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Sauerländer on the problem of 'style' in art history A843 Block 2 1.4

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 14 Nov 2017, 18:08


As you read, you should make notes in answer to the following questions:

1.     What does Sauerländer see as the fundamental difference between ancient and modern uses of the term ‘style’?

2.     Why is this difference a source of tension?

3.     How was the concept of style transformed during the eighteenth century?

4.     What does Sauerländer find problematic about the consequences of this transformation for the subsequent practice of art history?

Point of vocabulary: anamnesis


Spell Syllables

·        Word Origin

noun, plural anamneses 


the recollection or remembrance of the past; reminiscence.


Platonism. recollection of the Ideas, which the soul had known in aprevious existence, especially by means of reasoning.


the medical history of a patient.


Immunology. a prompt immune response to a previously encounteredantigen, characterized by more rapid onset and greater effectivenessof antibody and T cell reaction than during the first encounter, asafter a booster shot in a previously immunized person.


(often initial capital letter) a prayer in a Eucharistic service, recallingthe Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ.


My definition of contextual use: In Sauerlȁnder, the process of remembering involved in tracing past uses of a word back to its root, and accounting for them by narration of its progressive meanings as it develops from those roots.

Answers to exercise

         i          Although deriving from the term for a ‘pen’, it becomes a means of categorizing style attached to ancient scholastic traditions – which were to travel through the Middle Ages – of Grammar and Rhetoric and was, as are these disciplines rule-bound (or become so in an enduring form, such that S calls it a ‘figurative and normative@ - a ‘means of normative classification’. However, from the 18th century it becomes attached to an opposing meaning – that which defies ‘norms’ and is singular to persons (truly individual). In fact both meanings come together uneasily in some uses. Hence the difference is between hard categories of temporal stasis in art AND an infinite multiplicity of styles that each speak a different person and to whom a sensitive approach is required.

       ii          It is tense because the meanings are binary opposites almost – the first claiming objective reality, the latter requiring subjective judgement & care. Other important binaries are rule-bound v. free, methodical v. intuitive, stasis v. change & trans-historical pertinence (a kind of essentialism) against meaning determined only situationally. How then can we talk about style in a building, or painting without invoking contradictions which undermine each other’s authority?

     iii          S. sees Winckelmann at the cusp of a movement from style as an expression of Rousseau’s individualistic Romanticism to the hermeneutic philosophy of H.G. Gadamer. The issue becomes from the 18th century a focal ‘hermeneutic difficulty’ in explicating the role of stasis and change in histories of art. However, one strategy that may help reconcile them in part is the development of an evolutionary paradigm for art history which makes art history speak as an oracle of historical changes as a whole.

      iv          The use of rule- bounded sequential history is set against change inspired from within the conflict of unlimited variabilities with each other in an evolutionary form of survival of the fittest style. Interpretation cannot reconcile the objective and subjective tools it uses in each – and hence the role of hermeneutic philosophy. Hence ‘style’ seems a necessary component of art historical accounts (Gadamer) but, at the same time based in an a-contextual formalism (Barthes).

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