Institute of Art History, Estonian Academy of Art; Institute of History, Tallinn University, Estonia
One of vital issues of contemporary art history is approach to a vast amount of texts the disciplinary archive consists of. These texts determine the knowledge and thus frame the interpretation of art mostly in a hidden way. However, it is important to understand who is actually ‘speaking’ while expressing the opinion on this or another historic art object or period. That’s why in recent decades the search for a content(s) and genealogy(s) of the disciplinary discourse has been under scrutiny. Referring to the disciplinary discourse of art history, I mean a well established and accepted set of rules, which among other things prescribes how and what art is, the relations between the artist, art and the world/society, and how and why these change. Therefore the discourse should be understood as a practice which systematically shapes the objects it discusses.
My paper addresses the writings on local Renaissance in Estonia during the 19th and 20th centuries. Discussing the Renaissance in Estonia has been part of once ‘burning’ issue in European art historiography, the problem of the ‘Northern Renaissance’. In the 19th century the Baltic-German amateur art historians started to construct the list of local valuable Renaissance objects; making of the canon of objects was continued in the 1920s and 1930s by academic researchers. During the Soviet period in Estonia the Renaissance was re-written according to the Marxist-Leninist discourses of historical materialism and realism. This period, in fact, had two stages: the Stalinist and the Thaw stage.
My aim is to take a critical look at the political, ideological and cultural constraints that were framing art history writing during different periods, examine how they were intertwined and interacted with acknowledged disciplinary methods, and finally shaped the art historical interpretations of Renaissance. Based on texts and concerning objects, I will try to demonstrate what kind of social, cultural and aesthetic values were attributed to the Renaissance art and architecture, and, thus, what kind of image of the Renaissance these texts conveyed to the reader.