Eighteenth-Century Religion between History and Art History

Posted in books, reviews by Editor on March 5, 2010

Recently added to caa.reviews:

Nigel Aston, Art and Religion in Eighteenth-Century Europe (London: Reaktion Books, 2009), 320 pages, ISBN: 9781861893772, $45.

Reviewed by Michael Yonan, University of Missouri–Columbia; posted 25 February 2010.

. . . Among crossdisciplinary connections, perhaps none is so elusive, so fraught with traps, as the boundary between history and art history. It is a boundary all the more striking for its invisibility. Art historians typically assume that they are partaking in historical study, that the tools they bring to cultural artifacts from the past illuminate an understanding comparable to that of their historian colleagues. All the greater their surprise, then, when they attend a history seminar or delve into historical journals and discover that their colleagues actually speak a different language and reach sometimes strikingly unfamiliar conclusions. Confusion and misunderstanding can happen in the opposite direction, too.  Historians create knowledge about the past typically from texts, and it can seem a small step to translate that knowledge to images and spaces, visual constructions that likewise are products of the past and which ostensibly engage the same concerns. Nigel Aston recognizes the divide between his discipline, history, and art history and notes their differences in the introduction to his book “Art and Religion in Eighteenth-Century Europe.” He begins by registering his own interdisciplinarity, but reminds his readers that as a historian he brings a disciplinary perspective to the material at hand. That material is this period’s plentiful religious art, and he adds that in being fascinated by it he has been more or less alone among Anglo-American scholars. Certainly he is correct in noting that religious imagery desperately requires additional study and greater emphasis in our growing discourse on eighteenth-century art. . . .

For the full review, click here»

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