LOS ANGELES—In the 1790s and early 1800s, the art world experienced two big events: First came the military confiscation of masterpieces from Italy and northern Europe in order to build a universal museum in Paris’s Louvre. Then famous marble sculptures were prised from the Parthenon and sent to London. These events provoked reactions ranging from enthusiastic applause to enraged condemnation. Letters to Miranda and Canova on the Abduction of Antiquities from Rome and Athens (Getty Publications, $50.00, paperback) provides the first English translation of two pamphlets written by Quatremère de Quincy in which he expresses seemingly contradictory reactions to the two events.
French art critic, architectural theoretician, and political conservative Quatremère was at the center of the European debates. In his pamphlet Letters to Miranda, he condemns the revolutionary hubris of putting “Rome in Paris” and urges the return of the works. In Letters to Canova, however, he celebrates the British Museum for making the Parthenon sculptures accessible.
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