The Role of the Vienna School in Shaping Central European Approaches to Art History and Related Discourses
II. The Depth of the Historicity of Art and Walter Benjamin
Benjamin and “Will of Art” (Walter Benjamin and Alois Riegl)
The close relationship of Walter Benjamin to the Vienna School of Art History, and especially to Alois Riegl, is well known.1 According to the testimony of Werner Kraft, Benjamin got already to know Riegl’s epoch making work, Spätrömische Kunstindustrie (The Late Roman Art Industry, 1901) during his university studies in the period 1916 – 1919.2 Michael Jennings found confirmation of this in the expressions which Benjamin took from Riegl and used in his early essays “Über das Mittelalter” (On the Middle Ages) and “Die Bedeutung der Sprache im Trauerspiel and Tragödie” (The Meaning of Language in Tragic Drama).3 Perhaps the article “Bücher, die lebendig geblieben sind” (Books That Have Remained Alive, published in Literarische Welt in 1929) testifies most eloquently to the deep respect Benjamin felt for Riegl.4 In it, Benjamin mentioned The Late Roman Art Industry among four permanently inspiring books. The others were Georg Lukács’s Marxist work Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein (History and Class Consciousness, 1923), Franz Rosenzweig’s book Stern der Erlösung (Star of Salvation, 1911) on Jewish theology ← 41 | 42 → and Alfred G. Meyers’ analysis of the architecture and technology of the 19th century, Eisenbauten (Iron Buildings,1907). However, Benjamin expressed his view of Riegl and the Viennnese School in most detail, in the essay “Strenge Kunstwissenschaft” (The Rigorous Study of Art),5 the first version of which was published in the Frankfurter Zeitung on 30th July 1933.6...
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