rajavee University of Tartu




Genius, Mannerism, classicism, la belle nature, furor poeticus, artistic creation


The goal of the article is to examine the theoretical and aesthetical views related to art and concerning painters, mainly in the French tradition, from the early 17th to the mid-18th century, starting with works by Gian Paolo Lomazzo and ending with the viewpoints of Denis Diderot. Using different examples from the texts of the key authors of their day, the article’s aim is to show how, starting in the early 17th century, the type of painter who can be described as a “learned genius” starts to develop; and from the beginning of the next, 18th century, this type gradually starts to transform into the subject that can be called a “mad genius” with all the main features of a modern artist.

With the introduction of the neo-Platonic Mannerist doctrine of Lomazzo and Federico Zuccari the “learned genius” is now in its embryonic stage of development, differing greatly from the Renaissance painters of an earlier era. The “painter-mystic” is a self-centred person, whose “inner eye” is directly connected through contemplation with the Divine. In the middle of the 17th century, Charles Alphonse du Fresnoy, and especially Giovanni Pietro Bellori, by synthesizing Platonic and Aristotelian ideas, introduce us to the painter who possesses genius. He is freed from Mannerist mysticism and his main goal is to improve the imperfect Nature created by God through mind and reason. And to produce the perfect version of it in art – la belle nature – to achieve the result the artist has constantly developed himself – to learn and observe. The neo-classicist doctrine gradually burdens the genius with certain strict rules to follow; a process that is referred to here as “taming the genius”. So by the end of the 17th century, it is possible to talk about the “learned (but tamed) genius” – a noble, well-taught, reasonable and aesthetically high-minded artist.

At the beginning of 18th century changes start occurring in the theoretical art paradigm, starting with Jean-Baptiste Du Bos and his Reflexions critiques sur la poësie et sur la peinture, written in 1719. This marks a new beginning in the development of the painter-genius figure and undoubtedly has significant influence on the writings that will follow on same subject. Du Bos starts to depart from the “reason-centred” painter, emphasizing the moment of sensory perception as the main criteria in the art of painting. There are two main differences from earlier times. Firstly, the author is now talking about a person who already is genius rather than possessing genius, as was the understanding earlier. Secondly, the person is already born a genius, which means that this quality is no longer taught. There aren’t any strict rules to harass the individual inventiveness and creativity of the artist.

In the middle of 18th century many theoreticians, such as Jean le Rond d’Alembert, Etienne de Condillac, Voltaire etc, emphasized such important and very individualistic qualities of the painter as inventiveness, imagination, originality, enthusiasm. And they started to connect these to the centuries-old Platonic idea of poetic fury – furor poeticus – a state of mind in which the artist is almost maddened, insane and fully spontaneous while creating art. Denis Diderot is the first author who says outright that a painter-genius “is mad” (qu‘il est fou) and in doing so summons up the ideas of his predecessors.

One could say that the different qualities mentioned above have guided the theoretical art narrative to the point where we can talk about the “mad genius”, who is recognized as the creator of art and this is the point where the modern painter-genius, whom we know today, comes to life.


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Author Biography

Holger Rajavee, University of Tartu

Holger Rajavee (b. 1969) is an external PhD candidate in University of Tartu’s Department of Art History. He graduated from the University of Tartu in 1996 in art history, as has worked from 1996 to 2005 as a research fellow at the Tartu Art Museum. He is currently working at the University of Tartu’s Viljandi Culture Academy and the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre as a lecturer on art and cultural history. He has published articles on art criticism and theory, and curated numerous exhibitions. In his PhD thesis, he deals with philosophical and theoretical problems related to art that are associated primarily with aesthetics and the development of the artist persona more generally.