PRINT September 2010

Alexander Nagel

Giotto, The Crucifixion (detail), ca. 1305, fresco, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy.

BEFORE IT WAS a record-player needle, a stylus was a tool used to write or draw. We go from stylus to style when we shift from reading these marks in a drawing as symbols and begin looking at them seismically, as traces of an activity. But even that is not enough. To say that a line must have been produced by a vigorous stroke of the hand is still a forensic, not a stylistic, observation. When we say that such a stroke indicates a fiery mood or temperament in its maker, or that it embodies an ideology of freedom, then we are talking in terms of style. If you extend this mode of interpretation further, you get to the idea that products of all kinds—shoes, say, or cathedrals—bear the mark of a community, or of a time now past. Style is “never anything but metaphor,” as Roland Barthes wrote.

The art historian Heinrich Wölfflin once said that a concept of style could be

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