Czech, German, and Noble: Status and National Identity in Habsburg Bohemia

By Rita Krueger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
A Cultured Nation
Art, Gardens, and New Social Spaces

MEMBERS OF SCIENTIFIC and agrarian societies, in the thrall of new philosophical thinking, reflected on the condition of Bohemia and its citizens and applied science and rational thinking to open up new fields of knowledge. The participation of the aristocracy in that Enlightenmentinspired project of national reclamation represented a significant change in attitude among progressive aristocrats willing to dedicate their abilities to the betterment of Bohemia. This attitudinal change contributed to the professionalization of science and technology and fostered new work in history and linguistics. The realm of science opened up new social and rhetorical spaces that continued to emphasize ability and intellectual pursuits over status and social hierarchy. The underlying motivation for scientific activity was personal, in the sense that aristocrats like Kaspar Sternberg viewed science as a refuge and an alternate venue for socializing, and patriotic, insofar as science was a practical response to the perceived needs and problems of the Bohemian lands. For aristocrats interested in scientific advancement, scientific knowledge was a key to Bohemia’s prosperous future, to her ability to compete in practical scientific and economic terms, and to establishing her reputation in the first rank of nations. Those motivations played an important role in the shifting constellation of artistic institutions as well. Because of the increasingly pervasive rhetoric of national competition, aristocrats began to place art, like science, in the service of the national community. High culture—art, theater, gardens—was no longer simply the preserve of the elite. High culture was one more mechanism to develop the abilities of the nation, and patterns of patronage reflected this incipient concern for the

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