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Department of History of Art


A seminar co-organized by Translitterae (Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris) and the Department of Art History, Cambridge University

This seminar will consider theories of art and art history developed in the German-speaking world from 1750 to the late 20th century. In the course of this period aesthetics as a philosophical discipline was born and branched out into various kinds; art history became an academic discipline, incessantly in search of methododologies; morphological approaches to art entered into a dialogue with more historical approaches to ancient and non-Western art. This vast corpus of thought remains to the present day an inexhaustible source of methodological tools to think about the arts. It is particularly relevant today because it took on the challenge of developing global theories of art and its histories, and sought to integrate perspectives on art and material culture from adiacent disciplines such as anthropology.

In the course of this seminar the main figures, texts and concepts will be analysed from an interdisciplinary perspective, bringing together art and architectural historians, philosophers and specialists of German language and culture. It is hosted by the research laboratory Translitterae (Isabelle Kalinowski) and the Department of Philosophy (Mildred Galland-Szymkowiak) at the Ecole Normale in Paris, the laboratory Pays Germanique at the Centre National de la Recherche, as well as by the Department of Art History in Cambridge (Caroline van Eck). 

In 2020-21 the theme of the seminar will be 'Aesthetics and the Historicity of Art'. A series of key figures from the 1780s to the 1920s will be discussed, including Goethe, Semper and Warburg, but also lesser known luminaries such as Gustav Klemm or Ernst Grosse. The relation between theories of beauty and the nature of aesthetic experience on the one hand, and the historicity of art and the methodological issues raised by that historicity on the other, was one of the central issues in Germaqn thought about art in this period. It emerges in philosophical aesthetics, in art criticism, artistic and architectural theory, but also around 1900 in the emerging fields of empirical and historical psychologies of art. Defining the relation between the aesthetic and historical aspects of art was also a key issue for art history as it grew into a scientific discipline in search of concepts and categories with which to devise historical frameworks or stylistic classifications.

Please write to and for all enquiries or to register. The seminar is open to all graduate students in History of Art, History, Philosophy and German or French Studies.

The seminars will take place on Wednesdays, from 3 to 5 pm (British time), and will be online. They will be held in English. Once enrolled you will receive the link.