New on [BalkanCities]: "Sources for City and Art in SEE, 1850-1950"

posted by istanbul on 2009/03/01 11:23

[ Sources for City and Art in SEE, 1850-1950 ]

For already quite a while I have contemplated posting here, at least once in a while, excerpts from texts dealing with "City and Art in SEE" written at a time, roughly 1850-1950, which proved crucial in the genesis of our modern understanding of these matters. Of interest in this regard are, inter alia, early histories, travelogues, reviews, newspaper articles, etc. We shall begin this series with...
....excerpts from two reviews of one of the first books on the medieval artistic heritage of modern Bulgaria, published shortly after WWI. They tell us less about Bulgarian art than about the mindset according to which concepts of this heritage (and the implications derived from which) were formed. But rather than ridiculing nationalist historiography, these reviews show us that the mechanisms by which nationalists sought to legitimize their claims - especially concerning the connections between artistic heritage, nationhood, and territory - were not necessarily considered a Balkan specific but universal and, at least in principle, perfectly legitimate.

This is what the British reviewer "O. M. D." had to say about Bogdan D. Filov's Early Bulgarian Art (1919) in the The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs of 1920:

"The contents of this book may without offence be described as propaganda, but propaganda of a legitimate kind, since it is the plain right of any people to support its claim to culture by effective evidence. The material here brought forward is treated in a scholarly manner, and the name of art is not taken in vain for the benefit of politics ... [W]e may agree with the author and his learned collaborators that there is and always has been a Bulgarian art. It was indeed impossible that a folk with so much individuality should not have its own artistic impulse; and if it was chiefly manifested in decorative design ... this was inevitable in a land inhabited by scattered villages and with few centres of population. It is in this field that we should first seek the true Bulgarian spirit, a field far too wide for the shadow of Byzantine dominance. Here were preserved those early oriental elements which in all probability the Bulgarians brought with them when, from some point in the Russian area, they moved down the west coast of the Black Sea to the Danube. The remoter history of Bulgarian culture has still to find illustration; but already we seem to detect traces of an early Eastern influence with which Constantinople has nothing to do, and future excavation may go further to confirm Strzygowski's belief that in the transmission of oriental motives to Europe the part of Bulgaria was more important than has been commonly supposed."

Strzygowski himself, in a review of that book not found in his bibliographies and having reached me without a proper attribution (except for a marginal note: "1920?"), wrote:

"F[ilov] betont gleich im Vorworte des vorliegenden Werkes sehr stark die Unabhängigkeit der Bulgaren von Byzanz, die vor allem auch durch die weite Ausbreitung von Denkmälern nationalen Gepräges bezeugt sei. Damit allein schon beweise das bulgarische Volk sein gutes Recht auf Freiheit ... Der Gedanke, durch die Ausbreitung nationaler Kunstdenkmäler die Berechtigung der Besitzansprüche eines Volkes zu begründen, ist Ref. schon in seinem Armenienwerke aufgegangen. Glücklich das Volk, das zu irgendeiner Zeit sich zu künstlerischer Eigenart durchgerungen hat. Ein heute von der Heimat ausgeschlossenes Denkmal oder gar eine ganze Schicht von solchen wird immer ein Zeichen von mehr als rein künstlerischer Bedeutung bleiben. Man fragt bei solchen Gelegenheiten nach der deutschen Eigenart und wundert sich, daß sdie Kunstforschung an derartigen Fragen vorübergeht ... Es berührt schmerzlich zu sehen, wie tief erregt die nationalen Gemüter des Balkan auch in der Wissenschaft nun wieder sind. Aber ist es im übrigen Europa jetzt bei der unerhörten Herabsetzung des geistigen Niveaus anders?"


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