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France Nerlich on The invention of the homogeneity and continuity of peoples. Or the essential ethnicization of art history

10 April 2019

The invention of the homogeneity and continuity of peoples. Or the essential ethnicization of art history

Review of:

Eric Michaud, Les Invasions barbares. Une généalogie de l’histoire de l’art, nrf essais Gallimard, 2015, 304 pages, 14 b. & w. illus., 23 €, ISBN 978-2-07-012265-3

France Nerlich (INHA Paris) 20/FN1

Abstract: With this book, Eric Michaud proposes a thesis on the origins of art history, which for him are intimately linked to the invention at the end of the 18th century of the myth of the invasion of the Barbarians as a key moment in the rejuvenation of Western civilisation. Tracking in the writings of major art historians the assertions on the link between art and race, he tries to unravel the thread of a discipline that was built on this idea of an ethnicity of art in concepts that still today weigh on the vocabulary and concepts commonly used. Michaud explores the positions of 18th century authors, in particular Winckelmann’s key role, then the major authors of 19th and early 20th century art history. Along the way, he sheds light on the close relationship between anthropology and art history when it came to proving the survival of races. In this sense, art and its monuments have assumed an obvious genealogical function on which the idea of stylistic constant and biological and psychological heredity is based and on which the ethnicization of art could easily raise and flourish.

Key words: nation, race, taste, style, Romanticism, anti-Semitism, genealogy, art history, evolution

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