The 35th   Anniversary of the IRSA Institute for Art Historical Research

The Institute for Art Historical Research and  the IRSA Publishing House were started in 1980. However, the foundation was preceded by long preparations for creating a new international art journal, which would publish articles in four languages: German, English, French and Italian. It seemed to me, that at that time, in the mid-1970s, even though there were numerous art-historical periodicals, an independent, international art journal dedicated to interdisciplinary studies was missing. I studied at the University of Warsaw, was a pupil of Jan Białostocki, who tried to instill in his students a need for a broad perspective when looking at a particular work of art. He was, in a way, an intellectual son of Erwin Panofsky. Prof. Białostocki directed the attention of his students to the wide context of every work of art: social, psychological, archival, but also historical, economica, as well as purely artistic. The work of art in its historical context, analyzed from different points of view was his option of the art historical research, which he tried to pass to his students. He tried to show us the art historical research not only as pure history of art, but in connection with other humanist disciplines.

The idea of creating a new art historical periodical and an international institute for interdisciplinary art research came to my mind a few years after I had finished my studies in art history at the University of Warsaw, at the time I moved from Poland to Vienna. It was thanks to the painter Henryk Stażewski, that I was appointed as his scholarship holder for the Gottfried-von-Herder-Preis in 1972. Henryk Stażewski proposed it to me after consultations with Jan Białostocki and Jerzy Tchórzewski, who supported my candidature. Henryk Stażewski was interested in my research on the Venetian Renaissance painting I had developed under the supervision of Jan Białostocki. He read my paper and even drew for me a series of drawings illustrating the vectors in Venetian Renaissance compositions by Titian and Tintoretto. Also for my research on Leon Chwistek’s “Strefism” in painting, Henryk Stażewski drew some abstract compositions related to Leon Chwistek’s “formist” works I was analyzing.

Gottfried-von-Herder Preis (Herder Prize) was an international award Henryk Stażewski received from the German FVS-Foundation founded by the Hamburger Senator and multimillionaire Alfred Toepfer. FVS-Stiftung zu Hamburg founded scholarships and awards destined for prominent artists, scholars, writers and philosophers from the other side of the Iron Curtain. The goal of Alfred Toepfer during the Cold War was to build bridges and forge relationships between artists and scholars on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Among the many Polish recipients of the Herder Award in Vienna, were: Stanisław Lorenz, Aleksander Kobzdej, Jan Białostocki, Krzysztof Penderecki, Zbigniew Herbert, Andrzej Wajda, Wisława Szymborska, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Władysław Bartoszewski, Jerzy Tchórzewski, and also Henryk Stażewski. Every prize winner could designate a young candidate for the studies at the University of Vienna.

In the early 1970s to become one of the “Herder Prize children” (or “Herderkinder”), as we later called ourselves, was an extraordinary opportunity, an honourable challenge and a moral obligation not to spoil such a chance. 

Every year, on the occasion of awarding the Gottfried-von-Herder Prize, all former prize winners and their young scholarship holders were invited to Vienna for a common celebration, meeting and discussions. There were people from many East and South European countries: Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria and even Greece. Such meetings were very stimulating and opened many new contacts, which became important in the future. The most decisive, however, was the international atmosphere, and the spirit of Gottfried Herder’s ideas of the friendship between different nations. Surely the atmosphere of the Herder Prize circle and the ideas of Herder transmitted by Alfred Toepfer’s Foundation were, in my mind, important factors in the later conception of the IRSA Institute and the art journal ARTIBUS ET HISTORIAE. 

After my doctorate at the University of Vienna, my research on the Italian Renaissance painting was supported financially by Prof. Karolina Lanckorońska in Italy. I spent a few years first in Venice, at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, then at the Hertziana in Rome, and finally in Florence: first, two years at the Fondazione Roberto Longhi, and then at the Villa I Tatti of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. In all those research centres scholars from different countries and continents had a possibility to meet, to exchange ideas, to discuss their discoveries and new methodologies. It gave to the scholarly community the opportunity to live a common social life. In different research centres the atmosphere was slightly different and one could learn different aspects of art history, one meet different methodological approaches and various attitudes towards looking at a work of art.

At the Roberto Longhi Foundation in Florence the “attributionism” was the main and most appreciated approach to the study of works of art. The meetings with Federico Zeri, Mina Gregori, Bruno Toscano or Giuliano Briganti gave us, then young scholars, a knowledge on how to look at a work of art from the stylistic point of view. I remember Giuliano Briganti or Federico Zeri coming with hundreds of photographs to our seminars. There were photographs of small fragments of paintings, e.g. mouths, noses, ears, fingers, hands, faces, draperies covering bodies, painted by different artists. Our goal was to identify the artist and the artistic school on the basis of those small fragments, and if not the artist proper, then at least the period, or the region. In the Fondazione Longhi I met a lot of future collaborators and friends, e.g. Cristina Acidini, Mauro Lucco, Antonio Natali, today director of the Uffizi Gallery, or the scandalous Vittorio Sgarbi. Some of these friends became later formally or informally members of the Advisory Committee of the IRSA Institute.

A different atmosphere was in the Florentine Harvard University Center at the Villa Berenson, i.e. Villa I Tatti in Via Vincigliata in Florence. The meetings there, especially at lunches and dinners, had a more sophisticated and more social character. On the one hand, there were scholars of different fields, not only of art history but also of musicology, theatre studies, as well as specialists in archival and historical research. It was, and still is, a meeting point of many different humanistic disciplines. The atmosphere in the Villa Berenson was closer to what I was devoted and at that point absorbed to: the interdisciplinary art research. To mention all the scholars I met there and by whom I was influenced would make a long list. Many of them became later IRSA authors. However, even if not all of them, I shall recall Craig Hugh Smyth, whose revised edition of the fundamental book “Mannerism and Maniera” we edited in collaboration with Elizabeth Cropper. André Chastel was a rare but welcomed guest, who introduced us to many private Italian collections, otherwise inaccessible. W. Roger Rearick, Artur Rosenauer, Pierre Rosenberg, Janet Cox Rearick, Sylvie Béguin, Peter Humfrey, George Kubler, Lionello Puppi, Eduard Safarik and David Rosand, to mention only a few of the scholars I met there, and who later became friends of IRSA  and published with us.

In Rome the Bibliotheca Hertziana was still a place of silent work among books. But, after the library hours, scholars met for dinner or for a cup coffee, exchanging ideas and new discoveries. During my stay in Rome I met such important future friends, later authors and collaborators and supporters of IRSA, as Philipp Fehl, Giulio Carlo Argan, Claudio Strinati, Mario Praz, and Maurizio Marini. In Rome I stayed mostly in the Institutum Historicum Polonicum Romae founded by Karolina Lanckorońska and Walerian Meysztowicz, first in Via degli Scipioni, and later in Via Virginio Orsini. The Institute edited and published archival research in a series of books and periodicals, such as “Elementa ad fontium editiones”, “Antemurale”, or “Acta nuntiaturae Polonae”.

The evening conversations with Prof. Karolina Lanckorońska at the dinner table, as well as at breakfast meetings, were occasions to appreciate a purely historical and archival research, which for me – a pupil of Jan Białostocki – initially was not necessarily the most interesting and attractive facet of scholarly research.

Looking for the roots of the IRSA Institute and of the ARTIBUS ET HISTORIAE art journal I must mention also my stays in the United States and meetings with scholars like Horst Waldemar Janson, best known for his History of Art and Sculpture of Donatello. He was also a president of the College Art Association (CAA), and editor of the Art Bulletin, as well as a founding member and President of the Renaissance Society of America (RSA). During our first meeting at the New York University he put me to the test. He showed me a sculpture behind him, asking for attribution. My answer – Carpeaux – gave me a credit, and Prof. Janson recommended me later to many prominent American scholars. His recommendation was very useful and helpful when it came to establishing a new Institute and a new art-historical periodical. Especially a meeting with the Austrian art historian, Konrad Oberhuber, at that time professor at the Harvard University, and later director of the Graphische Sammlung Albertina in Vienna, had had important consequences for the nascent IRSA Institute. The contacts and suggestions of Konrad Oberhuber helped to build a solid basis for IRSA.

However, it was during my Italian years, in the mid-1970s, that I developed a firm idea to initiate a new art journal, one that would give both the young and established scholars were working in the fields on the border of art history and different other disciplines, an opportunity to publish the results of their research. Art historical periodicals were usually connected to some institution, a university, museum, or a research centre, and in most cases a venue to publish interdisciplinary studies was difficult to find. The first idea was to publish an art historical journal, which, however, would give space to the interdisciplinary research in the field of the fine arts in the broadest sense, including e.g. film, obviously with its visual aspects.

IRSA was established in 1979 as an institute devoted to art historical research. The final stimulus came from the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA) congress in Bologna of that same year. I proposed there to a small group of younger and older art historians to establish a new institute with the purpose to publish a new periodical and a book series. I received then a strong support from Jan Białostocki, André Chastel, Giuliano Briganti, René Huyghe, W. Roger Rearick, Jerzy (George) Zarnecki of the Courtauld Institute in London, as well as Hermann Filitz, then director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Walter Koschatzky, director of Albertina, and Artur Rosenauer from the University of Vienna. With the support of those prominent masters and colleagues I could face, not without great problems, the initial difficulties and sometimes scepticism of other important colleagues, who didn’t believe in the success of the new venture. Some of those most sceptical colleagues became later our faithful authors, e.g. Adam Miłobędzki, who at the beginning of the undertaking in Bologna took distance with spitefully jokes, but a few years later started to publish with us and became our close friend.

Once the idea had become real, I invented the title of the new periodical: ARTIBUS ET HISTORIAE. The first part of the title – ARTIBUS – has its origin in the inscription on the tympanum of an old and very prestigious art exhibition hall, ZACHĘTA, founded 1860 in my native Warsaw. As a young schoolboy and later as a student, I frequented the exhibitions organized there, and the Latin inscription ARTIBUS (“art” in the dative case) – meaning “(dedicated) to the arts” –- had a magical strength for me. The second part of the periodical’s title – ET HISTORIAE – is a tribute to the late Countess Karolina Lanckorońska (1898–2002), founder of the Institutum Historicum Polonicum, and also the entire Latin title goes back to her, who venerated the languages of Antiquity. A title for a new periodical ARTIBUS ET HISTORIAE came into my mind during one of my travels, on the train from Florence to Rome.

The year following the CIHA congress in Bologna, in 1980, IRSA established itself as a research institute and a publishing house (IRSA Publishing House). The same year, the first issue of ARTIBUS ET HISTORIAE was published, followed shortly afterwards by the first book in the BIBIOTHECA ARTIBUS ET HISTORIAE series.

The art journal ARTIBUS ET HISTORIAE particularly encourages interdisciplinary studies – art history in conjunction with other humanistic fields, such as psychology, sociology, philosophy, literature – as well as other unconventional approaches. The profile of the IRSA publication is a resultant of the founder’s experiences gained at the University of Warsaw, in the Viennese circle of the Gottfried-von-Herder Prize with its international atmosphere, during his stays in many Italian research centres, as well as the influence of some great personalities in the humanistic sciences mentioned before.

IRSA is an Italian acronym for Istituto per le Ricerche di Storia dell'Arte. The research Institute and the IRSA Publishing House was initially based in Venice (1979–1982), where W. Roger Rearick lived and took care of the proceedings. The logistic help in Italy for establish the new institution gave us our Italian friend prince don Maurizio Ferrante Gonzaga, descendant of the family, which yielded a Polish queen, Marie Louise Gonzaga, wife of two Polish kings. This Polish connection gave Maurizio Gonzaga energy and motivation to help us in organizing IRSA in Italy.

From Venice IRSA moved to Florence, then for years it was established in Austria. In Vienna, the IRSA Institute bought a block of three houses around a small courtyard in Rüdengasse, in Vienna’s 3rd district. It became a place of meetings for many international scholars in the spirit of Herder. After years the circle was closed. By my activity I tried to give back what I was given before. In the difficult 1980s, the years of blooming communism and the Martial Law in Poland, we tried to help especially scholars from the Eastern countries, inviting them to Vienna, and helping them to travel in Europe for scholarly purposes. IRSA in Vienna helped not only art historians. It was a time, when an invitation was necessary for the citizens from the Eastern Block countries to travel abroad. In the 1980s we, as IRSA, sent a lot of official invitations to scholars of different fields, under the pretext of organizing fictive seminars or congresses of psychology, or biology, what were in fact never organised. But with such an official invitation scholars would receive their passports and visa, and could travel across Europe. The three old neighbouring houses in Rüdengasse that we bought in Vienna had about hundred and twenty quite neglected apartments. My wife and me we had been renovating them for some time, making these apartments step by step accessible for scholars, our guests, invited from different countries to do research and to work on publications for IRSA or other publishers. The restored apartments were completely independent residential units, furnished with everything necessary for living and the scholarly work: photocopy machines, telephone, fax etc.

Later in the 1980s IRSA started collaboration with Asian countries, especially with Japan. It was a time of vigorous exchanges of scholars and students. I was continuously invited to Japan to lectures and conferences, and Japanese scholars as well as students came to Europe, and often stayed in the apartments for scholars in the Viennese IRSA headquarters in Rüdengasse. Before the fall of the Iron Curtain, acting from Vienna, IRSA encouraged and helped many scholars from Eastern and Southern Europe, as well as from Asia to undertake or continue their studies, some of whom were later published in ARTIBUS ET HISTORIAE.

Finally, a few years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, in 1996 the IRSA Institute moved to Poland. Because of the Polish background of IRSA’s founders, one of the initial aims of the Institute was to introduce Polish art and Polish art-historical scholarship, as well as the art history of Eastern and Southern Europe, into the 'international mainstream'. Nevertheless, IRSA for many years has maintained vivid contacts with the Chinese and Japanese art historical circles, including specialists both in Oriental and in European art.

In its existence of 35 years, IRSA has achieved considerable success in bringing together scholars from different countries and from various cultural circles. The main goal was carrying out art historical research, publications, and organizing various exhibitions. Among the most notable exhibitions mention should be made of: Konfrontationen in the Albertina in Vienna, an exhibition organized with Konrad Oberhuber, where also Polish artists were represented, with a catalogue published by IRSA. IRSA co-organized (together with Professors Aleksander Gieysztor and Andrzej Rottermund) a major exhibition Opus Sacrum, a selection of masterpieces from the collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, shown at the Royal Castle in Warsaw (1990) and in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. IRSA had helped Barbara Piasecka Johnson to build this collection. To mark the inauguration of the International Cultural Centre and the conference OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) in Cracow in 1991, IRSA co-organized a show at Wawel Royal Castle of the earliest work of Jan Vermeer van Delft, Saint Praxedes, discovered as a result of research carried out by the IRSA Institute. At the same time IRSA published a monograph on Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with the Ermine, loaned by the Czartoryski Museum in Cracow for the monumental exhibition, Circa 1492. Art in the Age of Exploration held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (1991–1992). The monograph illuminated the meaning and history behind Leonardo’s masterpiece and was published with the aim of familiarizing foreign audiences with a work of art rarely seen at that time outside of Poland. IRSA presented in this publication the translations of all important Polish publications about this masterpiece. Several exhibitions followed: the Wojciech Fibak collection featuring paintings of the École de Paris in Cracow and Wrocław (1998) as wel as Łódź (1999); and the retrospective show of Stasys Eidrigevičius STASYS 50, again in Cracow (1999) and Wrocław (2000). IRSA organized also exhibitions of Polish artists abroad, e.g. of Leon Tarasewicz (Leon Tarasewicz meets Michele De Lucchi, Milano 2003) in Milan. Most recently, IRSA has presented the works of Iwo Zaniewski, New Harmony Paintings, in Today Art Museum, Beijing (2008), and at the Wisom Art Center, Shanghai (2008).

The collaboration with Chinese colleagues resulted not only in some exhibitions IRSA staged in China, e.g. an exhibition of the Polish posters travelling to different university centres, but also in scholarly co-operation. One of them is a stimulus for Chinese students to prepare master’s or doctoral theses on Polish posters.

For many years  IRSA had a branch in Sendai, Japan, at the Tohoku Daigaku University, where Prof. Hidemichi Tanaka was very active. His special interest in European art, and his rare skill for languages helped him to internationalize the art history faculty in Sendai, and thanks to him the collaboration of IRSA with Japanese scholars was very vivid. After he retired from the University we were not able to replace him – to find such an open and active link to Japan he was.

After 35 years of the presence of IRSA on the art-historical scene we decided to establish the IRSA FOUNDATION, an institution which shall guarantee the future existence of the Institute and the IRSA Publishing House, with a particular interest to secure the publication of ARTIBUS ET HISTORIAE. The Foundation collaborates with various cultural institutions both in Poland and abroad, as well as with private persons interested in fine arts and in art-historical research.

During the last five years we broadened our activity to collaboration with Eastern European countries. In 2011 IRSA a co-organised an international conference that took place in Kremenets (Krzemieniec) in Ukraine. It dealt with the heritage of the artists of the Kremenets and Volhynia region, especially the open-air painting sessions in the 1930s. IRSA published the proceedings of the conference. I accepted an invitation to become the Board member of the Pidhirtsi (Podhorce) Castle Foundation which aims to preserve and restore this unique historical and artistic monument. Consequently IRSA co-organised and took part in the international conference ‘Revalorization of the Architectural Ensembles of the 17th–18th Centuries (Zolochiv, Pidhirtsi, Brody, Olesko)’, held in Lviv (Ukraine) in 2013.

The year 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the death of the eminent Lithuanian painter and composer, M. K. Čiurlionis, who had also close links with Poland. I participated in the inaugural celebrations of Čiurlionis year in Lithuania. The second important artistic event in this country was the opening in 2013 of the reconstructed Castle of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius, which I attended as well.

IRSA Institute continues its collaboration with the Japanese art historians. Professor Shigetoshi Osano from the University of Tokyo organized the 2013 CIHA colloquium – ‘Between East and West: Reproductions in Art – held at the Otsuka Museum of Art in Naruto (Japan). The proceedings of this conference are IRSA’s most recent publication. The volume includes essays that re-examine and deepen exploration of the issues surrounding reproduction from a global perspective, encompassing comparative and cross-cultural studies in art history.

Since its inception 35 years ago IRSA and ARTIBUS ET HISTORIAE have invited scholars from various countries, with a special interest on the cooperation with the art historians from Asia, as well as from Eastern and Southern Europe. We hope we give this institution a perspective of the continuation in the same way for decades to come.

 

Józef Grabski