History of the Department

History of the Department

When the School of Art History was established at the Faculty of Arts in 1923, it was much more than the foundation of a field which had become an integral part of all Central European universities at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. When Czechoslovakia was established as an independent republic, an important cultural issue emerged – how to take professional care about Slovakia’s extensive art collections. The school was initially managed by František Žákavec, a Czech scholar, linguist and by then also a reputed historian of 19th century Czech art. In 1923, Žákavec became Associate Professor and soon after the first Professor of Art History at Comenius University. When he retired in 1936 for health reasons, he left behind his two Slovak students – Vojtech Tilkovský and Alžbeta Güntherová-Mayerová. In 1937, the issue of who was to chair the art history department got on to the agenda once again.

At first, the issue was dealt with by way of giving Jan Eisner, professor of archaeology, three seminars to teach – besides his own classes, he taught courses in ethnology and art history. Art history was also temporarily covered by part-timer Prof. Eugen Dostál from Brno. In the end, the art history chair was given to Assoc. Prof. Václav Mencl in 1938. Shortly after, however, he suffered the same fate as many other Czech intellectuals, and was forced to leave Slovakia. And so it was Prof. Dostál who became head of the School of Art History in Bratislava. He commuted to work in the Slovak capital until 1942, but he failed to educate a competent successor. In the period of 1942–1948, the School was provisionally chaired by Prof. Andrej Mráz, a literary scientist. In 1948, Jaroslav Dubnický became the School’s director and received his associate professorship one year later. Between 1949 and 1953, Assoc. Prof. Mencl worked part-time for the School. When Assoc. Prof. Dubnický left for other positions, his place was taken up by Associate Professor and soon-to-be Professor without chair Vladimír Wagner.

In 1950, the School of Art History was integrated into the Department of Aesthetics and Art Studies. In the same year, Assoc. Prof. Güntherová-Mayerová temporarily returned to the faculty as a part-timer. For political reasons, however, she was forced to leave not just the university, but for several years also Bratislava.

In 1951, Jiří Kostka, who had been employed by the Prague Conservation Office, was invited to teach part-time at the department. He was joined by a number of young assistant teachers in 1954. In 1955, however, Prof. Wagner died unexpectedly and the art history section was once again without a Professor or Associate Professor. This difficult situation made the department request the help of Assoc. Prof. Güntherová-Mayerová who taught classes in art history together with teaching assistants Karol Kahoun, Radislav Matuštík, Tomáš Štrauss and Elena Dubnická until 1961.

In 1969, Marian Váross, director of the Institute for Theory and History of Art at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, and member-correspondent of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, became head of the Department of Visual Arts Studies. He brought a great number of colleagues, mostly experts in various periods of Slovak art history, from the Academy to work at the Faculty of Arts as part timers. This significantly changed the character of teaching at the department from a relatively closed and conservative system to a more open structure, similar to the systems traditionally used at western universities. Unfortunately, all other plans were ruined by the so-called normalization and in 1970 Váross had to leave the faculty. He was followed by Štrauss and in 1972 also by Matuštík.

In 1966, Assoc. Prof. Pavol Michalides (from 1973 full professor) became new head of department. As opposed to Marian Váross, Michalides did not favour art historiography because he suspected it was a discipline of the bourgeois elite. He systematically tried to make all teaching at the department submit to the propaganda and serve the current needs of politics. Art history as such thus became a necessary evil, a kind of backdrop for the contemporary ideological writing on art. Lectures in ancient art were held by Jiří Kostka and Karol Kahoun. The latter of the two also succeeded in completing his habilitation. During normalization, the department lost its independence and, as part of faculty centralization, became part of the Department of Aesthetics and Art Studies.

After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the independent Department of History of Visual Arts was restored and focused its agenda on complying with the traditions of art history departments at European universities. It also attempted to foster the idea of art history as a historical discipline. Since 1989, the department was headed by Assoc. Prof. Karol Kahoun (1990–1993), Prof. Ján Bakoš (1993–1999), Prof. Mária Pötzl-Malíková (1999–2002), Assoc. Prof. Dana Bořutová (2002–2008) and PhDr. Štefan Oriško (2008–2013), Katarína Kolbiarz Chmelinová (2012/2013 - 2020), Katarína Beňová (2020 - present).