Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Marian Sokolowski: Patriotism and the Genesis of Scientific Art History in Poland1

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Marian Sokolowski: Patriotism and the Genesis of Scientific Art History in Poland1

Article excerpt

Introduction

Marian Sokolowski, born in 1839, was the first occupant of the chair of art history at the University of Cracow,1882, a position to which he was appointed in 1882 four years after he was awarded his habilitation.2 From his early studies of the medieval ruins of Ostrów Lednicki and his work on the painter Hans Suess of Kulmbach onwards, he created a model of art historical scholarship - which he described as 'the presentation of art history as cultural history' - that played a central role in the establishment of art history as a scientific discipline in Cracow.3

It is sometimes hard to grasp the range of Sokolowski's activity. Appointed private docent at the Jagiellonian University from 1878, he continued teaching until his death in 1911, creating a 'scientific apparatus' for the teaching of art history. This apparatus even included the form of the building that housed it, for Sokolowski was responsible for the internal layout and organisation of the collegium novum of the Jagiellonian University, where art history was taught.4 Sokolowski also served as director of the Princes Czartoryski Museum and was responsible for its enlargement, the arrangement of its collection, and the initiation of a scientific inventory.5 In addition, he was an active member of the National Museum Committee in Cracow and was one of those who determined its initial form. He was also a member, and eventually chairman of, the art historical commission of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the chairman of the Circle of Conservators of Western Galicia. In addition to these, his main fields of activity, he was actively engaged with contemporary artistic movements in Cracow through exhibition and conservation work.6

Most importantly, perhaps, as the author of many scholarly publications as well as popular reviews and public lectures, Sokolowski defined the paradigm in which art historians in Cracow worked. Robert Nelson has argued that 'what is often forgotten [are] the deepest structures' and 'the taxonomy into which we fitted [...] our research [...]' because 'we worked contentedly within a paradigm, seldom questioning its borders'.7 It is precisely these 'forgotten structures' and 'borders' of art history in Cracow that Sokolowski was instrumental in setting up. It is for this reason that he is such a significant historical figure, all the more so given that they endured for a long time. Yet for many years in Poland, the studies and achievements of Sokolowski were put on the archival shelf. Although known as the father of Polish Art History, his vast oeuvre was forgotten. As Matthew Rampley has noted, there is a correspondence between his interests and those of Rudolf von Eitelberger, and there are other parallels, too.8 Rampley notes that Eitelberger was for a long time eclipsed in the historical record by Riegl, whose work displayed apparently greater affinities to the concerns of contemporary art history. In Poland a similar phenomenon could be noticed whereby Sokolowski was a marginal figure. In the 1980s and 1990s the most popular question in the history of art history was whether the beginnings of Polish art history could be connected to the Vienna School of art history. This attitude was due to the overwhelming conviction that art history only became an academic discipline following the emergence of a concern with categories of formal analysis and the history of style.9 This reflects a broader phenomenon; as Johannes Rössler has observed, a tradition has grown up that has traced the existence of art history back to the epistemic breakthrough of the years around 1900, but which has forgotten the significance of those who created its rudimentary identity in the previous century.10

The approach that defined RiegTs model as 'modern' was accompanied by a deprecation of earlier models, and researchers in Poland, determined to demonstrate the 'modernity' of their discipline and its connection to 'pure science', were anxious to connect the early phases of Polish art history with Riegl. …

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