The Group Portraiture of Holland

Alois Riegl; introduction by Wolfgang Kemp; translations by Evelyn M. Kain and David Britt


424 pages

PDF file size: 102 MB


The Group Portraiture of Holland shows how artists such as Rembrandt and Frans Hals radically altered the relationship of the beholder to the work of art. Alois Riegl’s masterly study has become a point of departure for a variety of twentieth-century readings of art, demonstrating again that, as Walter Benjamin wrote of Riegl’s Late Roman Art Industry, “every great scholarly discovery … portends a revolution in method.”

In this volume, Alois Riegl argues that group portrait painters in Holland radically transformed the beholder’s relationship to the work of art. Italian art based on internal coherence–that is, a clear hierarchy of the figures depicted in the painting—ran counter to the Kunstwollen (artistic volition) of the artists of democratic Holland. Seeking to maintain equality among the sitters, these artists introduced external coherence into their group portraits—that is, the figures portrayed actively engage the viewer outside the frame. Riegl’s exploration of this new role for the beholder, and of the increasingly nuanced interplay of internal and external coherence in works by painters such as Rembrandt and Frans Hals, broke new ground in the theory of communication, in the aesthetics of reception, and in historical psychology.

The Texts & Documents series offers to the student of art, architecture, and aesthetics neglected, forgotten, or unavailable writings in English translation.

Edited according to modern standards of scholarship, and framed by critical introductions and commentaries, these volumes gradually mine the past centuries for studies that retain their significance in our understanding of art and of the issues surrounding its production, reception, and interpretation.

Eminent scholars assist in the selection and publication of volumes in the Texts & Documents series. Each volume acquaints readers with the broader cultural conditions at the genesis of these texts and equips them with the needed apparatus for their study. Over time the series will greatly expand our horizon and deepen our understanding of critical thinking of art.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
    Wolfgang Kemp
  • The Group Portraiture of Holland
    • Preface
    • The Early Stages
    • The First Period of Group Portraiture in Holland, 1529–1566
    • The Second Period of Group Portraiture in Holland, 1580–1624
    • The Third Period of Group Portraiture in Holland, 1624–1662
  • Notes
  • Illustration Credits
  • Bibliography of Works by Alois Riegl
  • Index

About the Authors

Alois Riegl was one of the most influential art historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Born in 1858 and trained at the University of Vienna, Riegl published his work between 1891 and 1903, before his death in 1905 at the age of forty-seven. Notable among this body of work are Stilfragen: Grundlegungen zu einer Geschichte der Ornamentik (translated as Problems of Style: Foundations for a History of Ornament) and Die spätrömische Kunstindustrie nach den Funden in Österreich-Ungarn (Late Roman Art Industry). Riegl was a leading representative of the First Viennese School of art history.

Wolfgang Kemp is professor of art history at the Universität Hamburg. He taught at the Philipps-Universität Marburg from 1983 to 1995 and at the Universität Gesamthochschule Kassel from 1974 to 1983.

Evelyn M. Kain is professor and chair of the art department of Ripon College, Wisconsin. Her translations include Alois Riegl’s Problems of Style.

David Britt was an editor of art books at Thames & Hudson in London formore than twenty years; since 1987 he has been translating full-time. Histranslations in the Getty Research Institute’s Texts & Documents series includetitles by Aby Warburg, Friedrich Gilly, and Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières.