The notion of artists as temperamental, neurotic, rebellious, unreliable, licentious, and downright difficult has flourished for centuries - but does historical evidence support popular images of the alienated, melancholy genius brooding in his studio? This fast-paced, broad-ranging narrative weighs the testimony of early biographies and anecdotes (including the Renaissance and baroque equivalents of tabloid news) against psychological theory and long-held assumptions about the nature of the creative personality. The result is an irresistible blend of erudite scholarship, highly entertaining stories ranging from the sublime to the scandalous, and glimpses into the artist's changing social milieu beginning with antiquity (when sculptors and painters ranked alongside common laborers) through the full emergence during the Renaissance of the individual artist as creative genius and public persona. The authors (an eminent art historian and his wife, who together synthesized a wealth of archival sources for grateful readers) use a light, engaging touch as they debunk the myth of the 'mad artist,' all the while acknowledging that 'misinterpretation is one of the great stimuli for keeping the past alive.'
An Eighth Day View:
"A rare art history classic that The New York Times calls a "delightful, scholarly and gossipy romp through the character and conduct of artists from antiquity to the French Revolution.""
"Born Under Saturn" is a classic work of scholarship written with a light and winning touch. Margot and Rudolf Wittkower explore the history of the familiar idea that artistic inspiration is a form of madness, a madness directly expressed in artists' unhappy and eccentric lives. This idea of the alienated artist, the Wittkowers demonstrate, comes into its own in the Renaissance, as part of the new bid by visual artists to distinguish themselves from craftsmen, with whom they were then lumped together. Where the skilled artisan had worked under the sign of light-fingered Mercury, the ambitious artist identified himself with the mysterious and brooding Saturn. Alienation, in effect, was a rung by which artists sought to climb the social ladder.
As to the reputed madness of artists--well, some have been as mad as hatters, some as tough-minded as the shrewdest businessmen, and many others wildly and willfully eccentric but hardly crazy. What is certain is that no book presents such a splendid compendium of information about artists' lives, from the early Renaissance to the beginning of the Romantic era, as "Born Under Satur"n. The Wittkowers have read everything and have countless anecdotes to relate: about artists famous and infamous; about suicide, celibacy, wantonness, weird hobbies, and whatnot. These make "Born Under Saturn" a comprehensive, quirky, and endlessly diverting resource for students of history and lovers of the arts.
""This book is fascinating to read because of the abundant quotations which bring to life so many remarkable "
" individuals."-"The New York Review of Books