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Inventing falsehood, making truth: Vico and Neapolitan painting (2013)

by Malcolm Bull

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"Can painting transform philosophy? In Inventing Falsehood, Making Truth, Malcolm Bull looks at Neapolitan art around 1700 through the eyes of the philosopher Giambattista Vico. Surrounded by extravagant examples of late Baroque painting by artists like Luca Giordano and Francesco Solimena, Vico concluded that human truth was a product of the imagination. Truth was not something that could be observed: instead, it was something made in the way that paintings were made--through the exercise of fantasy.Juxtaposing paintings and texts, Bull presents the masterpieces of late Baroque painting in early eighteenth-century Naples from an entirely new perspective. Revealing the close connections between the arguments of the philosophers and the arguments of the painters, he shows how Vico drew on both in his influential philosophy of history, The New Science. Bull suggests that painting can serve not just as an illustration for philosophical arguments, but also as the model for them--that painting itself has sometimes been a form of epistemological experiment, and that, perhaps surprisingly, the Neapolitan Baroque may have been one of the routes through which modern consciousness was formed"--… (more)

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Although serious and fascinating, this book is much too short to deliver on its promise of uncovering the ways in which art can be considered a form of epistemology. The thesis is an urgent one at a time when the art market and increasingly the broader society see art more and more exclusively in terms of investment, luxury, and soporific self-expression. Bull disputes the implicit claim in much art history that artists somehow imbibe philosophy--even those known to have never picked up a philosophy book--and then attempt to represent its ideas in their work. Bull instead makes a claim for a more complex process in which art itself helps create the conditions for knowledge and mutual understanding. His thesis works around Giambattista Vico's articulation of the difference between divine and human knowledge and the paintings of several Neapolitan baroque painters, especially Francesco Solimena and Luca Giordano. It's a difficult argument but well worth the effort of exploration. If only Bull had let the ideas germinate further, this could have been a quite astounding book of deep insight. Instead, it's more of an introductory lecture in book form. But there's enough here for future work to build upon.
  pranogajec | Apr 18, 2014 |
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"Can painting transform philosophy? In Inventing Falsehood, Making Truth, Malcolm Bull looks at Neapolitan art around 1700 through the eyes of the philosopher Giambattista Vico. Surrounded by extravagant examples of late Baroque painting by artists like Luca Giordano and Francesco Solimena, Vico concluded that human truth was a product of the imagination. Truth was not something that could be observed: instead, it was something made in the way that paintings were made--through the exercise of fantasy.Juxtaposing paintings and texts, Bull presents the masterpieces of late Baroque painting in early eighteenth-century Naples from an entirely new perspective. Revealing the close connections between the arguments of the philosophers and the arguments of the painters, he shows how Vico drew on both in his influential philosophy of history, The New Science. Bull suggests that painting can serve not just as an illustration for philosophical arguments, but also as the model for them--that painting itself has sometimes been a form of epistemological experiment, and that, perhaps surprisingly, the Neapolitan Baroque may have been one of the routes through which modern consciousness was formed"--

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