Civilizing rituals : inside public art museums by Carol Duncan

By Carol Duncan

The paintings museum as ritual -- From the princely gallery to the general public paintings museum: the Louvre Museum and the nationwide Gallery, London -- Public areas, deepest pursuits: municipal paintings museums in long island and Chicago -- anything everlasting: the Donor Memorial -- the fashionable artwork museum: it is a man's global

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As Iain Pears has argued, art collecting, by providing a unifying cultural field, helped the upper ranks of English society form a common class identity. 36 To modern eyes, the social and political space of an eighteenth-century English art collection falls somewhere between the public and private realms. Our notion of the “public” dates from a later time, when, almost everywhere in the West, the advent of bourgeois democracy opened up the category of citizenship to ever broader segments of the population and redefined the realm of the public as ever more accessible and inclusive.

At the threshold of history there stand the mother civilizations: Egyptian, Sumerian, Aegean. Then, coming down through Athens, Rome, Byzantium, towards the first centuries of our Christian era, there are the full blossomings of Medieval, Renaissance and Modern art. 28 The museum’s commitment to lead visitors through the course of western civilization continues to this day, even though a new entrance, new access routes and a major reinstallation allow visitors to map their own paths through a somewhat revised history of art.

In short, the museum organized its collections into arthistorical schools and installed them so as to make visible the development and achievement of each school. Certainly, it did not effect this change overnight. 8 Probably the most fashionable way of hanging a collection in the later eighteenth century was what might be called the connoisseur’s or gentlemanly hang. This installation model was practiced internationally and corresponded rather precisely to the art education of European aristocrats.

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