Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Winckelmann in Poland: An Eighteenth-Century Response to the 'History of the Art of Antiquity'

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Winckelmann in Poland: An Eighteenth-Century Response to the 'History of the Art of Antiquity'

Article excerpt

'It is not my intent either to be silent or to explicate broadly the works which made Winckelmann famous, for the world knows them enough; for the first among them will always be his history of art, a classic despite its shortcomings, because it pointed the scholarship of antiquity towards its proper direction, it gave it back its utility and dignity, which were until him tainted with pettiness and excessive leamedness. He enlightened the shadows of antiquity with the light of his system, and his genius set one of those torches on fire which will forever light the way of scholarship and time/

- Stanislaw Kostka Potocki, On the Art of the Ancients, or The Polish Winckelmann1

Stanislaw Kostka Potocki's translation into Polish and interpretation of Johann Joachim Winckelmann's History of the Art of Antiquity (1764) constitutes a littleknown albeit important 'afterlife' of the Kunstliteratur from which it draws its inspiration, and heralds the arrival of Winckelmann's legacy to the eastern borderlands of Europe. A first in the Polish language, On the Art of the Ancients or the Polish Winckelmann (O Sztuce u Dawnych, czyli Winkelman Polski) begun in the late eighteenth century and published in 1815, constituted a 'global' history of art that confronted the question of whether aesthetic response could be universal. Polish scholars Jan Ostrowski and Joachim Sliwa, in their four-volume edition of the text published in 1992, claim that The Polish Winckelmann was completed well before its publication date, adding that the reasons for this delay are unclear.* 2 It is possible that Potocki's intense political involvements, including his activity during the Four Year Sejm (1788-92), preoccupations with the political catastrophe that was the partitions of Poland, and later, his duties as the President of the Council of State under the Napoleonic administration of the Duchy of Warsaw (1807-1815) contributed to the delay. The initial hope and optimism among Polish szlachta that accompanied the formation of the Congress Kingdom (1815-1846) for the eventual re-establishment of the Republic, and the reassertion of the Polish language as the official language may have emboldened Potocki's national literary aims, or at least provided him with an inspired rationale to publish a text that self-consciously articulated these national interests. During the years of the Congress Kingdom, he would also head the Commission for Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment (not without controversy for his proposals to dissolve the Catholic teaching orders) modelled in part on the former National Commission for Education,3 established in 1773 under King Stanislaw August Poniatowski (r. 17641795), and led by (among others) Stanislaw Kostka Potocki's own brother, Ignacy Potocki. A didactic text that was global in scope and nationalist in tone could help advance the educational goals of Potocki and his cohort.

Like Winckelmann, Stanislaw Kostka Potocki (1755-1821, fig. 1) insisted on the first-hand study of art objects as the best method for learning about their position within the development, as he would have it, of artistic form and expression. In the vein of his cousin, Jan Potocki or Herder, he also promoted universalist approaches to history, bringing together the study of European, Near and Far Eastern art and architecture. With this work he was able to capture the attention of a German publishing house; G.M. Walther, the Dresden publisher of Winckelmann's text, considered publishing a German translation of Potocki's writings on Near and Far Eastern arts, and ultimately published them in part.4 Undoubtedly with a German (as well as a Polish) audience in mind, Potocki connected his On the Art of the Ancients to German antiquarian scholarly traditions by framing his opening discussion as an engagement with the deceased Winckelmann - an authority he respected and admired - and responding to those who had attacked Winckelmann, in particular the renowned Göttingen antiquarian, Christian Gottlob Heyne (1729-1812). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.