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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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VII. The Revision of a Bourgeois Idea: From a National to a Dynastic History of Art


Hegemonic Nationalism and the Centre-Periphery Problem

The nationalist paradigm of the history of art, which sees the history of styles as the expression of “national characteristics” and which dominated continental art history in the 1930s and 1940s, was a hegemonic rather than a pluralist (“Herderian”) theory. Competition between nations was regarded as a struggle for superiority and dominance. It was Émile Mâle who had already, in 1914, articulated the idea of the inferiority of German art in comparison with that of France or Italy, which filled the whole German art historical community with indignation.1 On the other hand, this “inferiority complex” functioned as a catalyst in German art history. In 1913, Kurt Gerstenberg published a book on a specific German version of the Gothic style, Deutsche Sondergotik;2 and Georg Dehio in his Geschichte der deutschen Kunst; articu lated not only the patriotic credo that the German nation is the true “hero” of the history of German art3 but also responded to the humiliation ← 148 | 149 → with a conception of German art as an active mediator between West and East, transmitting Western models to the Slavic nations,4 and in 1932, Heinrich Wölfflin built up the theory of two different but equal “feelings for form” – Italian and German – in his Italien und das deutsche Formgefühl.5German response culminated in Wilhelm Pinder’s theory of centre and periphery.6 Pinder’s theory consisted of two components: the “Sonderleistungen” (“special achievements”) and “Ausstrahlungen” (“radiations”) of German art. The first...

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