The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

The Self-View of the Golden Age and the Formation of the Concept of the Golden Age

  • Flemming Conrad,, 1994
  • This is a re-publication of the article: Flemming Conrad: ‘The Self-View of the Golden Age and the Formation of the Concept of the Golden Age (Some literary historical observations)’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1994, p. 36-41.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

Some literary historical observations

This paper discusses the concept of “Golden Age” among literary historians as distinct from the usage of art historians, and tries to relate this difference to the respective statuses of literature and pictorial art in Danish 19th century society, e.g., in the educational system of the period.

Since Hesiod (700 B.C.) the traditional concept of a “Golden Age” has been used to indicate not only an epoch of high cultural standard, but also a certain conception of history: living in a period of general decline close, figuratively speaking, to the bottom of a u-shaped curve, the historian looks back upon the magnificent past and faintly sees an equally glorious future.

About 1870 this model was adopted by Danish literary historians and applied to the romantic poets of the period 1800-1870: at about the time when the romantic movement had come to an end, it was raised to “the Golden Age” – seen, as usual, from a succeeding, inferior period. In contrast, the concept of “the Golden Age” has no currency among art historians until about 1940, and even then it is not used to place the period concerned in any comprehensive historical context.

The widespread currency of the notion of “Golden Age” among literary historians is, no doubt, due to the fact that it was connected with the doctrine of a national revival from about 1800, after Danish language and literature had for centuries been suppressed by the influence of Latin and, especially, German.

Last updated 11.05.2017