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‘What is ‘Czech’ in Art in Bohemia? Alfred Woltmann and defensive mechanisms of Czech artistic historiography’

Author(s): Jindrich Vybiral

Journal: Journal of Art Historiography
ISSN 2042-4752

Volume: 8;
Start page: 8;
Date: 2013;
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Keywords: Czech art history | nationalism | defensive mechanisms | Alfred Woltmann

The art historian Alfred Woltmann (1841-1880) in a lecture delivered 1876 put forth a highly provocative thesis on the predominance of the German element in the art of the Bohemian capital. He created thereby the outlines of a highly problematic situation, the resolution of which for many decades formed one of the central themes of Czech art history. Scholarly conclusions that proved the inferiority of the Slavonic tribe – and could not be simply disproved – consequently formed an insurmountable barrier for the efforts of Czech nationalist scholarship. Psychology makes use of the concept of “frustration” for such cases. Reactions to frustration are most commonly the defensive or ego-defensive mechanisms first mentioned in 1894 by Sigmund Freud and later described more fully by his daughter Anna Freud. The individual manifesting the symptom attempts to “destroy” the barrier or to attack the source of frustration in order to renew his or her psychic balance and repair his or her damaged self-evaluation. The essay aspires to make use of Freud´s systematic analysis to sketch an overview of the unconscious defensive mechanisms to be discerned in Czech artistic historiography following in the wake of Woltmann’s lecture (aggression, escape into fantasy, dismissal, repression, compensation, rationalisation, auto-accusation).

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