Grand Manner

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Term applied to the lofty and rhetorical manner of history painting that in academic theory was considered appropriate to the most serious and elevated subjects. The classic exposition of its doctrines is found in Reynolds's Third and Fourth Discourses (1770 and 1771), where he asserts that ‘the gusto grande of the Italians, the beau idéal of the French, and the great style, genius, and taste among the English, are but different appellations of the same thing’. Cecil Gould (An Introduction to Italian Renaissance Painting, 1957) rightly points out that ‘the Grand Manner is an attitude rather than a style’ and goes on to give a lucid exposition of some of its characteristics. ‘The general aim is to transcend Nature…The Subject itself must be on an elevated and elevating plane…Similarly, the individual figures in such a scene must be shown purged of the grosser elements of ordinary existence…Landscape backgrounds or ornamental detail must be reduced to a minimum and individual peculiarities of human physiognomy absolutely eliminated. Draperies should be simple, but ample and noble, and fashionable contemporary costume absolutely shunned. Alternatively, the figures should be nude.’ The idea of the Grand Manner took shape in 17th-century Italy, notably in the writings of Bellori. His friend Poussin and the great Bolognese painters of the 17th century were regarded as outstanding exponents of the Grand Manner, but the greatest of all was held to be Raphael.

Subjects: Art.

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