Notes on mechanical reproducibility of artworks with regard to Baudelaire and Benjamin  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In the following excerpt, quoted from the Charles Baudelaire's 1863 The Painter of Modern Life, Baudelaire comments on the fact that works of art have lost their aura (a term not used by Baudealaire but borrowed here from Walter Benjamin) because of the technique of engraving. In the era of Baudelaire, for the first time in history on such a scale, engraving allowed images of works of art to be mass-popularized in posters and postcards. Baudelaire's essay foreshadows Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

It is precisely this mass-reproducibility of works of art, in two-dimensional (postcards of the Mona Lisa) as well as three-dimensional forms (plastic statues of the Venus de Milo), which has given birth to the concept of kitsch.

Il y a dans le monde, et même dans le monde des artistes, des gens qui vont au musée du Louvre, passent rapidement, et sans leur accorder un regard, devant une foule de tableaux très intéressants, quoique de second ordre, et se plantent rêveurs devant un Titien ou un Raphaël, un de ceux que la gravure a le plus popularisés; puis sortent satisfaits, plus d'un se disant: "Je connais mon musée."

English translation:

“The world—and even the world of artists—is full of people who can go to the Louvre, walk rapidly, without so much as a glance, past rows of very interesting, though secondary, pictures, to come to a rapturous halt in front of a Titian or Raphael—one of those that would have been most popularized by the engraver’s art; then they will go home happy, not a few saying to themselves, ‘I know my Museum.‘” tr. Jonathan Mayne

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