Wölfflin’s Comparative Vision
While the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin was enthusiastic about kinaesthetic knowing in his earliest writings, he increasingly lost faith, eventually relegating it to the negative pole of the opposition that he invented between the Renaissance and the Baroque. In an attempt to keep in check the baroque formlessness of modernity, Wölfflin devised the comparative method. This was part of a revival of comparative looking: the technique was adopted during the Leipzig exhibition of 1871, when two almost identical painting were juxtaposed; at art schools where image pairs were used to indoctrinate students in good taste; at universities where the double art historical slide lecture introduced students to classical texts; and, finally, in a new kind of picture book that emerged in the early twentieth century. According to Paul Schultze-Naumburg whose widely read Kulturarbeiten series juxtaposed examples and counter-examples, comparative looking forced the eye to draw its own inferences without resorting to propositional knowledge. This chapter examines the technique of comparative looking as it was used at the turn of the twentieth century alongside research in experimental psychology to argue that comparative looking was employed as a technique to replace propositional knowledge while stabilizing the uncertainties of kinaesthetic knowing.
Keywords: comparativism, Heinrich Wölfflin, Paul Schultze-Naumburg, discipline of art history, art historical slide lecture, baroque, art instruction, picture books, university instruction, experimental psychology
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