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date: 15 September 2019

Heritagelocked

  • Donald Wintersgill

Extract

Term applied broadly to whatever of the past is considered to hold cultural significance; closer definition has become contentious in the late 20th century. Architecture, the fine and applied arts, and objects of archaeological interest are frequently the physical objects of heritage (literature, academic learning, music, etc being other aspects), although by no means is every building or work of art regarded as significant. Exactly what is deemed part of heritage and thus worthy of preservation depends on prevailing attitudes to art and the art market, as well as notions of statehood and cultural history, and other issues regarding ownership, such as the public right of access to a particular work. The role of museums and the problems of looting form part of these issues.

Since the mid-20th century the European use of the word ‘heritage’ has taken on greater overtones of ‘nationhood’ than before: heritage is not an issue merely of preserving works, but of keeping them within the borders of the country of origin and acknowledging them as part of the nation’s culture. This concept does not appear to have been so strongly formed in the past in Europe, although the basic sentiment in heritage—that artefacts can have a historic, cultural value—can be traced back over millennia. The acquisition of art as a device of power and empire-building exemplifies the sentiment. Victorious Roman armies took booty as a kind of status symbol: the Emperor Titus, for example, returned from Jerusalem with the treasures of the Second Temple. From the Renaissance onwards, the acquisitiveness of collectors and patrons, particularly for ...

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