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Introduction (en)

by Werner Oechslin


In his 1938 obituary of Julius von Schlosser, Hans R. Hahnloser wrote—speaking of Die Kunstliteratur—that what is important in the writings of the past is shaped here to a “synopsis of all of art’s circles of thought” and thus “to a single art history, which overlooks all time periods from a higher intellectual point of view.”  Before he slipped off into that—at that time—thoroughly controversial topic of a “higher art history,” however, he remembered that Schlosser really intended to place “the capstone on the arduous material work of his life”, and thus remain thoroughly down to earth.  Schlosser avoided the phrase “intellectual history”- “in his conviction that all fruitful historical writing had always been ‘intellectual history.’”

This means something like: the intellectual history content does not need to be added, it is inherently present in the things themselves.  Schlosser began his studies of sources in 1914 with a new and systematic approach under the title Materials for a Source Knowledge of Art History, a title which of course sounds dry.  But he did this fully conscious of the necessary proximity to history and its orientation toward the facts.  He therefore also emphasized that the “written  sources” selected as objects of the investigation are “secondary, indirect” testimony.  They are thus primarily to be read according to this orientation and objective, according to which they have artistic activity itself for their object - “with theoretical consciousness,” as Schlosser unpretentiously added.  According to this proviso, they are “philological tasks” and it is the object of “critical processing” that must be assessed as the appropriate dealings with the sources.  As soon as one immerses oneself in the sources according to these instructions, they gush forth and the intellectual history comprised by the works themselves unfolds automatically.  The “proximity to the original” according to which one reads and should read the sources, instead of merely rehearsing them, promotes this most intimate connection with the object.

The terms “source” and “source knowledge” were much more common in Schlosser’s period than today, and they possessed their own tradition within the historical disicplines.  It was thus quickly recognized that the corresponding literature was a constant, often critical companion of art and artists, often a direct mouthpiece or, instead, solid “scholarly” backing.  That from an overview - according to Schlosser’s intention - the “history of our discipline” could and should arise was, seen in this manner, a done deal.

But with this we still have not said what is meant  in this sense with “source knowledge” and its text-critical work–which concretely affects our colloquium.  How challenging this can be was expounded by Claudio Tolomei in his famous letter to Conte Agostin de’ Landi of 14 November 1542, with its broad outline of the goals of the Roman Vitruvian academy.  That makes the case of Vitruvius the classic example—even more so that it  would be on its mere authority as the only comprehensive antique text on architecture.  It is not only image and text in comparison, it is the language itself along with the often “other” (“Greek”) terminology; it is the accretions of linguistic “resolutions,” which occasionally serve the sought-after understanding more than philological correctness; and it is finally the expansive commentaries, which often above all serve as assurance of that “intellectual history,” which in turn should form the base of an understanding as close as possible to the text.

Translation assumes a special role in the various forms and approaches to a philologically based understanding of the text, since transmission—and its inherent visible and effective understanding of a meaning—becomes the instrument of understanding per se and its (profitable) comprehension.  Nobody has described this more profoundly down to the final implications than Schleiermacher.  He notes how much the translator himself, according to the degree of his wanting to understand, slides over into “the higher region of art.”  He follows, as always, an order in which “the free unique combinatorial capacity of the author” on the one hand merges with the “spirit of the language with the system of views and nuances of mood deposited in it” on the other.  All possibilities of transmission and neologism are thought of here as well, the paraphrase as well as the replica – and everything always under the aspect and with the objective of understanding.

It thus makes sense to linger by Vitruvius and also reach beyond to clarify our understanding of sources and  allow it to become effective.  We therefore place TEXT in the title, and mean that we wish understanding to arise out of the source itself, out of its texture.  For this reason we particularly welcome contributions that penetrate the texts according to such principles and create an understanding of the text that does justice to the multiplicity of questions, problems, connections, and hypotheses that are inherent in it.

1 September 2012 / woe