European art

National traditions, circulations, and identities in European art. An analysis of the factors of unity and division at work in the complex development of European cultural identity.

Portrait of Marc Chagall (1887-1985), July 4, 1941. Photo: Carl Van Vechten.
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Artistic migrations have often been studied in order to better understand the circulations that artists chose and planned for, as well as the phenomenon of reciprocal influence in art. Yet the movements of artists have not always been voluntary, as creative activity has also been the result of forced migrations since the Middle Ages. This phenomenon would later spread during the nineteenth century and became a major aspect of a twentieth century marked by wars as well as ethnic and political exoduses. The impact of these migrations on artistic identity and on works themselves can be reassessed in this light, which reveals the breaks and discontinuities that are a key component of creative activity and helps to better identify processes of acculturation and their impact on inspiration. Artistic migrations can thus be seen as multi-faceted “crises,” ones that shed a different light on both the form of a work and the artist’s intentions and identity.

Titian, Diana and Acteon, oil on canvas, 185 × 202 cm, 1556-1559, Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland.
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The art of Europe became the subject of art history very early on. In the late nineteenth century, the impact of the encyclopaedists’ universalist thought prompted the discipline to embrace the production of the entire continent. Comparative works developed initially between European countries, and later between Europe and extra-European territories, with each one in turn becoming the exotic “other” opposite old Europe, the territory of reference and starting point for all studies. Colonial expansion, and especially the redefinition of the notion of “art” at the turn of the twentieth century, paved the way for a new reflection on how to understand extra-European creation. Initially seized upon by the burgeoning field of ethnology, these explorations later developed in the wake of global and connected history. From the 1960s onwards they underwent decisive transformations, characterised by an abandonment of former Eurocentric visions of art.

Snowshill Manor, England.

The production of monumental architecture is an essential aspect of European cultural history. Beginning in Antiquity, and then under the influence of Christianity, an extremely diverse body was built throughout the continent, and was the source of vast stylistic movements stretching over nearly two thousand years. This sacred and secular collection was adapted and passed down until the twentieth century, both with regard to its forms and its technology, while simultaneously importing non-European motifs. Since the Enlightenment, the recognition of monuments has stimulated this cross-cultural transfer, assisted by the rise of national spaces and driven by the near-sanctuarization of the monument, which was recognized by protective laws applied during the nineteenth century in various countries. Despite destruction and the World Wars, Europe never ceased to think of itself as a monumental continent whose resources, which are today used for political and economic purposes, confer on it the best part of its global prestige.

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André Belloguet, L’Europe animale : physiologie comique composée et dessinée sur les contours géographiques de l’Europe

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