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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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VI. From Universalism to Nationalism: Transformations of the Vienna School’s Ideas in Central Europe


I. Art History as a State Science

First, let us enumerate the well-known facts concerning the Vienna School of Art History: on December 31, 1850, the Central Commission on the Research and Preservation of Historical Monuments (“K. k. Central-Commission für die Erforschung und Erhaltung der Baudenkmale”, since 1873 “Zentralkomission für Erforschung und Erhaltung der Kunst-und historischen Denkmale”) was established. In 1852, Rudolf von Eitelberger was appointed Extraordinary, and a little later, Ordinary Professor of Art History. On October 20, 1854, the establishment of the Institute for Austrian Historical Studies (“Institut für österreichische Geschichtsforschung”) followed. The history of art was part of the curriculum there. This was later turned into a chair and a department of art history. In 1864, a proposal by Rudolf von Eitelberger materialised as the Austrian Museum for Art and Industry (“Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie”).

It is also a fact that the institutionalisation of art history in the Habsburg Monarchy came into existence just after the defeat of the 1848 bourgeois Revolution – a fact that had very serious consequences for the nature of art history in Austria. Austrian art historical institutions did not arise as the realisation of the Enlightenment ideals. On the contrary, they were deliberately established as vehicles for political restoration. Generally speaking, their task was, on the one hand, to legitimise the restored political power of aristocracy by means of history, and on the other to contribute to the centralization of the...

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