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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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V. In Defence of Liberal “Humanism”: Gombrich’s Struggle against Metaphysics



“The greatest compliment to be paid to Gombrich would be to treat his theories with the seriousness which they deserve, and to examine their ideological and philosophical basis.”

Stephen Bann*

“Hypostatized Collective Personalities”

In the German art historical journal Kritische Berichte (1937), the twenty-eight years old Ernst Gombrich, who had already immigrated to London, reviewed Ernst von Garger’s essay “Über die Wertungsschwierigkeiten bei mittelalterlicher Kunst”.1 Max Dvořák’s disciple Ernst von Garger had referred to Alois Riegl’s theory of “Kunstwollen” in order to improve its vague distinction between “intention” and “achievement” (“Wollen” and “Können”). He proposed to estimate the value of a medieval work of art by comparing its original intention and final achievement. But Garger’s solution was resolutely rejected by the young Gombrich. He argued that Garger’s idea of medieval art understood in terms of intention was in principle wrong.

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