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An important new article on Riegl

6 February 2017

‘Seeing Through a Roman Lens: Formalism, Photography, and the Lost Visual Rhetoric of Riegl’s Late Roman Art Industry

Jesse Lockard

History of Photography, Volume 40, Number 3, August 2016

Keywords:  Alois Riegl (1858–1905), Hans Sedlmayr (1896–1984), Otto Pächt (1902– 88), Vienna School of Art History, Late Roman Art Industry (Die Spätrömische Kunst-Industrie), Problems of Style (Stilfragen. Grundlegungen zu einer Geschichte der Ornamentik), photography, visual rhetoric, visual analysis, formalism, ekphrasis, spatial  perception, book history, Kunstwollen,  Kunstwissenschaft

A quarter of a century elapsed between the first publication of Alois Riegl’s magisterial Die Spätrömische Kunst-Industrie (Late Roman Art Industry) in 1901 and the second, edited by Otto Pächt, in 1927. The difference is striking. The change is not in the prose, which was left untouched; it is in the pictures. When reporting on the book’s republication, The Journal of Hellenic Studies called it ‘a reprint, without alteration, but in a reasonable format and with several additional illustrations, of Riegl’s celebrated book’ and explained that ‘Twenty-six years of research along the lines which he was the first to trace have naturally modified and supplemented Riegl’s argument in a variety of ways, but the book is now a classic’. It is not, of course, actually the book that is being described as classic but rather the text. This article argues that the new ‘reasonable format’ and ‘additional illustrations’ did in fact alter Late Roman Art Industry considerably. Riegl meticulously constructed a visual argument with his figures and the opulent plates appended to the end of his book. Pächt’s editorial interventions obscured the complex synergy between text and image found in the first edition, effacing Riegl’s innovative consideration of how historians use visual evidence ….     Read on:

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