Średniowieczna sztuka koncepcyjna a teoria sztuki Dantego Alighieri


Jacek Dębicki
AGH Akademia Górniczo-Hutnicza


If we want to use the word art or artist in relation to medieval cultural artifacts, we immediately encounter serious difficulties. That is because if ars is to be understood in accordance with classical aesthetics (Edgar de Bruyne, Władysław Tatarkiewicz, Rosario Assunto, Umberto Eco), presenting the interpretation of ars (the artistic interpretation) as a craft skill, then it should be immediately noted that we do not have (not only us) the right term in Polish, corresponding to the scope of the term ars, as well as to the scope of the term artifex, which has two fundamentally different meanings in Latin. Historians of aesthetics are, of course, familiar with the medieval division of ars into its theoretical part and its practical (implementation) part. However, they classify the practical part of ars among the mechanical arts and, like the above-mentioned scholars and the whole galaxy of others, in the next sentence they describe the mechanical part of the ars in such a way as if this part corresponded to the entire spectrum of the work of art, which means that its theoretical and conceptual part would arise within the artes mechanicae. This abstract theory of art, applied within the practical considerations of medieval art, has no subject-rooted validity in medieval science, including metaphysics, and especially in epistemology, in the theory of artes liberales et artes mechanicae, nor in the Neoplatonic theological systems and the resulting currents of Christian Neoplatonic philosophy, and in the theology and philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. As the author of the present paper has proved, a discussed theory of art was consistently maintained in the Middle Ages. Thus, in order to present Dante Alighieri’s theory of art against the background of the medieval theory of art, the author had to define all such concepts, define their extension, to show the culmination of the medieval discussion on artes contained in Thomas’s account: ratio-factibile (ars est recta ratio factibilium). In the treatise of Dominic Gundissalinus, which has been subjected to in-depth analysis, these difficulties find their solution. Particularly important in his lecture is the fact that he very clearly distinguished the concept of a given ars from the implementation of this concept. Already in the light of this treatise alone, it becomes obvious that classical aesthetic theories of art, suggesting that the medieval intellectual elites considered the arts (artistic domains) to be a craft activity, should not be given credence. Medieval art theorists consistently emphasized the idea that each art consisted of the theory and implementation of this theory, and both of these activities — represented today by one artist -were located in two completely separate areas, namely in the area of theoretical sciences and in the area of mechanical sciences (Hugo of St. Victor). The philosopher was responsible for the theoretical part of the work, and the artifex practice (craftsman) dealt with the practical implementation of the concept not created by him. An analysis of medieval literary sources has shown that this theory was consistently maintained throughout the Middle Ages, and the claims that the arts belong to artes mechanicae should be considered a scientific manipulation committed by Edgar de Bruyne, who added to Hugo of St. Victor’s Treatise Didascalicon the theses that were not present there.

Historians of philosophy, historians of aesthetics, as well as historians of culture, and also art historians following them, until this day have been repeating that in the Middle Ages arts were considered to be a craft activity. My analyses of medieval literary sources, in which such problems were addressed, the analyses of the most famous and most representative medieval theories of art not only do not confirm this state of affairs, but also provide a scientifically solid basis for proposing a new theory of medieval art, which, after all, has its subject-roots both in the theoretical considerations conducted at that time, and in their practical implementation, that is, in medieval works of art. As I have shown above, the theories of art put in practice during this epoch, as evidenced by all the sentences and extensive theoretical studies developed during this period, were undoubtedly of a highly conceptual nature, because that was particularly desirable in the era when religious culture was created from scratch. How, in that situation, art, which represented such a huge cultural potential, being at the same time an extension of theological and philosophical discourse, and only secondarily images — signs designed for the illiterati, could be part of a poiesis area of human activity, one can neither imagine, nor understand and explain. The idea of conceptual art is broader in its scope than the idea of symbolic art which defines the artistic representation of the Middle Ages, because it covers the entire spectrum of the creative process, explaining the relationship between the image, its mimetic or amimetic pattern, which, as in the case of medieval art, is not the world of real objects, but the idea in the creator’s mind. The image — sign, a symbol that is understood as a representation of something else, describes only fragmentarily the complex processes of artistic nature. It would not be out of place to mention here that the medieval theories of conceptual art that I have discussed in the paper are not autonomous statements possessing but an aesthetic nature, but are clearly determined by theological doctrines that are important and relevant in the general structures of knowledge. In many places in his treatises, St. Thomas Aquinas also speaks clearly of conceptual art, without, however, using the term.

Speaking about linqua latina, Dante Alighieri consistently upheld the theory of artium which was dominant in the Middle Ages, the ratio of which belonged to the theoretical area, and administratio (factibile) — to the practical area. As he argued, the Latin language was created by grammarians, and its use did not affect the structure of this language showing a highly fossilized character, therefore not subject to any modification and correction resulting from practical use of this language. The interpretation of the volgare language proposed by the Italian poet is a new proposal for a theoretical approach to artium, because the practical implementation of a given ars is also attributed theory-creating properties, since communication and linguistic practice have a significant impact on the grammatical structure, phonetics and function of language. According to Dante, volgare makes it possible to express the most subtle thoughts and feelings, which, as he emphasized, is not actually possible with the help of the Latin language. The author of The Banquet, far from depriving philosophy of its theoretical domination, clearly outlined the importance of the pragmatic element of a given art, which in the light of his theory cannot be reduced only to compliance with the principles, rules and regulations developed by theoreticians of individual artium. Dante Alighieri used two theories of artium, the old and the new ones, which he himself created, in order to emphasize the theory-creating and cognitive character of artistic practice. At this point, the author of The Comedy goes beyond the previous understanding of artium, starting a slow and tedious process of merging the theory and the implementation of a work of art into one creative act.

Dante Alighieri used a conceptual theory of art taken from the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, but in order to highlight the creative significance of vernacular language, he gave it limited but important creative possibilities. In his opinion, that language could better express human expression than Latin, which, as he wrote, is a fossilized and artificial grammatical creation. This modification of the classical conceptual theory of art (ratio-factibile), referring only to poetry, clearly raised the rank of the creative-artistic part of the work of art.



27 November 2023


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