Portraiture and Assimilation
The Case of Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat
Catherine M. Soussloff
A mimetic regime of representation dominates painting and sculpture in Europe from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century. The genre of portraiture developed relatively late, “almost like an unexpected gift brought by a visitor no longer waited for, ” as it was put by the famous cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt in 1898. 1 If, as Burckhardt and every other twentiethcentury student of portraiture insists, this genre succeeds above all others in giving us a portrayal that resembles a historical person, where can a portrait be claimed to fail? How does a specific portrait signify a particular human being, including their social-historical context, and how does it hide aspects of the person? Does the interpretation of a portrait and its subject reflect the ambiguities of both representation and subjectivity? Does the representation of a fully assimilated or acculturated subject signal Jewish identity?
In this paper I will be interested in how the assimilated Jewish subject appears in the portraiture of early-twentieth-century Vienna. I will focus on the double portrait of Hans Tietze (1880–1954) and Erica Tietze-Conrat (1883–1958) painted by Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980) in Vienna in 1909 and today owned by the Museum of Modern Art, New York (fig. 5.1).
Useful definitions of the portrait describe the act of making a portrait, portraiture, rather than the thing. The art historian Richard Brilliant writes that it is the genre that “directly reflects the social dimension of human life as a field of actions among persons”: the artist, sitter or sitters, and viewers. 2 This occurs along an axis perpendicular to the image's frame rather than contained within it. The portrait describes subjectivity, the “who” I am, perhaps better than any genre, but this description through its very actions and in its material instantiation, invokes identity. Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen describes the ways in which subjectivity becomes identity in representation:
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Publication information: Book title: Diasporas and Exiles: Varieties of Jewish Identity. Contributors: Howard Wettstein - Editor. Publisher: University of California Press. Place of publication: Berkeley, CA. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 113.
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