Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Continuity and Discontinuity in the Czech Legacy of the Vienna School of Art History

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Continuity and Discontinuity in the Czech Legacy of the Vienna School of Art History

Article excerpt

Although the history of Czech art historiography may seem for some a matter of merely local interest, it has considerable wider international relevance, for it represents a rather close following of the Vienna School. As such, its workings can shed light on the character of the Viennese tradition itself. Admittedly, many studies of the topic written by Czech scholars are not exactly self-reflexive.1 Indeed, there is an indigenous discourse that offers little more than a legitimizing genealogy of leading Czech art historians in a direct teacher-to-pupil line of succession starting with Max Dvorák. The Czech scene rests assured that this genealogy comfortingly solves the topic of methodological continuity and discontinuity, but recently a new interest has been initiated from abroad. On the invitation of Matthew Rampley I spoke at a conference in London (2009) which was devoted to art historiography that stemmed from Vienna but was written in languages other than German.2 My paper originally questioned the relationship between the Czech art historical tradition and its Viennese source This article develops the talk given there, while its sequel concerning Czech Marxist art historiography after the Second World War was published in this journal last year.4

The main source of information on the history of Czech participation in the Vienna School of art history, accessible to an international readership, was, until recently, an article by Hugo Rokyta published in Austria in 1974.5 It reveals quite unambiguously the superior status attached to Max Dvorák in Czech art history. Rokyta describes Dvorák's relationship with his teacher Wickhoff as similar to that of a relationship between father and son. The family paradigm continued at a metaphorical level in the rhetoric used to describe the relationship between Dvorák and his assistant of one year, Antonín Matëjcek (1889-1950), again in terms of father and son.6 Matëjcek was one of the most influential Czech art historians between the wars and until his death in 1950; he became professor of art history at Prague University in 1930 and served as the Dean of the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University during the controversial Second Czechoslovak Republic (which covered the period between the Munich Agreement in autumn 1938 and the occupation of the rest of the country by the Nazis in spring 1939). After the Communist takeover in 1948, Matëjcek joined the Communist Party and in addition to teaching he worked on the legislation that would adapt the artistic and cultural life of the country to the new Stalinist rules.7 Only his premature death saved him from more open engagement with the totalitarian practices of the new political regime. Metaphors aside, Matëjcek's daughter married the art historian Jaroslav Pesina (1912-1992), who became a literal heir not only to the scholarly projects of his father-in-law but also to his prominent position with both the art historical institute at Prague University and at the newly founded Academy of Sciences in Prague.

This 'genealogical' continuation of the Vienna School in the art historical system of the new Czechoslovak Republic (or, to be more precise, in the dominant Czech part of it, as in Slovakia an art historical system and tradition only developed after 1918) seems to be completely natural in retrospect. Generally speaking, the ties between Czech culture and the capital in Vienna before the dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918 were deep, strong and decisive. In spite of the period rhetoric to the contrary, the dominance of what in political economy is called path dependency, can be clearly recognized after the creation of the Czechoslovak Republic: the structures of political, social and intellectual life tended to continue rather than to be severed. Among the personae of the Vienna School it was not only Max Dvorák who was born in what was to become Czechoslovakia; one can also mention Rudolf Eitelberger (born in Olomouc, Moravia), Moriz Thausing (born in Cizkovice in Bohemia), Karl Maria Swoboda (Prague-born) and Hans Tietze (also originally from Prague), alongside such other better known examples as Sigmund Freud, Edmund Husserl or Josef A. …

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