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Edwin Lachnit

(b Bielitz-Biala, Austrian Silesia [now Bielsko-Biala, Poland], March 7, 1862; d Vienna, Jan 2, 1941).

Austrian art historian. After studying classical archaeology and the history of art at the universities of Vienna, Berlin and Munich, where in 1885 he completed a dissertation on the iconography of the baptism of Christ, Strzygowski did research in Rome until 1887, when he took up an academic post in Vienna. His papers on Romano-Byzantine art were criticized by Alois Riegl and Franz Wickhoff as deficient in their analysis of sources and unscientific; thus began a lifelong conflict between Strzygowski and the ‘Vienna School’. Disappointed with the western approach to art history, Strzygowski turned to the East. He made extensive expeditions through Asia Minor, Armenia and Iran. This gave him an anti-Classical awareness of history and made him re-evaluate the civilization of the ‘barbaric’ nomadic peoples in relation to the Classical antiquity of the Mediterranean, thus introducing new dimensions to artistic research.

Strzygowski’s unconventional geographical perspective on art led him to espouse an irrational ‘Nordic myth’ according to which religion, politics, philosophy and the liberal arts had all served as instruments in the ‘southern struggle for power’ to suppress the original ‘northern man’, who was notable for his depth of feeling, his urge to express himself and his propensity for non-objective ornament. These characteristic ‘Nordic’ qualities were supposedly breaking out again in the landscape painting of Arnold Böcklin and in abstract art, while figural expressionism was a symptom of the reprehensible ‘art of the dominant group’. In order to carry out systematic ‘research into the north’, Strzygowski designed a ‘comparative science of art’ which distinguished between exact ‘factual research’ and ‘observer-based research’ underpinned by historical perception; he himself, however, was unable to adhere to this strict division. He dreamt of cooperation with allied disciplines and with the natural sciences within an ‘international house of researchers’, and he attempted to realize this ideal in his extraordinarily popular Wiener Institut. He had already held a professorship in Graz since ...