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New in CAA Reviews
A Review of Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts

In an article in CAA Reviews, Richard Woodfield discusses Jacqueline Jung’s new translation of Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts by Aloïs Riegl. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full review. An excerpt appears below:

“For the best part of the twentieth century, the work of Aloïs Riegl (1858–1905) was not accessible to the Anglophone reader. We have particular reason to welcome this highly readable translation of his Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts because this particular book was recommended by its original editors, Otto Pächt and Karl Maria Swoboda, as the best introduction to Riegl’s thought. They would have had good cause to know, as they were intimately involved in his first renaissance in Vienna in the 1920s.

Earlier translations of Riegl’s writings—Das holländische Gruppenporträt (The Group Portraiture of Holland [Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 1999]) and Stilfragen (Problems of Style [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992])—were accompanied by substantial commentary. Wolfgang Kemp demonstrated how a modern historian could apply lessons from Riegl’s critical practice, and David Castriota informed the reader of subsequent developments in the scholarship related to the evolution of ornament. Rolf Winckes’s earlier translation of Spätrömische Kunst-Industrie (Late Roman Art Industry [Rome: Bretschneider, 1985]) demonstrated the difficulties in arriving at a readable Riegl, but it also had a useful scholarly apparatus.

This book, by contrast, has only short introductions and no critical apparatus. The reader is invited to get quickly into the text on the grounds that it has continued relevance to contemporary art-historical debates. In his foreword, Benjamin Binstock finds Riegl’s racial explanations of stylistic shifts amusing and feels they can be disregarded in favor of ‘specific readings of particular formal elements of artworks in relation to these distinctions’ (23). Although Jacqueline Jung points out in her translator’s preface that Riegl’s prose was ‘difficult’ (37) with ‘dense and complicated syntax’ (38), a readable translation creates problems of its own.”