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The construction of national identity in the historiography of Czech art

Filipova, Marta (2009) The construction of national identity in the historiography of Czech art. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

National identity can be expressed in many ways by individuals, groups and states. Since the nineteenth century, Central Europe has been undergoing rapid changes in the political, social and cultural spheres, which was reflected in the self-definition of the nations living in this region, and in their definition by others. The Czech people, who until 1918 were a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, gave birth to a national revival movement in the nineteenth century and eventually emancipated themselves to create an independent Czechoslovakia. The idea of „national identity“ was, therefore, crucial and this was enhanced in many areas of human activity, including the construction of a historical legitimacy for the nation. The struggle for recognition of the historical existence of the Czech nation was also projected into the discourse adopted for historical and contemporary art writing and exhibition practice. In this thesis, I focus on the ways in which Czech national identity was constructed in the historiography of art. I shall argue that the various ideologies which influenced the writers led to an understanding of Czech art as epitomising certain qualities of the Czech nation. At the same time, the Czech nation was presented as highly advanced because of its artistic achievements. I shall explore how art historians, historians, artists, archaeologists and philosophers created their notion of a Czech national art on the basis of either negotiating a compromise with the various ethnic groups, methodologies and political affiliations, or by emphasising their opposition to the same. Another contested area was the concept and political uses of artistic quality. It will be my aim to examine broader circumstances of these contestations in the Introduction and more specific ideological motivations behind Czech art history in the subsequent chapters. In Chapter One, I shall outline the main places where art history was practiced in Bohemia and Moravia which were crucial for constructing the discourse on national art. Chapter Two examines the texts of the first Czech art historians in the second half of the nineteenth century who became interested in the national aspects of Czech art because of the political and cultural climate. In Chapter Three, I shall examine the nineteenth century debates between Czech and German authors on the origins of mediaeval art, confirming Czech or German national identity 3 respectively. Chapter Four studies the rise of Czech art history as a “scientific” discipline in Prague and the attempts of Czech art historians at its professionalisation, which – nevertheless – did not abandon a nationalistic discourse. The main focus of Chapter Five is the co-existence of nationalistic views of Czech art with the attempts of artists and art critics to bring Czech art into a dialogue with Western art. In the following chapter, Chapter Six, this practice is explored in the context of the Viennese university and the so-called Vienna School of art history, particularly the work and legacy of Max Dvořák. The influence of the School on Czech art history is the topic of Chapter Seven, which again brings up the question of the divide between international and national perspectives of Czech art. Criticism of the Czech Vienna School followers from various groups of art historians is examined in Chapter Eight. Finally, in Chapter Nine, I conclude with the exploration of the rise of a new concept of art historical identity, the concept of Czechoslovak identity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: historiography of art, national identity, Czech art, Central Europe, history of art, ideology, nationalism, institutional art history
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
D History General and Old World > DJ Netherlands (Holland) > DJK Eastern Europe
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Supervisor's Name: Stirton, Mr Paul
Date of Award: 2009
Depositing User: Ms Marta Filipova
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-791
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 29 May 2009
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:26
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/791

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