Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Strzygowski and Riegl in America

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Strzygowski and Riegl in America

Article excerpt

This is the English text that served as the basis for 'Strzygowski und Riegl in den Vereinigten Staaten', which appeared in Wiener Schule: Erinnerung und Perspektiven, ed. Michael Viktor Schwarz (= Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 53, 2004), 217-34.

See https://18798-presscdn-pagely.netdna-ssl.com/christopherwood/wp-content/uploads/sites/2785/2016/05/strzygowski-and-riegl.pdf

The United States was the first nation to leap into a post-metaphysical modernity, into a void unstructured by social class or by nostalgia for an antique golden age. At least this is the story the United States told to itself in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Very few Europeans, certainly few European scholars, were impressed. One old-world scholar who did have great expectations from American modernity was Josef Strzygowski. Strzygowski imagined that American scholars would follow him in his rejection of humanistic 'superstition', his abandonment of historical-philological method, and his disregard for traditional nationalist loyalties and for the great institutions of Church and State. 'I have hopes', he wrote in the pages of a new American scholarly journal, Eastern Art, in 1928, 'that America will forge ahead of Europe in revolutionizing methods of research, especially if attention be given to my new book Forschung und Erziehung'.1 He felt sure that Americans would follow him in opening up the history of art to both hemispheres, indeed to the entire globe. We need an 'objective and scholarly and not merely a European and traditional point of view', Strzygowski argued in the Art Bulletin in that same year.2

American scholars responded with some enthusiasm. Medievalists, who dominated American art history in these years, took notice of Strzygowski's radical theses. Strzygowski's relentless sequence of publications had opened up a Near Eastern landscape of artistic activity-architecture, sculpture, ornament, carpets, textiles-completely unknown to, indeed never seen by other European scholars. Strzygowski's finds interfered with the organic flow of European cultural history and challenged the idea of the integrity of Mediterranean classical culture. The Princeton art historian Allan Marquand wrote an essay for the Harvard Theological Review in 1910, a year after Strzygowski's appointment to the chair in Vienna, outlining the Austrian scholar's ideas, calling attention to his impressive travels in the Near East, unusual in those days, and claiming that his views on the eastern origins of early medieval style were 'gaining adherents amongst the younger writers in various German universities'. Marquand named Franz Wickhoffand Alois Riegl as representatives of the older, Rome-centred view that Strzygowski's scholarship threatened.3 In these years Strzygowski was already in print in English, in articles for British publications.

In 1921 Strzygowski was invited to the United States. In Boston he delivered the series of lectures that would later be published as Origin of Church Art, 4 not at Harvard University but at the Lowell Institute, a private foundation that sponsored lectures by distinguished scholars, aimed at the general public. This was an honor in its own right; Lowell lecturers had included such luminaries as the geologist Charles Lyell, the biologist Louis Agassiz, Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, the historian Arnold Toynbee, and the philosophers William James and Alfred North Whitehead.5 Afterward the Lowell Institute and the Archeological Institute of America together sponsored a lecture tour to various American campuses. Strzygowski wrote his manifesto Die Krisis der Geisteswissenchaften in the United States, and dedicated the book 'to his colleagues at Harvard and Princeton'. He had a special bond with the art historian John Shapley of Brown University and New York University, who had written his dissertation under Strzygowski in Vienna in 1914 and for many years was editor of the Art Bulletin. In 1921 Shapley published in that journal a review of a book by one of Strzygowski's students where he outlined the master's 'method', reprinting a very methodical-looking table with space for Gegenstand, Gestalt, Inhalt, and Form, a kind of primitive, non-philosophical precursor of Erwin Panofsky's famous iconological table. …

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