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Marco M. Mascolo on Evonne Levy, Baroque and the Political Language of Formalism

18 November 2016

From ‘bad’ to ‘good’: Baroque architecture through a century of art historiography and politics

Review of:

Evonne Levy, Baroque and the Political Language of Formalism (1845-1945): Burckhardt, Wölfflin, Gurlitt, Brinckmann, Sedlmayr, 400 pp., 42 ills, Basel: Schwabe, 2015. € 68, ISBN 978-3-7965-3396-9

Marco M. Mascolo 15/MM1

Abstract: The political element in art history has often played a crucial role and has been individuated as such for artists or their clients. But the political elements that shaped art historical theories or pattern of interpretations are not always clearly addressed as object of analysis. With this book Evonne Levy offers an explanation of the role politics and historical circumstances had on the shaping of an art-historical discourse between 1845 and 1945, focusing her attention on five major Germanophone scholars that had a crucial role in the rediscovery and study of the architectural Baroque. The concept was, as Levy argues in this book, a perfect example to detect the political implications of formalism, which in its reception is often considered apolitical. Aiming to situate formalism in its historical context, Levy focuses primarily on characterising formalist researches about Baroque through the political and philosophical elements that influenced Jacob Burckhardt, Heinrich Wölfflin, Cornelius Gurlitt, Albert E. Brinckmann and Hans Sedlmayr, between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Levy demonstrates how Baroque, from a ‘bad’ style and a ‘bad’ element in German art hds gradually become a ‘good’ element of art-historical discourse, situating it at the crossroad between art history and politics.

Key words: Jacob Burckhardt, Heinrich Wölfflin, Cornelius Gurlitt, Albert Erich Brinckmann, Hans Sedlmayr, Formalism, Architectural Baroque, Political thought, Baroque historiography

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