Universiteit Leiden

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Foundation for Austrian Studies

XIII Annual Convention of the Austrian and Central European Centers, 22nd – 25th October 2019 in Vienna

Impressions by Dr. Lilian Ruhe

In 2017, the year before the defense of my PhD thesis, I met Jeroen Duindam, former director of the Austria Center Leiden. This meeting was the result of downloading one of his publications through Academia.edu, a website which offers the opportunity to communicate with the concerning author. At that time I was still working as an external PhD candidate at the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen on the research of the life and work of the relatively unknown German portrait and tronie painter Christian Seybold (1695-1768).

My attention had been drawn to 18th-century German and Austrian art and history for at least fifteen years. Because of the choice of my subject I have sometimes felt a bit odd within the Dutch academic art-historical community, in which Seybold’s contemporaries are only rarely studied. Before I got to know Jeroen, I never even heard of the existence of the worldwide network of Austria Centers. Jeroen encouraged me to participate in an annual convention. Coincidentally, the annual congress of 2019 was organized in Vienna, the epicenter of my own research. So, when I received the invitation from Monika Baár in April 2019 to participate in the latest congress, I did not hesitate. To present a part of my research to an audience which might be familiar with the painter’s historical and political constellation would be a rare opportunity.

The way the congress was organized was impressive: not only were the outward and return journey, all excellent meals and accommodation arranged to perfection, but the conference program also proved to be well-thought through. We went on a field trip to Burg Forchtenstein and Schloss Eisenstadt where the Princes and Counts of Esterhazys resided, and on an interesting tour in the Haus der Geschichte Österreich. Because the program was jam-packed, there was little room left to do something on our own initiative. On the other hand, the days of arrival and departure offered ample opportunity to explore Vienna and, in my case, to visit exhibitions, such as the unique temporary Albrecht Dürer exhibition at the Albertina.

As a researcher one is inclined to look around for input from within one’s own discipline. Although there was only one other art historian in our company, the varied range of subjects proved fascinating and surprisingly educative. The versatile program ranged from research into the cartographic symbolism of early railroad maps to issues in translations of German poetry into Yiddish. After the lectures animated discussions sometimes lacked a bit, nor were there always challenging questions from the participants, which possibly is a natural consequence of the multi-disciplined composition of the audience.

I am ever so grateful for having had the opportunity to present and publish an almost forgotten court painter in his hometown for the first time. During the excursions too, I felt privileged because of the abundance of noble portraits with which both the castle and the palace are decorated. Even in the Haus der Geschichte Österreich, I found visual material which adds valuable input to my research on Seybold. One of the organizers in the person of Florian Gerhardus helped me to establish new contacts that could be fruitful in my follow-up research into 18th-century portraiture, an area that still needs much more research.

Quite pleasant about this particular group of ‘Austria adepts’ was that green and ripe mingled. This was also true for the contacts between people from different international and cultural backgrounds. The relaxed feeling of curiosity, friendship and togetherness prevailed throughout the days, which made an informal and inspiring transfer of knowledge possible. I am looking back with extraordinary pleasure in the knowledge that I have made new friends. Therefore, I am looking very forward to the 2020 convention in Leiden and hope to meet up again with many of them.

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