Abstract

The history of art started with the myth of Barbarian invasions. Countering the timelessness of Classical art as affirmed by Winckelmann in the middle of the eighteenth century, a new argument arose: The West was propelled into modernity by the Barbarian invasions of the fourth and fifth centuries, as it was converted from paganism to Christianity. The infusion of the new blood of the northern races was seen to have engendered a new art, anti-Roman and anti-Classical, whose legacy was still apparent in Europe. This was a fantasmatic narrative, inseparable from the formation of nation-states and the rise of nationalism in Europe. Based on the dual assumption of the homogeneity and the continuity of their native populations, it assumed that styles depend on both blood and race; the “tactile” or “optical” qualities of an object became the unequivocal signs of its “Latin” or “Germanic” provenance, and museums organized their objects according to the “ethnic” identity of their creators.

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