Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

The Strzygowski School of Cluj. an Episode in Interwar Romanian Cultural Politics

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

The Strzygowski School of Cluj. an Episode in Interwar Romanian Cultural Politics

Article excerpt

Introduction: the legacy of Josef Strzygowski

It has become increasingly evident that perhaps the most influential Viennese art historian of the interwar period was Josef Strzygowski. Although a decisive figure, whose appointment as Ordinarius in 1909 led factional rivalries and an institutional split, Strzygowski's work achieved a far greater audience than his contemporaries. This was particularly the case in central Europe, where his work was adopted as a model in territories as disparate as Estonia and Yugoslavia.

In part his influence was due to his sheer industriousness and the volume of his output, both in terms of research publications and students. Between 1909, when he took up his appointment at the Institute in Vienna, and 1932, when he retired, nearly 90 students graduated under his tutelage; this compares with 13 under Thausing and 51 under Riegl and Wickhoff combined. As one subsequent commentator has noted: 'Looking back at Strzygowski's career with the hindsight conferred by time, the most striking impression is that he was never still, perpetually buzzing around like a fly in a jam jar.'1 The range of subjects his students wrote on was bewilderingly diverse, and covered topics as diverse as Arnold Böcklin, murals in Turkestan, Iranian decorative art, domestic architecture in seventeenth-century Sweden, Polish Romanesque architecture and the sculpture of Gandhara.2 Many of Strzygowski's students would go on to become prominent members of the art historical profession across central Europe, such as the Slovene Vojslav Molè (1886-1973), who would play an important role at the University of Cracow, Stella Kramrisch (1896-1993), Emmy Wellesz (1889-1987), Virgil Vätägianu (1902-1993), a leading art historian in Romania, Otto Demus (1902-1990) and Fritz Novotny (1903-1983). Another student of Strzygowski, Ernst Diez (1878-1961), disseminated his teacher's ideas even further; the author of a number of studies of Islamic and Asian art, Diez was also the first professor of art history in the post- Ottoman Turkish state.3

Strzygowski's own scholarly output was equally wide-ranging; aside from his well-known work on Islamic art, he wrote on early medieval Slavic art and architecture, the architecture of Armenia, contemporary art, the medieval art of Serbia, and Quattrocento Italian painting and sculpture. This was undoubtedly the second reason for the huge impact exercised of Strzygowski's writings. As Nenad Makuljevic argues in his contribution to this volume, Strzygowski became an important figure in Serbia due, initially, to his involvement in the publication of a medieval Serbian psalter in the state library in Munich.4 The fact that he was the holder of a prestigious position in a leading central European university, meant that Strzygowski's decision to publish the psalter was seized on as a source of legitimation by a Serbian government anxious to garner cultural recognition across Europe. More generally, too, Strzygowski's attempt to reorient the geography of art history away from the traditional centres of Italy and Western Europe was seen as hugely important by art historians working the overlooked 'margins' of European culture. Although often dismissed by subsequent commentators as a reactionary antisémite with questionable methods, he was profoundly liberating for many in central Europe.5 His work had particular pertinence for art historians of 'minority' cultures at the turn of the century who were engaged in documenting (or indeed creating) national artistic traditions as part of the wider project of gaining political and cultural recognition. In this respect, as Ernö Marosi has noted, Strzygowski's work was an important intellectual source in the formation of numerous local nationalist histories of art.6

This article examines one example of this appropriation of Strzygowski: the work of the Romanian-Transylvanian art historian, Coriolan Petranu (1893 -1945). Outside of Romania he is hardly known; his work was largely overshadowed by that of his compatriots George Oprescu (1881-1969) or, more recently, Victor Stoichitä. …

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