w h at t h e p u b l i c a rt m u s e u m m i g h t b e c o m e
The whole form and tenor of philosophical thought in the West was
determined, once and for all, by the fact that its initiating—and
finest—texts were dialogues.—a rt h u r d a n t o
Brilliantly imaginative popular novels by the science fiction writer Ha
Turtledove, a former medieval historian, describe alternative worlds.
imagines what might have happened had the South won the Ameri
Civil War or Constantinople not fallen to the Muslims. Much can
learned about real history from such speculation. Imagine a Parisian cr
circa June 1789 who, rightly suspecting that vast political changes
soon coming, envisages future museums. Reading the Enlightenm
literature, anticipating democracy, she expects mass literacy to dest
the old regime. Inspired by Jacques-Louis David’s recent pictures sho
in the Salon Carré, she imagines open political debates invoking c
temporary art. Future painters might, she thinks, directly challenge o
cial policy. She envisages political art advocating the abolition of slav
democratic elections, and women’s rights.
Under the inspiration of the salon, this Frenchwoman constructs a p
scient theory nicely relevant to our posthistorical art museums. She t
anticipates the analysis of Thomas Crow, who convincingly argues t
although the esoteric subjects of David’s Oath of the Horatii (1785)
The Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons (1789) (fig. 22)
from Roman history, these were political works of art referring to c
temporary life. Crow writes: ‘‘A large public had been conditioned
to see in the history of early Rome metaphors for contemporary po
cal conflicts. . . . But it should be clear by now that it would be a m
take to see the possible political significance of the Horatii as ending
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