Introduction: The Vienna School beyond Vienna. Art History in Central Europe

By Rampley, Matthew | Journal of Art Historiography, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Introduction: The Vienna School beyond Vienna. Art History in Central Europe


Rampley, Matthew, Journal of Art Historiography


In his study Inventing Eastern Europe the historian Larry Wolff examines the way that the idea of 'Eastern Europe' was constructed in Enlightenment France as part of a process of cultural mapping in which the position of Paris as the centre of civilisation was confirmed and strengthened by virtue of its opposition to the backward semi-barbaric eastern 'fringes' of Europe.1 This division, which has long impressed itself on the political and cultural imaginary in Europe, shaped the course of art history. As recently as 1998 Steven Mansbach's award-winning book Modern Art in Eastern Europe uncritically employed the notion of an 'eastern' European art, which he analysed in terms of its relation to the modernism of 'western' Europe.2 Nowhere has this divide between 'east' and 'west' had a more distorting effect than in the study of Austria-Hungary. A complex political, social and cultural space that occupied both eastern and western Europe, the Habsburg Empire has not fared well at the hands of commentators, who have frequently produced limited studies of individual parts, in particular, its capital city, at the expense of considering that complex network of relations that bound the imperial possessions together.

The Vienna School of Art History has been no exception to this pattern. Studies of the work of its leading representatives, most notably Alois Riegl and Max Dvorák, have tended to place them the firmly within the tradition of German language scholarship. In one sense this is entirely appropriate and correct, but it risks producing a partial picture of the Vienna School. Of the major figures of the Vienna School, only Albert Ilg, Franz Wickhoff and Julius von Schlosser were born in Vienna or the Austrian 'heartlands'. Rudolf von Eitelberger was a native of Olomouc in Moravia; Moriz Thausing grew up in Bohemia and studied in Prague before moving to Vienna; Riegl was, like Josef Strzygowski, born in Polish Galicia, and he also attended a Polish language school; Max Dvorák was a native of Bohemia, as were Hans Tietze and Karl Maria Swoboda. All consequently had ties to parts of the Empire that subsequently became part of 'eastern' Europe and that had mixed linguistic, ethnic and cultural affiliations. Equally important, as the metropolis of a multi-lingual polity, Vienna and its institute of art history attracted students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Although, during the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, regional and national centres such as Budapest, Prague, Zagreb, Cracow and Lemberg became the foci of distinct cultural traditions that were driven by local impulses that often ran counter to those of the imperial capital, Vienna maintained its status, for most, as the most prestigious seat of learning in the Empire. As a result, the Institute of Art History of the University of Vienna trained not only future generations of Austrian art historians, but also scholars would come to be the leading figures of their discipline in the independent states that arose out of the ruins of Austria-Hungary after the First World War.

This issue of the Journal of Art Historiography attempts to explore that other side of the Vienna School, examining the ways in which the practices and values of its representatives came to shape the subsequent development of art history across central Europe. As Milena Bartlová and Marta Filipová both argue, it is not in the Austrian capital that one should look for the history of the Vienna School after 1918, but in Prague. Czech art historians who had studied with Riegl, Wickhoff and Dvorák were fiercely loyal to the legacy of their teachers, and consciously tried to introduce the universalist and cosmopolitan values of the Vienna School in order to stifle the parochial concerns of many Prague-based art historians. Jindrich Vybiral's essay in this issue on Czech art history in the late nineteenth century gives a flavour of that parochialism, in which Prague became a locus of acrimonious conflict between Germans and Czechs for ownership of the artistic heritage of Bohemia, which coupled with a resentment towards 'German' scholarship and its putatively preferential treatment by the Vienna authorities. …

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