The IRSA Institute was one of the co-organisers of the international scholarly conference The History of Art History in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, held in Toruń on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the first art-historical lecture at the University in Vilnius (1810). Dr Józef Grabski chaired the first session in Section A on the conference’s first day, entitled: The Genesis of Art History as a Science [i.e. as a Scholarly Discipline] and presented a paper: The Thirtieth Anniversary of the IRSA Institute for Art Historical Research.
On 5 September 1810 the professor of “etching and literature of fine arts” Joseph (Józef) Saunders (London 1773 – Krzemieniec [Kremenets in Volhynia] 1845) delivered the first lecture in art history at the Faculty of Literature and Art of the University of Vilnius, entitled: “Discours sur l’influence ou l’utilité des arts imitatifs” (On the Influence and Use of Mimetic Arts, published in Polish as “O wpływie i użytku sztuk naśladowniczych” in Pamiętnik Magnetyczny in 1815). Saunders also prepared the academic curriculum for teaching art history and published the text of his other lecture, “Information about the Life and Works of Szymon Czechowicz” (a Cracow-born 18th-century painter), which was the first scholarly article devoted to art on the territory of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (published in Polish in Dziennik Wileński in 1815).
The eminent personality of Saunders marks therefore the beginnings of Polish art history as academic discipline, and consequently, the 200th anniversary of that first lecture is at the same time the 200th anniversary of the foundation of an important humanistic discipline in Poland, Lithuania and East-Central Europe. Saunder’s lectures were chronologically second, after those by Johann Domenico Fiorillo at Göttingen University; however, Saunders’ nomination for the post of the professor of art history took place three years earlier (in 1810).
The conference was devoted to the history of art history as a scholarly discipline and its contribution to the development of national and aesthetic identities of the nations of East-Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe that, in the nineteenth century were for the most part deprived of independence and were dependent on the partitioning states, and in the twentieth century were subjugated by the totalitarian powers: Germany and the Soviet Union. In the nineteenth century those nations often fought for common causes – the independence and democratic civic rights. The investigation into and care of the artistic heritage had become important elements n the course of creating national cultures, starting from the antiquarianism of the first half of the nineteenth century through the development of cultural and scholarly institutions (scholarly associations, art schools, museums and press) to the institution of art history as an academic discipline. Also national minorities, like Jews, Armenians and Tatars fall within the conference’s scope.
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