Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Ethnographic Art, between Debate and Polemic: J.P.B. De Josselin De Jong's Hitherto Unpublished Manuscript on Uncivilized Art and Civilized 'Artistry' 1

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Ethnographic Art, between Debate and Polemic: J.P.B. De Josselin De Jong's Hitherto Unpublished Manuscript on Uncivilized Art and Civilized 'Artistry' 1

Article excerpt

A concise survey of De Josselin de Jong's work

A multi-disciplinarian scholar and probably the most renowned Dutch anthropologist during the first half of the twentieth century in the Netherlands, De Josselin de Jong served as a curator in the departments of Africa, America and Australia at the National Museum of Ethnology2 in Leiden (1910-1935). Here he first came across studies on material culture.

Between 1904 and 1910 he studied Dutch Language and Literature. As a student he came into contact with Christianus Cornelius Uhlenbeck,3 whose studies and teaching, both as professor and as Ph.D. supervisor, highly influenced the path De Josseling de Jong would follow. Uhlenbeck had already postulated that the study of Indo-European languages could benefit from results obtained by ethnologists and archaeologists. As a result hereof De Josselin de Jong's thesis combined linguistics and ethnology.4

That same year he started to not only deliver reports on the archaeological material originating from the Dutch Antilles, but also to write book reviews and papers, all in all as many as fifty-four between 1912 and 1923. The reviews can be divided into three broad categories: Ethnology: (twenty-nine reviews); Linguistics (twenty reviews), and Archaeology: (five reviews). De Josselin de Jong concentrated on the above fields as a museum anthropologist. His striking knowledge of ethnological theory becomes evident from a lecture published in 1917 entitled Methods of Modern Ethnology. As curator he grasped the opportunity in order to popularize the interest for ethnography and ethnographic artefacts by means of articles meant for the general public as well as lemmas in an encyclopaedia and a radio lecture. In 1922 he was appointed to the position of an extra-ordinary professor in 'General Ethnology', which in February 1935 was converted into a full professorship in the 'Anthropology of the Netherlands Indies in connection with general anthropology' which he occupied until his superannuation in 1956.

De Josselin de Jong shifted his focus to Indonesia during the 1920s. He became co-founder of structural anthropology in The Netherlands. Aside from French influences (i.e. the sociological school of Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss) this branch of anthropology was rooted in the empirical study of classification systems in Indonesia dating from the nineteenth century on.5 Perhaps De Josselin de Jong's most well known study is his Lévi-Strauss' Theory on Kinship and Marriage, published in 1952. It presented a masterly summary of the renowned French anthropologist Claude Lévy-Strauss'6 major book entitled Les structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949) and was complemented with Indonesian material. With this study De Josselin de Jong not only influenced Lévi-Strauss but also attracted international attention among specialists in this field.

The origin of the unpublished manuscript

The polemic introduction and conclusion in the unpublished manuscript from 1920 provided a reaction to the declaration of intent forwarded by the 'Society of Friends of Asiatic Art'. In that sense it formed a direct threat to the survival of the Leiden ethnographic museum to which De Josselin de Jong had dedicated himself for several years, and the collections which he considered to be an essential part of the academic study of ethnology. He wished to put his finger on the pseudo-science and amateurism displayed by a group of people, who were propagating false ideas. These ideas even threatened to divide and destroy ethnographic collections, which for De Josselin de Jong (and for ethnographic museums), constituted the backbone of knowledge and understanding of the 'other peoples'. The afore-mentioned society propagated the idea that ethnic art could sufficiently be understood from an aesthetic perspective. It may be added here that to this day, this society actively strives to create a better understanding of Asiatic art.7

The original publication was intended for the monthly De Gids (The Guide) and, according to Gottfried Wilhelm Locher, the editors suspended it due to a [. …

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