Friends of the Royal Cast Collection, Copenhagen
Foto: Jens Lindhe
Towards the end of the 19th Century Denmark
witnessed an extraordinary increase of interest in ancient sculpture. The Ny
Carlsberg Glyptotek was created by Carl Jacobsen in 1888 and in 1895 The Royal
Cast Collection was founded on the initiative of Jacobsen and especially the art
historian Julius Lange, who became its first director.
The cast collection is a
department of The State Museum of Fine Arts. Since 1984 it is housed apart from
the museum's main building, in a warehouse from 1781 situated on the harbour
front near the Amalienborg palace in Copenhagen. Three floors of together 3000 m2
are at the disposal of the collection. It is currently being restored and
prepared for exhibition. With its about 2200 pieces of sculpture – from the
Old Kingdom of Egypt c. 2500 BC and to the Renaissance c. 1600 AD – the
collection ranks among the biggest in the world and is among the very few that
covers both ancient and later periods.
The collection, moreover, has a
special interest because Julius Lange (1838-1896)[ii]
created it not only for study and the gratification and education of the middle
class, but according to his scientific ideas, which deeply influenced by Ancient
Greek works on ethics. His scholarly work is interwoven with his whole view of
life and his thoughts about man's conditions on earth. His ideas and ideals, his
writings and also the cast collection is a remarkable example of the vitality of
the Classical Tradition with explicit implications for the right way of living
of contemporary man.
The main aim of the present paper
is to illuminate Lange's thinking, as far as possible through quotations from
his work. My reason for doing this is the impressive coherence of his humanistic
view of life. The European humanistic ideals are currently – as it should be
– subject to examination and criticism. Julius Lange is an imposing and
towering representative of the humanism of his time and to a certain degree a
qualified participant even in the contemporary discussion.
The 'life-project' of Julius Lange is aptly
described in the first volume of his work The
Representation of the Human Form in the visual Arts from 1892. A second
volume was published posthumously, in 1898, and in the following year several
chapters and passages from further planned volumes appeared.
variety of...human images...express ... the...essential differences in Man's
understanding of himself throughout the different epochs of history. They
transmit a unique and very important aspect of the history of Man's awareness of
himself, and they illustrate that which Man has known at all times, has meant
and has wished to accomplish with respect to his own being. (1892: 6).[iii]
studying the artistic representation of Man we peruse it as an expression of the
common interest of Man in the human being. Therefore we write about the history
of this concern. (1892:
Obviously he studied what we now
call 'the history of mentality'. His subtle approach is further illustrated by
a work of art we do not become directly familiar with either the subject matter
or with the artist. We only look at that which the artist derived from his
subject. (1876: 118-119).
Lange not only defined his
subject and aims but also his approach: an ethic rather than aesthetic view on
artistic value. He focussed on the meaning; this could, of course, be expressed
in varying degrees of artistic mastery, and the sincerity of the artist is
worth of a given work is the importance it had for the person who produced it.
In turn the importance of the subject is transmitted to us by means of his
representation. (1876: 65).
Lange's admirable didactic
concern with elucidating his fundamental ideas appears from the fact that the
first 44 pages of his study from 1892 are termed: Propaedeutic chapters. Then he proceeds with The introductory Arts. It comprises what we call primitive art, and
Near Eastern, Egyptian, and Archaic Greek art. It is characterized by frontality,
stiffness, isolation, timelessness, and repetition of the figures, when depicted
in a group. His definition of the "law of frontality" as a universal,
initial phase of artistic development won wide and lasting recognition.
In Lange's opinion a unique
breakthrough in the world history of culture happened in Greece in the 6th-5th
Cent. BC, – a breakthrough that designates the superiority of European art and
thinking (1892: 45, 170). His 'Europe-centrism' and the often stated conviction
of Europe's mastery over the rest of the world corresponds e.g. to the
contemporary display of ethnographica in museums. The primitive societies were
everywhere considered as preludes to European culture, the highest development
in the evolution of culture.
Of course he is aware of the debt
of Greece to the Orient, but in accordance also with his thinking of art as an
expression of society, of a functional whole, he does not consider it very
respect to the art of...the Greeks... one might reasonably say that it was a
matter of some indifference whether the pictorial arts had come to them from
Australian aboriginals, the Chinese or the Phoenicians. In any case they would
recreate them to suit their own image. In their civic life and their
understanding of Man was in fact contained the origin of their pictorial art. (1892: 156).
To Lange the possible derivation
of the single elements is of minor interest (a matter mainly of concern to the
scholarly "woodlice"). What really matters is the ingenious Greek use,
integration, and transformation of the 'building units'.
ever there was a time in history when one could truly hear the grass grow and
feel how man developed into Man, it would be the fifth century in Greece,
especially in Athens. …All at once or in quick succession a series of
intellectual activities emerged, which all made Man their object: dramatic
poetry and scenic art, the first writing of true history, the first
philosophical considerations of human life, and a new pictorial art that allowed
space for the free movements of life. Thus the most powerful advance in Man's
common self-awareness that history has ever witnessed took place. Man was
discovered. (1898: 29).
The first development in the Greek breakthrough was the representation
(in the Archaic period) of the nude, that marks both a focus on and an
appreciation of the human species:
means of the naked body a beneficent and trusting relationship with the nature
of Man was declared. But this was not understood in naturalistic terms, rather
ethically and politically. It was not a nature that grew wild or was errant, but
on the contrary a nature that was civilized through and through. This became the
subject of art. (1892:
The second development was the
break up of the frontality in the 5th Century BC:
begin to bend, twist and turn to the left and to the right at the neck and below
the waist... In the course of a very brief period statue, relief, and painting
become something very different from what they had been for thousands of years. (1892: 208).
now on it became the rule of art that every statue, in fact every single figure,
was to lead its own life; in a manner of speaking it was to express its own
moment. (1892: 225).
This means: a concession to truth, to the experience of reality. (1892: 228).
On p. 90-117 in his book of 1898 Lange discusses
the art of Polycleitus and his school. He gives an introduction to his art,
discusses the evidence of Ancient written sources several hundred years younger,
and the problem of having to work with Roman copies rather than with the Greek
originals. Both the Diadoumenos and the Doryphorus are described and critically
We shall focus on his appreciation of the Doryphorus as an artistic expression of the best of Greek thought:
The Doryphorus is accepted as the
Kanon (1898: 100f.) According to Pliny,
NH 24.55 the motif uno
crure insistere was strictly Polycleitus' invention. Proportion of the body,
the commensurability of the parts was his concern. The notion of proportion is
tied up with kalo k'agathia, beauty
The essence of Greek thought, the
fear of exaggeration, the notion which the Romans trivialized as aurea
mediocritas is embodied in both Polycleitus' art and Aristotle's philosophy:
...that this perfection was dependent upon a certain moderation in the
construction of the body and depended more on the mutual relationship of the
several parts than on any extreme development of any particular part...
Aristotle (Eth. Nicom. II.5) states,
as if it was a commonplace with which one might characterize a flawless work of
art, that "neither was there something to detract from it nor anything to
add" and that "too much or too little might spoil the subject.
had been the Aristotle of plasticity and Aristotle became the Polycleitus of
ethics – however different they were with respect to method: the artist shows
how it ought to be without using words or with as few words as possible; the
philosopher justifies and expands. But in principle Aristotle did no more than
penetrate to the very centre of the Greek view of life (1898: 103).
At this point Lange has reached
the very core of his humanistic view of life. Quite extraordinarily he neglects
all written and unwritten laws of scholarly behaviour. His notion of the correct
and the best as the centre between extremes and perversions results in the
following passionate intervention in the current intellectual debate:
fact that the representation of Man in antiquity builds on this point of view
and altogether is characterized by it would hardly sway the hearts of modern
times. Since antiquity art has in general terms swung between extremes,
especially between the too slender and ascetic and the far too powerful and
abundant: it has seldom found the via media of antiquity, except when it has
used antiquity as its straightforward model. But the doctrine of the via media
is not valued highly, neither with those who adopt a Christian-Romantic nor with
a purely modern attitude to life. It matters not what one chooses to call
oneself, for nowadays there is a demand for speed which compels the sequence to
one of the extremes, and one looks disapprovingly or contemptuously on that
which composedly or even in lukewarm fashion remains standing in the centre –
(le juste milieu)
or "the noble mediocrity". Perhaps mankind owes more to the doctrine
of the via media than one is inclined to be grateful for, for even though it is
not recognized it has not, in fact, been killed altogether, and if anybody with
his life and work wishes to cast it aside, then he is hoist by his own petard
even as he stumbles over his own feet. But it has also been misinterpreted. For
the modernist it is merely being half-way, and from the Christian point of view it is an Neither/Nor,
an escape from exaggeration of any kind. Indeed, if this were true, one might
rightly ask how anybody could become passionate about an artistic ideal or a
behaviour the characteristics of which were only something negative,
which it not aim at. For then the result would not become anything other than
anxiety and Philistinism. But this would also be a completely erroneous
understanding of the intention of the Greeks, for they did not seek the middle
goal for its own sake, but because experience taught them that this constituted
the greatest positive ability to
survive and in union with it the greatest beauty: The via media was the path to
a perdurable ideal. Nor does Aristotle fail to stress explicitly that what is
good and right in any given case is something of a choice between two evils, but
that with respect to worth and perfection it is not a something in between but
the uttermost, the highest (Ethic.Nicom.
II.6.17). (1898: 104).
This discussion of and the
defence of the via media as something
positive, however, is of more than historical interest. In fact, it is as
topical now as a hundred years ago. The basis of Villy Sørensen's and others'
endeavour to establish a new platform for politics (Oprør fra midten 1978) is exactly the notion of the middle as a
is understandable enough that youth is inclined to go to extremes – and to
find the via media blocked by those who are going nowhere... In the extreme it
is easy enough to be a radical, a right wing radical, a left wing radical, –
it is more demanding to be a radical in the centre, which is the same as saying
that one goes in depth rather than to extremes. (1979: 168). Quite recently, in his discussion of
Hermann Broch (1988: 67-103) Sørensen again investigates the notion of the
middle as a platform for action and not for the commonplace notion of mediocrity.
Would not Villy Sørensen agree
with Lange when he says: When all is said
and done, is it not a good thing about an ideal that it does not depart on a
wild flight beyond reality but maintains its place on a firm foundation in the
centre? (1898: 106)?
In two public lectures given and published in 1893
Lange had the opportunity to present and discuss his plans for the arrangement
of the ground floor of the new building for The State Museum of Fine Arts. It
was devoted to The Royal Cast Collection, which formed a kind of introduction to
the National art on the first floor.
The great entrance hall furnished
the visitor with: a first impression of
the great contrasts in style with respect to the arts of the different peoples,
the different nations and the different periods... It is beautiful and charged
with feeling, and is an effective introduction. (1893: 20).
This was to be conveyed by animal
sculptures from Egypt (lions),[iv]
Assyria, India, Further India, Alhambra, Byzantium, Medieval times, later
sculptures e.g. by Canova, the Etruscan Chimaera and the boar in
From here the development in the
plastic arts could be followed either to the left or to the right. Both courses
ended up in the same rooms with the neo-classicistic art of Canova (turning left)
and Thorvaldsen (turning right).
If the visitor turned left he
could follow Kunstens store
Verdensudvikling (the great evolution in world art). It starts with Egyptian,
Babylonian, Assyrian and "Old Mexican" masterpieces, e.g. the wooden 'Scheik
el Beled' from the Old Egyptian kingdom. Then follows Ancient Greek and
Roman art, Early Christian, Italian Medieval and Renaissance art, ending up with
some Baroque and Rococo samples and the neo-classicistic period as mentioned.[v]
If the visitor turned right he
would find himself in the Nordic world of mere
barbarism. For in fact we Nordic people began with it, and we ought not to
forget that if we wish to appreciate what we have subsequently achieved.
Runic stones, idols
from the old Vendic lands, Medieval sculpture from Denmark, Sweden, and
Norway, from the brighter and more cultured Middle Ages in Germany and France.
Dutch, German and French art of the 15th and early 16th Cent., e.g. the
so-called Well of Moses in Dijon, burials from St. Denis in Paris,
French rococo, and finally Bertel Thorvaldsen.
The exhibition thus follows two
courses that meet in the neo-classicist Thorvaldsen: the Classic and the Nordic
fused in a single Danish artist. A grandiose scheme! In the present connection,
however, we shall note two features. The overall evolutionstic sequence and its
beginning with The introductory Arts
just as in Lange's The Representation of
the Human Form in the visual Arts from 1892. Moreover, most of the
sculptures listed above and in note 2 also figures as illustrations in his books
from 1892, 1898, 1899, and 1901. The cast collection forms the three-dimensional
companion to Lange's written treatises.
Unfortunately Julius Lange died
already in 1896, one year after the founding of The Royal Cast Collection and
two years before it opened to the public. From 1897 to 1914 Carl Jacobsen was
director of the collection. With his characteristic energy he greatly increased
the collection, but – also characteristically – more according to his own
ideas than Lange's. This is quite another story. Still, however, the collection
is a monument of Julius Lange's creative and engaged humanism and illustrates
his scholarly 'life work'. This does not mean that the collection is only a
monument of his thought. The statues stand there in their own right. They are
connected and related to each other and us in many ways and on many different
levels. One level is the Julius Lange dimension, that is both a testimony to
antique reception and humanism 100 years ago, and also – I believe –
something worth to contemplate on today.
Julius Lange. Breve fra hans Ungdom, Copenhagen.
“Lange, Julius”, Dansk
Biografisk Leksikon XIII (2.ed.): 571-577. Copenhagen.
“Kunstudstillingen og Afstøbningssamlingen”, in J. Lange, Billedkunst:
Billedkunstens Fremstilling af Menneskeskikkelsen i dens ældste Periode
indtil Højdepunktet af den Græske Kunst. Copenhagen. (Avec un résumé en
français: Étude sur la représentation de la figure humaine dans l'art
primitif jusqu'à l'art grec du Ve siècle av. J.-C.)
Om vore Skulptur- og Malerisamlinger, især deres fremtidige Indretning.
Billedkunstens Fremstilling af Menneskeskikkelsen i den græske Kunsts første
Storhedstid. Copenhagen. (Avec un résumé en français: Étude sur la représentation
de la figure humaine dans la première grande période de l'art grec) [German
translation: Darstellung des Menschen in
der älteren griechischen Kunst, Strasbourg 1899]
Menneskefiguren i Kunstens Historie. Fra den græske Kunsts 2den
Blomstringstid til vort Aarhundrede, Ed. P. Købke. Copenhagen. [German translation: Die menschliche Gestalt in der Geschichte der Kunst von der zweiten Blütezeit
der griechischen Kunst bis zum XIX. Jahrhundert, Strasbourg 1903]
“Til Sammenligning mellem Antik og Modern Figurstil”, 1879. Udvalgte
Skrifter 2: 1-9. Ed. G. Brandes & P. Købke. Copenhagen. [German translation: Ausgewählte Schriften 1-2. Strasbourg 1911-1912]
Poulsen, Vagn Häger
“Julius Lange”, Danmark 4
(9-10): 275-282. Copenhagen.
Sass, Else Kai
“Julius Lange”, Københavns
Universitet 1479-1979 XI: 263-274. Copenhagen.
Den gyldne middelvej og andre debatindlæg fra 70erne, Copenhagen.
Kunsten og demokratiet, Copenhagen.
“Lange, Julius, 1838-96”, Dansk
Biografisk Leksikon3 VIII: 488-494. Copenhagen.
Acta Hyperborea 2.
The Classical Heritage in Nordic Art and Architecture,
Marjatta Nielsen (red.), Museum Tusculanum Press 1990: 241-249.
Elling 1938, Poulsen 1944, Sass 1979, and Tandrup 1981 for his biography and
from Julius Lange translated by Hanne Carlsen.
underlined sculptures are contained in the collection.
from the temple of Zeus in Olympia, sculptures from the Parthenon,
Nike from Samothrace, the Berlin amazon, Eirene and Ploutos
in Munich, Niobe and her youngest daughter, portraits of Menander,
Poseidippos, Aristoteles, reliefs from the Arch of Titus in Rome,
from the pulpit of Nicola Pisano in Pisa, many sculptures by
Michelangelo from the Medici chapel, the Florence pieta, David,
Brutus, Andrea Sansovino’s group from the Florence baptisterium,
the burial monument of cardinal della Rovere in St. Maria del Popolo
in Rome, Jacopo Sansovino’s Bacchus in Florence, Gaston de Foix
by Agostino Busti, Jacopo della Quercia’s Ilaria del Caretto,
Stefano Maderno, Bernini, Canova’s Venus.
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