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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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
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

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