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Discourses and Strategies

The Role of the Vienna School in Shaping Central European Approaches to Art History and Related Discourses


Ján Bakos

This book consists of essays on the Vienna School’s impact on Central European art history, Walter Benjamin’s move from transhistoricism to historical relativism, Jacob Burckhardt’s legacy and its metamorphoses, two competing conceptions of the social history of art, and Ernst Gombrich’s life long struggle against metaphysics. All share a common denominator: concern with the trajectories of art historical ideas and their ideological instrumentality. However, the author’s aim in analysing the premises and intentions of art historical discourse is not to undermine the credibility of art history by reducing it to total epistemological relativism. The historiography of art historical theories and critical reflection on their ideological background is understood by the author as an auxiliary art historical subdiscipline.
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I. “Humanists” versus “Relativists”: Methodological Visions and Revisions within the Vienna School


The Common Denominator

Irrespective of whether the Vienna School can be regarded as a dialectical system within a bipolar structure or as a merely pluralistic succession of methodological discourses,1 and despite all the deep differences concerning the nature of art, the historical process and art historical research, there were at least three common characteristics shared by all art historians trained at Vienna University from Moritz Thausing to Ernst H. Gombrich. They are as follows: 1. the idea of art history as a science; 2. the notion of the historical basis of art history, and 3. belief in the method as a methodological credo or doctrine.2

Summary or a Foreshadowing of Revisions to Orthodoxy?

It is well known that Hans Tietze, in his Methode der Kunstgeschichte, published in 1913, attempted to summarize the basic principles of the ← 11 | 12 → evolutionist methodological project developed by Franz Wickhoff and Alois Riegl and articulated explicitly by Max Dvořák.3 In “Das Rätsel der Kunst der Brüder van Eyck” (published in 1903),4 Dvořák had expressed the credo of a “genetic approach” as follows: “… die moderne Wissenschaft hat uns gelehrt... die Tatsachen in einzelne... Kausalverbindung zwingende Entwicklungsketten umzusetzen. Unter dem Einflusse der exakten Forschungsmethoden haben wir... gelernt... eine Tatsache nie als eine vereinzelte Erscheinung, sondern stets als ein Glied in einer bestimmten Aufeinanderfolge von Tatsachen derselben oder verwandten Art zu betrachten.”5 In Tietze’s reconstruction of the genetic method of the Vienna School,...

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