Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

From Ringbom to Ringbom: The Art of Art History of Lars-Ivar Ringbom and Sixten Ringbom: A Mythmaker and a Myth-Breaker in ÅBo, Finland

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

From Ringbom to Ringbom: The Art of Art History of Lars-Ivar Ringbom and Sixten Ringbom: A Mythmaker and a Myth-Breaker in ÅBo, Finland

Article excerpt

In 1935 Ludwig Klages, a renowned German graphologist and a Seelenforscher1 made a lecture tour in the Scandinavian countries. During this trip he visited the Finnish city of Abo, where he met for the first time Lars-Ivar Ringbom, art historian and docent at the Abo Akademi University.2 Ringbom showed him around the city. Later, Klages remembered the visit with warmth.3 Over three decades later, in September 1969, E.H. Gombrich, the director of Warburg Institute, visited the same city. This time the host was the art historian Sixten Ringbom, who was soon going to succeed his father, Lars-Ivar Ringbom, as professor at the Abo Akademi University. In a letter from the same year, Gombrich thanks his host for the lovely time he spent in Finland.4

I find the image of these two visits very intriguing. The father, Lars-Ivar Ringbom, found his mentor in Ludwig Klages, whereas the son, Sixten Ringbom, in Ernst Gombrich. During the thirty four years between the two visits, a profound transformation had indeed happened in the epistemological foundations of art history - at least in the Abo Akademi University. Ludwig Klages is often introduced as an advocate of irrationalism, speculative metaphysics, anti-Semitism and as a precursor of National Socialism; Gombrich as a proponent and an ardent defender of rationalism. The choice of theme of their lectures is telling: Klages reveals in his letter to Lars-Ivar Ringbom that he would have rather talked about (most likely his own metaphysical) Weltanschauung instead of lecturing on graphology.5 As for Ernst Gombrich, he gave a lecture entitled 'Sleep of Reason'. Klages believed in the truth of the myth (and image), whereas Gombrich tried constantly to dissect myth from history. The polarity of rationalism and irrationalism is a common denominator that unites these two thinkers, but the valorisation is completely different. For Klages, irrationalism was a great power which could not be suppressed without causing great damage to human life; Gombrich connected irrationalism with the set of ideas that led to Nazi thinking. Klages sought after passive, 'pure seeing', for Gombrich, there could not exist any 'innocent eye'. For Klages, the knowledge of the reality was attained by the 'soul' of Innermensch, not by reason. Even the use of language was completely different: Klages wrote German with pathos-laden, labyrinth-like style - everybody is familiar with Gombrich's witty and piercing English. The list of differences between these two scholars is long.

My intention in this essay is to look closer to this 'image'. I will first present shortly Lars-Ivar Ringbom and Sixten Ringbom, who are maybe unknown scholars to most of the readers. In the rest of my essay, I will concentrate on the impact that Ludwig Klages had on Lars-Ivar Ringbom, which means that my narrative will bring more out the 'irrational' side of the latter's thinking. In my opinion, Sixten Ringbom's thinking not only grew out of this matrix but also against it. I have in my article 'Ringbom on Kandinsky. The contested roots of modern art',6 already dealt with the tension that I find in Sixten Ringbom's writings between the metaphysical and irrational character of the artworks and art theories he was interested in, and the Anglo-Saxon positivistic approach to those problems. In that article I did not take into account Lars-Ivar Ringbom at all. This article will complement the picture from a somewhat other perspective.

Lars-Ivar Ringbom

In the beginning of the 1920s, Lars-Ivar Ringbom (1901-1971) had studied art in Germany and Austria.7 He was also a member of Swedish-speaking modernists in Finland, a loose group of writers, visual artists and scholars who wrote to a journal called Quosego. These modernists emphasized vitalism and the importance of a close relationship between nature, life and art. Many of the members of this group shared an interest in questions of visual perception. In the beginning of 1920, Lars-Ivar Ringbom also studied art history under J. …

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