The notion of retrieving a bit of the past-by owning a material
piece of it-has always appealed to humans. Often our most prized
possessions are those that have had a long history before they came
into our hands. Part of the pleasure we gain from the encounter
with antiques stems from the palpable age and the assumed
(sometimes imaginary) cultural resonances of the particular object.
But precisely what is it about these objects that creates this
attraction? What common characteristics do they share and why and
how do these traits affect us as they do?
In Antiques: The History of an Idea, Leon Rosenstein, a
distinguished philosopher who has also been an antiques dealer for
more than twenty years, offers a sweeping and lively account of the
origin and development of the antique as both a cultural concept
and an aesthetic category. He shows that the appeal of antiques is
multifaceted: it concerns their value as commodities, their age and
historical and cultural associations, their uniqueness, their
sensuous and tactile values, their beauty. Exploring how the idea
of antiques evolved over time, Rosenstein chronicles the history of
antique collecting and connoisseurship. He describes changing
conceptions of the past in different epochs as evidenced by
preservations, restorations, and renascences; examines shifting
attitudes toward foreign cultures as revealed in stylistic
borrowings and the importation of artifacts; and investigates
varying understandings of and meanings assigned to their traits and
functions as historical objects.
While relying on the past for his evidence, Rosenstein
approaches antiques from an entirely original perspective, setting
history within a philosophical framework. He begins by providing a
working definition of antiques that distinguishes them from other
artifacts in general and, more distinctly, both from works of fine
art and from the collectible detritus of popular culture. He then
establishes a novel set of criteria for determining when an
artifact is an antique: ten traits that an object must possess in
order to elicit the aesthetic response that is unique to antiques.
Concluding with a provocative discussion of the relation between
antiques and civilization, this engaging and thought-provoking book
helps explain the enduring appeal of owning a piece of the
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