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Discourses and Strategies

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

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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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II. The Depth of the Historicity of Art and Walter Benjamin

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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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