Hawthornden Lecture Theatre, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, 1-2 December 2017
- A partnership between: the University of Edinburgh / National Galleries of Scotland / Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, European artists began to express a new and profound interest in their unique local pasts and cultural inheritances. This was a discourse that was largely shaped by the desire within several countries for cultural and artistic, and ultimately social and economic, independence. Historical scholarship on the subject has been broadly established in many European countries, but research has been dominated by nationalist perspectives that have emphasised the cultural specificity of each country. The European Revivals research project (initiated by the Finnish National Gallery in 2009) aims to stimulate debate on a wider scale. From this perspective, late nineteenth-century cultural revivals appear as a set of complex and interconnected phenomena that are transnational, inherently modern, and with far-reaching consequences.
The topic of the 2017 conference is Cultural Mythologies around 1900. Its aim is to examine issues such as authenticity, ‘rewriting’ and reinterpretation in relation to the production and assimilation of national styles, symbols and cultural narratives in late nineteenth century European art and literature. The conference will draw attention to the constructed and imaginary nature of national identities and the role of various mythical traditions and ‘reinventions’ within this context. Papers are invited that examine this European-wide phenomenon in relation to one of the following three themes:
Reinvention and ‘authenticity’
In the late nineteenth century Europe artists and designers frequently drew inspiration from mythical history, legend and vernacular traditions; they were also inspired by the forms and mysterious symbols of ancient ‘national’ art or recent archaeological ‘finds’. As artists adapted the narratives and symbols of the past to their own aesthetic, political or nationalist agendas, the original meaning was often lost and the concept of authenticity and originality became a key issue. This session takes a critical perspective on the topic, examining the reinvention and reconstruction of our mythical past.
Rewriting and reinterpretation
This session examines the impact of the national revival through the translation and rewriting of ancient myths and legends. The nineteenth-century saw the revival of ancient sagas such as the Poetry of Ossian, the Kalevala, or the mythical and heroic narratives of the Poetic Edda, while gifted female scholars such as Lady Guest and Lady Augusta Gregory translated the Welsh and Irish legends. This session examines the way in which the myths and legends of the past were rewritten and reinterpreted by European writers and artists, often guided by different national, political and ideological agendas.
Spiritualism and secret societies
Spiritualism and esoteric traditions had a significant place in the European cultural arena around the year 1900. This subject has become an increasingly central topic of research in recent years, but its relationship with national revivals has not been fully examined. Yet, it is well known that these two phenomena were often deeply interconnected. For instance, Celtic mysticism had direct links with spiritualism, theosophy and other occult movements, as did the mystical interpretations of the Kalevala that were popular among Finnish artists, writers, and musicians.