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Taide alttarilla : alttaritaulutraditio Suomessa 1918-1945
Published inJyväskylä Studies in the Arts
The study applies the methodology of art history to the Finnish Evangelical-Lutheran ecclesiastical art tradition during the first two decades of Finland's independence (between the civil war in 1918 and the Second World War 1939-1945). It seeks to explain the praxis of ecclesiastical art during the years 1918-1945 in the light of developments in the tradition of altarpieces. This period was remarkable in terms of both the institutions studied and the trend then prevailing in ecclesiastical art. A great deal of ecclesiastical art, including altarpieces, was being produced, and the discussion on it was exceptionally animated. Comprehensive studies on the ecclesiastical art of this period have not been undertaken in the past. This study constitutes part of a research project funded by the Academy of Finland and entitled 'Finnish ecclesiastical art and the theology of the image'. The study approaches its subject through the theories of the sociology of art. Institutional theories of art have previously been criticized for having been created solely to justify avantgarde Modernism and thereby the autonomy of the 'art world'. The purpose of this study is to apply the institutional approach to the study of ecclesiastical art, a less valued peripheral area of Modernism. Ecclesiastical art is seen as one sector of the point of commonality between two social institutions, the Evangelical-Lutheran national church and the emerging national art establishment. Thus it is an apt field for debate concerning the status and role of art within the church. This analysis of the discourse on altarpieces throws light on developments in the tradition of ecclesiastical imagery. Above all, this study seeks to illustrate the institutional factors that contributed to the modification process of the centuries-old tradition of ecclesiastical art in the first decades of Finland's independence. Individual works of art do not serve as objects of interpretation, nor are biographical, iconographical or semiological methods applied to facilitate their understanding or explanation. In general, an image or work of art is not regarded as a signifying system that can be decoded or translated so that its textual 'rationale' is fully unravelled. The study views the positing of a causal relationship between textual influences and visual art as generally problematic. Instead, a work of art is understood as an autonomous object of study that bears traces attesting to the influence of the surrounding environment. This formative environment cannot, however, be reconstructed on the basis of these traces alone. Institutional theories of art are therefore applied to empirical material to reconstruct the formative institutional environment and discourse. The context thus outlined will help understand the institutional exigencies imposed on ecclesiastical art. Such a reconstruction does not present a full picture, however, since it is limited by the expressly chosen method. This is why the current study does not provide an exhaustive exposition of ecclesiastical art. The altarpiece tradition flourished during the period studied, i.e. 1918-1945. There was, however, pressure towards change from both Finland's Evangelical-Lutheran national church and the emerging national art establishment. There were supporters of the altarpiece tradition in both these establishments, and there was no way of telling which perspective would eventually win the battle of discourse. The pressure was mostly directed either against altarpieces altogether or, more specifically, against their subject matter. Artistic quality was one criterion used to support reform, and the requirement of artistic quality was also used against the practice of copying altarpieces. Reproductions continued to be made, but they were no longer considered fit for the altar. Towards the end of the period there were already clear signs of the demise of the tradition. New churches seldom acquired altarpieces, although many old churches still received traditional ones as a result of repair and renovation. It is significant that the majority of the period's new altarpieces were acquired by churches built before 1918. ...
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