Wӧlfflin’s Art History in Stalin’s Home

TSU, 115 - 16.45 -17. 10

This paper analyzes the politics of art historical research and addresses the problem of conflict between academic research, nationalist policies and the changing political situation in Europe and Georgia between the First and Second World Wars. It tells the story of the foundation of Georgian art history during the creation of the Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921) and its development in the Soviet era. It outlines the process of the adaptation of a transported academic discipline to the main task of the founder of Georgian art history, G. Chubinashvili (1885-1973): to inscribe medieval – Georgian – art and architecture within the framework of Eastern Christian art, thereby giving  it the place it deserved within a “universal history of art”. The paper discusses the dominant and continuous impact of the Swiss-German art historian H.Wölfflin (1864-1945). Written in 1915, one year after the start of the First World War and published by Bruckmann Verlag in Munich, Wölfflin’s Principles of Art History could easily have become a polemic reflecting the political exigencies of the day. However, at a time and in a country in which art and culture were increasingly appropriated into a nationalistic agenda, being labeled ”formalist,” Wölfflin minimized discussion of all areas outside visual forms and aesthetics and penned his strongest declaration of the autonomy of visual culture, which, according to the author possesses its own integrity, its own forces, its own dynamics of beholding and of representing, of changing and of transforming. In a context of the contemporary political situation in Germany, Wölfflin’s ideas could be attributed to a deliberate refusal by the scholar, though never explicitly articulated, to subsume art history to the nationalistic agenda of the German state. The apolitical character of this research methodology allowed G. Chubinashvili to investigate Christian art in an atheist Soviet Republic of Georgia.