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Owning the Past: Why the English Collected…

Owning the Past: Why the English Collected Antique Sculpture,…

by Ruth Guilding

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The very subtitle of Ruth Guilding's book promises answer to an important and basic question: Why did the English collect antique sculpture? The answer is given straightforwardly: The quest for prestige and the aim to increase one's social status (6) were the driving forces behind the acquisition of these "princely toys," (7) from the Renaissance to today. From Robert Walpole to William Weddell to Richard Worsley (to name just a few of the many protagonists discussed in this book), these collectors "were in the process of compensating for a change of status, or assimilating after one" (68). Statues, for them, were "badges of…upward mobility" (154). As for modern day collectors such as J. Paul Getty and the like (6, 329), collecting historical artefacts thus served as a means to compensate for the lack of one's own elaborate family and/or national history. Collecting is thus interpreted as a means for "annexing history" (22).
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300208197, Hardcover)

In a lively re-examination of the British collectors who bankrupted themselves to possess antique marble statues, Owning the Past chronicles a story of pride, rivalry, snobbery, and myopic obsession with posterity and possession. Analyzing the motives that drove “Marble Mania” in England from the 17th through the early 19th century, Ruth Guilding examines how the trend of collecting antique sculpture entrenches the ideals of connoisseurship and taste, exacerbates socioeconomic inequities, and serves nationalist propaganda. Even today, for the individuals or regimes that possess them, classical statuary performs as a symbol of authority or as the trophies of a “civilized” power. From Adolf Hitler posing for the press beside an ancient copy of Myron’s Discobolus to the 2002 sale of the Newby Venus for a record price of about $13 million to the Emir of Qatar, marble mania remains unabated. With insider access to private collections, Guilding writes with verve and searing insight into this absorbing fixation.

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 30 Aug 2015 17:08:22 -0400)

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