Dignity and decadence : Victorian art and the classical inheritance /
Richard Jenkyns.
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1992.
xviii, 363 p. : ill.
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Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1992.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 341-350) and index.
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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 1992-11:
This volume complements Jenkyns's The Victorians and Ancient Greece (CH, Jan'81) which, while alluding to the visual arts, deals mainly with the influence of Hellenic literature on late 19th century Britain. Here the subject is more the impact of Greek (and Roman) architecture and sculpture on Victorian architecture, sculpture, painting, and aesthetics, as well as, incidentally, on contemporary Continental and American developments. Jenkyns's view is panoramic, and his style, favoring litotes, is that of an erudite, opinionated, and occasionally supercilious observer. Pugin (the Gothicist), Ruskin, Leighton, Alma-Tadema, and Waterhouse are among the many Victorians treated in this eclectic study. One trivial aspect of the book is exasperating: careless proofreading: otherwise the book is a pleasure. Together with The Victorians and Ancient Greece and Frank M. Turner's The Greek Heritage in Victorian Britain (1981; for Greek influence on Victorian intellectual life), Dignity and Decadence belongs in traditional academic libraries, where faculty, graduate students, and students of Western culture should find it both entertaining reading and a valuable resource. D. Rutenberg; University of South Florida
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Choice, November 1992
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Unpaid Annotation
The starting point for Richard Jenkyns's latest work is his contention that the Victorian age, which we think of as the great age of Gothic, was so shot through with the influence of the classical past that we should instead think of Victorian art and architecture as the continuing flow forward of two stylistic streams--the Gothic and the classical, side by side. In advancing his argument Jenkyns turns our accepted notions of the Victorians upside down, presenting Ruskin as an admirer of Greek statuary, the Houses of Parliament as a classical rather than a Gothic composition, and Thomas Woolner, the only sculptor among the original Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, as a neo-Hellenic carver and poet. Jenkyns moves effortlessly between the general and the particular and is refreshingly unafraid to make judgments. Here are some of the best descriptions of Victorian painting, sculpture, and architecture to have appeared in recent years. From the very gradual changes throughout the paintings of Leighton andAlma-Tadema, to the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, the 'aesthetic scripture' of Pater, and even the advertisements for Beecham's pills, Jenkyns shows how what had been merely eclectic became a distinctive fin-de-siecle style and eventually began to point the way for Modernism. These are grand themes, presented by a masterly guide. Above all Jenkyns is entertaining: Dignity and Decadence is one of the most illuminating and enjoyable books about the Victorians yet to appear.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
The Victorian Settingp. 1
The Architectural Inheritancep. 40
The Idea of Sculpturep. 87
The Awkward Artp. 87
Pygmalionp. 115
Ruskin's Dilemmap. 143
Ruskin Agonistesp. 143
A Walk in the West Countryp. 163
Hellene High Waterp. 192
The Aesthetic Moodp. 251
The Tone of the Timep. 291
Notesp. 341
Photographic Creditsp. 349
Indexp. 351
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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