The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Paradigms of Golden Age Research - Demonstrated on a painting by Wilhelm Bendz

  • Søren Kjørup,, 1994
  • This is a re-publication of the article: Søren Kjørup: ‘Paradigms of Golden Age Research – Demonstrated on a painting by Wilhelm Bendz’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1994, p. 114-123.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

This essay takes its point of departure in Kaspar Monrad’s outline of the traditions of research on Danish Golden Age painting. According to Monrad, what I propose to call a “classical” paradigm was created by Emil Hannover and Karl Madsen through monographs during the decade before the turn of the century and in historical surveys during the first decade after. Hannover and Madsen construed Golden Age painting as that of Eckersberg and his school, and focused on the lives of the painters and on style. The scholars adhering to the “modern” paradigm, however, not least Monrad himself and Mogens Nykjær, who take over around 1970, are also interested in painters from outside the Eckersberg group, and tend to focus on iconological questions in a context of social history or the history of ideas.

In the first part of my essay I try to show that important elements of the classical paradigm had already been anticipated by Høyen and Julius Lange. I especially point to Lange’s “Survey of the History of Art in Denmark”, written in the beginning of the 1890s for the Salmonsen Encyclopedia. Lange, however, draws attention to a trait in the Golden Age painting that the “classical” scholars did not discuss: a certain “dualism between the simple painterly view of the local and on the other hand the study of the universal. ... In many ways, the one obstructed the other.” I argue that this view brings Lange closer to our own time than the views of both the classical and the modern paradigm.

In the second part of the essay, I show how the “classical” Madsen and the “modern” Nykjær have written about Wilhelm Bendz’s A Young Artist (Ditlev Blunck) Contemplates a Sketch in a Mirror from 1826. So far Monrad’s description of the paradigms is confirmed. But I proceed to show that we can also find the “dualism” that Lange writes about in this painting; it is not necessarily as harmonious as in Nykjær’s reading.

Finally, in the third part, I pursue the Lange-inspired, “postmodern” view, discussing the Bendz painting in the context of Michael Fried’s concepts of “absorption” and “theatricality” and pursuing the play of the intersecting glances in the painting. I try to show that this painting is even more “absorbed” than Fried’s Wical examples: In the mirror we not only see the fourth wall of the room, but in a certain sense we even see a mirror image of the painter – Bendz – himself at his easel. The aim of the analysis is to inspire other scholars to develop a postmodern or deconstructivist paradigm for the further study of Danish Golden Age painting.

Last updated 18.06.2018