Jan Białostocki (1921–1988)
Divisions of PAS
This article introduces Jan Białostocki (1921–1988), who is considered the most outstanding Polish art historian, and who belonged to the world’s elite humanist scholars of the twentieth century. Throughout his life, Bialostocki was associated with two institu-tions: the Institute of Art History at the Warsaw University and the National Museum in Warsaw. He lectured at numerous European and American universities. He was a member of several European Academies of Sciences, and Vice–President of the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art, Conseil International de la Philosophie et des Sciences Humaines. He also received the Warburg–Preis award. Białostocki was the author of over 500 major scholarly publications, including such fundamental works as: Les Primitifs Flamands: Les Musées de Pologne (1966), Spätmittelalter und beginnende Neuzeit (Propylaen Kunstgeschichte VII, 1972), The Art of the Renaissance in Eastern Europe: Hungary, Bohemia, Poland (1976), and Il Quattrocento nell’ Europa Settentrionale (1989). His main focus was on iconology, which he developed, often arguing with its founder, E. Panofsky. He proposed the modus theory in art history, which made an important impact on Western art literature, as well as the category of “framework theme” (Rahmenthema). Białostocki also put forward a comprehensive vision of the methods of art history. Accordingly, the study of a work of art would include analysing it as: a physical object; a product of technology; a formal structure; a social function (purpose and historical reception). Then an analysis of its genesis would follow: as a product of a historical period, of taste and style; as a product of a particular artistic milieu; as a product of a community; as a product of a concept of art (such as theoretical formulae, or particular views on art); as a product of an artistic personality. The next step should be the analysis of the reception and the works: as an object being judged and evaluated in the history of its Nachleben, as public or private property, as an object of criticism or admiration in literary sources and the social history of taste, as subject to various transformations, manipulations, and finally as subject of a scholarly analysis. Separate from, and very important to Białostocki’s interests, and to which he brought a new outlook, was the problem of the relationship between the center/periphery, metropolitanism/provincialism – he fought with the stereotyped geohistory of European art caught in the paradigm of centralism, Eurocentrism, Italocentrism or Francocentrism.