Tag Archives: Scandinavia

An Introductory Note

This special issue of Nordicum-Mediterraneum contains selected proceedings from three research circles within the Nordic Summer University (NSU): Human Rights and International RelationsUnderstanding Migration in Nordic and Baltic Countriesand Patterns of Dysfunction in Contemporary Democracies; Impact on Human Rights and Governance. The meetings took place in Saulkrasti, Latvia, from 29/7 to 2/8 2017 and in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 2/2 to 4/2 2018.

The program of the research circle, Human Rights and International Relations, ran from 2015 to 2017. This circle explored how human rights militancy and more generally the protection of human rights are affected by the international human rights regime and the way this regime enters state relations, and it also examined how the international human rights regime modifies the relations between states and how this is explained in international relations theory.

Understanding Migration in Nordic and Baltic Countries runs from 2017 to 2019. This circle addresses contemporary migration through the lens of representation. Interpreted broadly as various means of capturing, contextualizing, interpreting, and defining people, institutions, politics, and histories, representation should encompass both tangible renderings – such as photographs and films – and also a wide range of practices and processes whose representational forms serve in specific ways to produce the subject matter itself.

The study circle about the Patterns of Dysfunction in Contemporary Democracies; Impact on Human Rights and Governance runs from 2018 to 2020. This circle endeavours to study different patterns of dysfunction in contemporary democracies and in particular the insidious processes which undermine the traditional canons of liberal democracy, notably encapsulated in the rule of law and human rights. Many factors are involved in these insidious processes and the state of the various democracies can be seen as nodal points between different factors that are criss-crossing and thus creating a unique constellation: populism, nationalism, corruption, fear, social isolation, ignorance, poverty, luxury, injustice, rootlessness in its various forms are signs of unbalances within democracies on both the global, national and local levels.

The contributions from these circles evolve around the issues of human rights, democracy (including citizenship) and religion.

Jean-Pierre Cléro approaches democracy from the perspective of generational justice. Acquired pensions rights collide with the constraints of democracy and create dilemmas. Lucas L. O. Cardiell addresses other kinds of dilemmas when measures of citizen deprivation send the international protection of citizens’ rights on collision course with citizenship as the domaine réservé of states. Eyassu Gayim studies the contentious issues behind and between democracy and human rights and considers the possible conflicts involved in using the Human Rights-Based Approach to measure democracy.

Julio Jensen examines the origins of human rights and points at the important work of Bartolomé de las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria as initiators of a certain kind of resistance against state power. Marianna Barchuk-Halyk approach human rights from the increasingly important notion of human security and the new UN doctrine about the Responsibility to Protect. Magdalena Tabernacka examines the human right of freedom of religion, and emphasizes the discrepancy found in Poland between the formal adoption of relevant legal measures and the effective protection of the right.

Giorgio Baruchello addresses religious and philosophical beliefs about abortion and their relation to claims about human rights, and how possible conflicts spell out in various social contexts. Welfare provisions and positive attitudes to pregnancy tend to make abortion less necessary. Magdalena Tabernacka discusses the implementation of religious freedom  in Poland and how circumstances and will impact the effective implementation of this freedom. Julio Jensen considers how an egalitarian tradition within Judeo-Christian thinking has inspired resistance against state power.

The special issue contains the following papers

Jean-Pierre Cléro

University of Rouen, France

Democracy Put to the Test of Age

A Case Study Concerning the Dysfunction of Modern Democracy

Abstract:  After having defined with some degree of precision the concept of a dysfunction which has a very particular meaning within politics, since a regime – be it democratic – can bring forth situations which over time will not be sustainable, we will analyse the case of the retirement pension system in which the generation at work takes care of the generation not working any more. This care meets with some particular difficulties linked to inequalities in what regards economy, politics (resulting from demography), health and social conditions. Certainly, these inequalities can be covered up for some time by a play of fictions which is partly analysed here. A situation seemingly without future considering the age pyramid is strangely enough viable in fact as certain sociological studies have shown, and we endeavour to find a clue to this fact in a dialogue between two persons, who separated by about forty years cross their points of view on how contemporary relations between generations play out. However, we are not quite sure that this play between fictions is a full substitute for the economic realities. We outline here some first steps in an area rich with contradictions, which we endeavour to illuminate by some elements of a theory of fictions.

Julio Jensen

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

A Note on the Origins of Human Rights:

Bartolomé de las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria

Abstract: In the wake of the Spanish arrival in America, a controversy arose with respect to the legitimacy of the conquest and the colonial rule. This debate was started by the Dominicans in the New World, who denounced the oppression of the native population. The most renowned participants in these discussions were Bartolomé de las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria. The former received the title of “Defender of the Indians”, while the latter is remembered as a central figure in the foundation of international law. Through the debates concerning the conquest of America, one precondition – noted by Habermas – for the emergence of human rights is explored namely resistance against state power on the basis of the egalitarian tradition belonging to Judeo-Christian thinking.

Lucas L. O. Cardiell

Migration Institute of Finland

Citizenship Deprivation: A Violation of Human Rights?

Abstract: In the past few years, the issue of citizenship deprivation has risen considerably on the agenda of the international community following the recent terrorist attacks in many States. Many citizens have been deprived of their nationality based on involvement in terrorist activities or possibly on the ground of national security. In consequence, an increasing body of legal and political discourse on citizenship deprivation has been added to the literature and the academic discussions on the topic at hand. This paper argues that despite the progress in IL/IHRL, which usually creates limitations in the attribution and deprivation of citizenship, the right to citizenship falls within the domaine réservé of states. It also argues that even though there are certain legal instruments that prohibit nationality deprivation resulting in statelessness, as of the 1961 statelessness convention, the issue of nationality deprivation most likely creates a legal vacuum for individuals concerned when the acquisition of other rights is necessarily linked to nationality.

Magdalena Tabernacka

Uniwersytet Wrocławski, Poland

The Human Right to Freedom of Religion in the Polish Education System

Abstract: Teaching religion in public schools has a significant bearing on the implementation of the individual’s right to freedom of religion and belief. Even if the state outlines a model for teaching religion that is compliant with the standards for the protection of human rights, an infringement of these rights may occur due to faulty execution of the existing provisions.  The fact that a given belief system obtains the status of a majority religion does not exempt the state from its obligation to ensure the effective protection of the rights of non-believers and members of minority religions.

Marianna Barchuk-Halyk

Precarpathian National University named after

Vasyl Stefanyk, city of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine

Human Rights as a Part of the Human Security of Ukraine

Abstract. The paper is dedicated to questions of human security, the importance of which grows in international relations, yet its legal and political meanings remain ambiguous. The human security concept is about the protection of a human being or a minority group conceived as the responsibility of the states, or the international community, when the national governments cannot guarantee this security or when they consciously violate these rights. The concept of Responsibility to Protect is connected with human security. The concept is about the state’s duty to ensure the security of a person.

Giorgio Baruchello

University of Akureyri, Iceland

Religious Belief, Human Rights, and Social Democracy: Catholic Reflections on Abortion in Iceland

Terms such as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” evoke animated responses in the Anglophone world and can even win, or lose, major elections to political parties, candidates and movements. In the Nordic countries, however, the same terms and related responses are generally perceived as academic, at best, or as American, at worst. The issue of abortion seems to have been settled long ago in the Nordic context, both legally and, above all, socially. Does it mean that it has also been settled ethically? I argue that this is far from being the case and present an Iceland-based approach to the issue that, while leaving women’s rights and freedoms untouched, can accommodate to a worthy extent the defence of Scandinavian-style social democracy as well as  the traditional Catholic opposition to abortion.

Eyassu Gayim

University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Democracy, Human Rights and the UN Human Rights-Based Approach

Although democracy and human rights are universally shared values, their content has always been contested. The controversy concerns the nature of the human being, how the self relates to the community and the state, and how social and political relations should be formed. The UN followed its own political philosophy regarding this when the international regime of human rights was developed by acknowledging individual and people’s rights and democracy. This study highlights the core contentious issues behind democracy and human rights, how these concepts are intertwined and what the implications of using the Human Rights-Based Approach is to measure democracy.”

Holger Fleischer, Jesper Lau Hansen & Wolf-Georg Ringe (eds.), German and Nordic Perspectives on Company Law and Capital Markets Law (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015)

In his chapter on Comparative Company Law in the Oxford Handbook on Comparative Law, Professor Klaus J. Hopt, in a plea for more internationalization and interdisciplinary research, concluded that “[w]hat is really important to know – at least in an internal market such as in the European Union, but also beyond in a globalized world – is not company law in the books, but how company law functions within the company, on the market and beyond the frontiers.” The volume on German and Nordic Perspectives on Company Law and Capital Markets Law edited by Holger Fleischer, Jesper Lau Hansen and Wolf-Georg Ringe is a convincing contribution to modern company law and capital markets law scholarship from these perspectives.

Continue reading Holger Fleischer, Jesper Lau Hansen & Wolf-Georg Ringe (eds.), German and Nordic Perspectives on Company Law and Capital Markets Law (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015)

Ulf Blossing, Gunn Imsen & Lejf Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model. ´A School for All´ Encounters Neo-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

The Nordic countries are a special case in the global context. In a world dominated by economic criteria for all things they seem to disprove that ideology. Their economies run smoothly and are efficient, the living standards are high and yet they sustain a welfare state that provides for some of the most important needs of any citizen, such as the need for medical care in case of serious sickness, the need for education to enable the citizens to function as well informed citizens in democracies, as knowledgeable employees in their jobs and as well balanced human beings.

Continue reading Ulf Blossing, Gunn Imsen & Lejf Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model. ´A School for All´ Encounters Neo-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

G.T. Svendsen, Trust – Reflections 1 & H.H. Knoop, Positive Psychology – Reflections 2 (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2014)

Aarhus University (AU) in Denmark publishes booklets on diverse topics under the rubric Reflections, written by experts, yet in a common language aiming for the general public to read. In 2014, two booklets in this series were translated into English, (1) Trust by G. T. Svendsen, Professor and trust expert at AU, and (2) Positive Psychology by Hans Henrik Knoop, Associate Professor at AU and President of the European Network for Positive Psychology.  Continue reading G.T. Svendsen, Trust – Reflections 1 & H.H. Knoop, Positive Psychology – Reflections 2 (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2014)

The Invention of the Nordic Cuisine

The article proposes an analysis of the success of the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. In order to achieve this goal, it focuses on the viewpoint of its chef, René Redzepi and analyses the new trending culinary movement known as New Nordic Cuisine. Behind the success of the restaurant Noma, a deep reconfiguration of the Northern European culinary culture can be recognized which is not limited to food but claims for a general turnover of the entire Scandinavian identity. The article enlightens a deep connection between the story of the fictional character Babette (protagonist of both the short novel and the movie “Babette’s Feast”) and the shift led by the New Nordic Cuisine’s movement over the identity of Northern Europe. Also, it shows how this new foundation represents a contemporary attempt of “reinvention” of the tradition, being built through aesthetic and semiotic tools turned into gastronomic actions.

Continue reading The Invention of the Nordic Cuisine

A Presentation of IDIN

The network has been established with financial support from NordForsk for four years, 2011-2014, and has initiated in the project period several scientific events. Many researchers and PhD candidates have participated in the activities, and the increasingly diversified realities in the Nordic context have been approached from various angles. Contributions have come from a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences, humanities and economics, and from network members as well as invited scholars. Continue reading A Presentation of IDIN

C. Raudvere & J.P. Schjödt (eds.), More Than Mythology – Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2012)

 

More Than Mythology – Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions, asks this relevant question regarding the old Nordic belief systems and religions in a publication comprising together a vast array of scholars of Pre-Christian Scandinavian cultures and a handful of views on the Sámi-Finnish tradition. The 286-page book opens new horizons in the understanding of the past and the present of the Northern part of Europe.

 

Central to the diverse papers are the overarching themes of narrative studies, the role of rituals and the discussion of regional difference and distribution, and perhaps secondly also religion as a communal practice. Price opens the book with an in-depth and conclusive view on “Mythic Acts”, stressing the need of assessing burials, rituals and other practices as series of “performances” sometimes spanning over decades in the same geographical place, such as the gravesites in the Oslo Fjord. He refers to such a process as the “theatre of death” where these “performances” have taken place. Furthermore, in his splendid essay, he makes the case for the need to combine archaeological data with ethnographical, anthropological and other textual sources. He makes a strong case for diversification of views regarding the pre-Christian Nordic context, given the reported 500,000 different grave- and other dug sites, stressing the need to avoid any “unified view”. Price also proceeds to provide the reader with an eyewitness’ account of a “Viking” funeral along the Volga River in Russia, through the text of Arab geographer and historian Ibn Fadlan – such a description remains a pivotal text on the topic, despite the possibilities of misinterpretation and culture-specific lenses that Fadlan’s testimony gives rise to. Again, the notion of performatory function of the rituals comes to the fore.

 

Jackson investigates the merits and limits of comparative philology. He positions the crucial difference of nomadic and settled communities of the “pre”-Indo-European peoples of the Steppes as a topic worth paying attention to in the linguistic context. One can almost see the vast expanse of the pre-historic Indo-European society from India to the West Fjords in Iceland, spanning continents, nations, cultures, over time and space. Jackson investigates the rituals of the past using key linguistic possibilities, employing such concepts as the “blót” qua shared cultural heritage. Dumezils’ notion of an “Indo-European” ideology is mentioned, but Jackson stresses that the “present now” of any belief system makes the unique characteristics of such systems.

 

DuBois makes an excursion into the diets and deities of the Scandinavians and the Sámi. This is a good overview of the differences between the settler-farmers of Scandinavia and the hunter-gatherers belonging to various Sámi Nations. He positions different animals as a source of cultural-religious similarity and difference between the two cultures – as a result the Nordic communities hold in reverence mostly domesticated animals, as opposed to the Sámi, who have preserved other worldviews centred on “wild” animals, even though the reindeer, as a semi-domesticated herd animal falls between these categories. Within the Scandinavian life-world, the role of sheep and goat is very interesting. Differences come to the surface with regard to fish and their cultural interpretations in the communities. Interestingly, some animals, such as horses, have a meaning for both peoples, but they are of a very different kind – to the Sámi the horse possesses a demonic association. DuBois discusses the notion of a “mythic lag” on community change – how some attachments from “prior” systems [hunter-gatherer] manifest “still” or persistently in the “more advanced” life stage of a people.

 

As he is the only author who, to a certain extent, discusses Sámi worldviews and compares them to the Scandinavians, his text requires some reflection. The article has merits. At the same time, it has serious flaws too, for the viewpoint is fixed upon the Finno-Ugric side. According to DuBois, “both Scandinavians and the Sámi differentiated themselves from each other through the religious imagery related directly to the species they chose to consume”. It is true that the Sámi stress their connection with fish and reindeer as opposed to domesticated animals, but there is a set of reasons for this. DuBois avoids stressing the Scandinavian and, since the 1800s, the Finnish colonisation of the Sámi across the region; meaning the hunter-gatherer-herder systems as opposed to invading and expanding farming settlers. It is reasonably safe to assume that already the early historical meetings [while trade was certainly also a part of them] between the farmers and the Sámi in various parts of the region led to land use conflicts, as the subsistence rounds of the hunters required large, stable old-growth territories, as opposed to the needs of the farmers to clear forests for farms. As several Sámi scholars and leaders, such as Elina Helander, Jelena Porsanger, Pauliina Feodoroff and others have done, the emphasis in the cultural discourses on reindeer and fish, and other “wild” foods and animals, are also mechanisms of resistance against invasion.

 

DuBois utilizes some photographs from Eastern Sápmi (or Finnmark) in Norway in his article. They should be seen in a critical light. Especially the famous “Grease Stone” of Mortensnes (p.81) receives special attention. Having worked in the villages and areas around the stone since 1996, I have another opinion. My Sámi friends indicate strongly that the stone is, in fact, a Scandinavian imposition on their landscapes – while other stones and other sites of Mortensnes are indeed of the Sámi world. DuBois utilizes little-known and well-established sources from the Sámi side, but the big change and sites of resistance are not expressed clearly enough.

 

Raudvere establishes religion as a mechanism to interpret local reality. Cosmic histories and transcendental realities of past community life are a text for the scholars but a lived reality for the people themselves. She utilizes Völuspá to explore ritual and meaning. Readers could have benefitted from a more thorough discussion on the various versions of Völuspá.

 

 Nordberg presents a significant methodological paper on the study of Old Norse religion. Importantly, he stresses the need of geographical diversity and difference.A Map could have helped this article. Secondly, Nordberg importantly distinguishes between farms and coastal fishing villages, and stresses the shifts within religions in times of change. Some old colonial ghosts loom within the text with the references to “advanced religions” [of farming societies] – such terms having been deconstructed a long time ago to their proper place by postcolonial research.

 

Stark and Anttonen offer us the only views of the Finnish-Karelian tradition. They dwell little on the difference between the Scandinavian and the Sámi tradition; however Stark reminds us that “some elements of the Finnish folk practice…clearly have Finno-Ugric roots…[deriving from] Eurasian shamanism.” According to her, these constitute a “loosely structured ethno-theory for illness aetiology.” This is in line with the claims by Clive Tolley, who has not found evidence of shamanism in the Old Norse religion. Stark employs a strong feministic view on the recorded texts and identifies the year 1860 as a big change for the Nordic traditions and the complex cultural layers of religious imagery. Anttonen, by quoting at length the earliest Nordic folk tradition text by Agricola, investigates the influences and context of Finnish and Karelian deities in early times. He argues that no single coherent pagan system existed here and makes the case for the slow speed of religious change. Both texts are an important and distinct introduction to the Finnish tradition and its difference compared to the Sámi and Scandinavian ones. Stark’s conclusions could benefit a Finnish popular audience too.

 

Sundqvist investigates the sacral kinship and proposes a “religious ruler ideology” instead as a defining term. It would consist of relationships with the mythic world, its rituals, symbols and cultic organisation. He convincingly argues that there is a need of an all-inclusive rethink – and using empirical materials makes a strong case between the Swedish-Norwegian situation and the strongly independent Icelandic Commonwealth, leading to the conclusion that there was no uniform religious ruler ideology in the Nordic space.

 

Schjödt brings the far-reaching volume to its close by offering new aims and methodological discussions. Shortly stated, contemporary sources such as archaeology and the medieval sources, such as cultural texts of the time, need to go to together to widen the scope of studies on the Old Norse religion. Sagas and Eddas are to be viewed as a blend of skills of the author, oral traditions and influences of the time-space in which they were composed. Models, discourse analysis and comparative views will open the doors to new understandings. The hunt for the “original text” remains an enigma, even though, according to Schjödt, an Indo-European kernel of stories and myths existed – but, despite this and Dumezil, the “old” religion was not a coherent worldview, rather a “discursive space of diversity”.

 

Technically, this surprisingly good book could have benefitted from maps. Contemporary views of Norse religion, the role of Sigur Rós in Iceland and other followers would have enlightened the views expressed in the book too. A clear distinction between Karelian hunter-societies in the period 1600-1800 and the Sámi hunters, as opposed to the colonial impact of the farming societies of Scandinavia, would have made clearer the expanding nature of the Old Norse world. And lastly, what happened to the dragons?

 

And thus we come to a close of “More Than Mythology” – in the opening line I asked, borrowing from Schjödt, what kind of evidence is needed to propose convincing interpretations? The main problem with the critical study of religion is that it is often done by people that do not believe. Therefore the “materials” are seen as “texts” and interpretations abound, but yet the “source” is missing.

 

I am pondering this in the Karelian village of Selkie, one of the westernmost of our communities, where a hundred years ago Kalevala-style incantations and poems were collected by the scholars of that day. Snow has fallen on trees and our fishing season for open waters is at a close, boats are up and we eagerly await for the arrival of proper lake ice so that we can spread the nets under the ice again. As I reflected about the More Than Mythology, on the lake, the last of the migratory birds flew by on their way to the south – soon we will meet again, I said to them. And the realisation came to me – if we are to understand the views of our ancestors, we need to live in that nature, or remnants of that nature, that sustained them – that is the source. Then the scholar, removed from the yearly cycles of the European North with his analytical or even her feminist apparatus, can return to see that time and space are not a line, indeed many things remain, of the “old” and of the “new”, of the things the wind only whispers of, but which are already emerging.

 

 

 

 

Ove Torgny, Hundra procent Roma: en njutbar källa för sköna dagar i Rom (Ängelholm: SkåneFörlaget, 2006)

 

 

It can be debated to what extent the book actually serves as a guide book as it does not offer the reader so much of an advice of where to go, what to see and when to do it. Rather the book offers an insight into what Rome is about. In line with this the book is light on text but rich in pictures, all of which show the city and its people from various angles. The visitor looking for information on where to eat, for example, given his or her preferred price range, would therefore probably be better off picking up a Lonely Planet guide. It is of course impossible in any single book to show Rome in its entirety. Indeed to expect such an achievement from any book is quite unfair.

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the most interesting thing about Hundra procent Roma is in a way not what it tells you about Rome but rather the insight it offers into how the city appears to the visitor. A visitor from Scandinavia, to be more precise. Visiting Rome is ‘a dream for many people’. The Rome that appears in this book is sweet and relaxed. Roaming the crowded streets you can almost feel how the half-frozen northerner relaxes little by little and is transformed into a curious ‘flaneur’. Both the pictures and the text reflect very strongly the northern ideal about the relaxed south. Thus Rome is a city ‘filled with intensity, romance and feeling’ and the book invites the reader to ‘see, hear, smell, taste and feel the true Rome’.

So what then is Rome like in the eye of the visitor?

Rome is a sunny place with nice weather. Judging from the pictures in the book, it never rains in Rome and the weather in general seems to be very pleasant. None of the people are wearing warm clothes but neither do they seem to be uncomfortable due to the heat. Rome has almost no houses built since the end of the 19th century and most seem to be much older even. Those who want to explore modern Rome might find some houses dating from Mussolini’s time in the 1930’s or a few constructed for the 1960 Olympics.

In Rome you will either find streets and places which are crowded with people or which have no people or at least very few. The people in Rome seem to be either tourists, who are eagerly visiting the city’s many historical sites, or local people, who are either waiting for something or not in a hurry to get anywhere. Traffic does not seem to be a problem, though parking a car is a potential challenge and it is therefore advisable to drive either a very small car or a scooter.

In general, life in Rome is lived outside of houses. If people go inside it is only for a short time to air their bed sheets from an open window. Then they will have a meal in a restaurant and stroll about to look at things located inside historical buildings. People in Rome who are not tourists (i.e. are not standing and gazing at monuments or historical buildings) seem to be rather old and one is unlikely to meet many children.

This description might spell the true Rome to a visiting Scandinavian. At the same time it is probably a far cry from the true Rome of those who live there. The conclusion however is not that the former is in any way incorrect. Rather the two (and many others) co-exist. To suggest that a book is one hundred per cent Rome is obviously a step too far, but then who would buy a book with the title ‘half per cent Rome’?

Michelle Facos, Symbolist Art in Context (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009)

 

This book offers a straightforward definition of Symbolism as the starting point for investigating a complex and imprecisely understood art movement. Following a clear and easy-to-handle structure, the book opens immediately with an attempt to give a simple and comprehensive description of what Symbolism is: “a Symbolist work of art is characterized by 1) an artist’s desire to represent ideas and 2) a manipulation of color, form, and composition that signals the artist’s relative indifference to worldly appearances”. Facos does not take any term for granted. On the contrary, she defines and explores anew seemingly well-established concepts like evocativeness, dream, genius, spirituality, hedonism, occultism, Idealism and Decadentism, just to mention some of the most important.

Sometimes the reading suffers from Facos’ schematic approach, but that is the only way to master such a wide field of research material. Symbolism is possibly the only ‘modern’ movement that, even with a founder and a manifesto (Jean Moréas in 1886 published the Symbolist manifesto in the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro), did not create a well-defined, recognisable group of artists. Symbolism’s borders are so underdefined (do they exist at all?) that they could include an enormous amount of 19th– and 20th-century artists.

The book follows a chronological line of analysis, from a survey of the precursors of Symbolism to Symbolist currents in the 20th century. The history of the movement is revealed through a manifold collection of relevant facts, artists, literary works, music, philosophical reflections, technological innovations, in a constant dialogue with equally diverse cultural and social aspects, i.e. the actual contexts within which Symbolism developed. These aspects act like mirrors, each rendering a part of this multifaceted movement. Facos’ approach to Symbolism includes also modern categories of analysis, such as gender studies (she investigates the role of woman in Symbolist art, as a muse, a sphinx, an angel or a demon), as well as practical aspects, like the chapter devoted to the promotion of the artists through art fairs, journals, exhibitions, unions and brotherhoods. In other words, Facos provides an attempt to describe the history of the movement from the perspective of the artists too. I include below the cover of the book. It is a photograph, not a painting: Hypnos, by F. Holland Day, dated 1896. It reveals the author’s choice to explore Symbolism by means of an unconventional path.

As my scholarly interests are in mural painting and the revival of earlier techniques, I would have liked more space to be given to art mediums, for their symbolic and ideological meanings. Among the commendable qualities of the book, I wish to emphasise the broad geography of Symbolist art, which includes artists from less commonly studied countries such as Poland, the former Czech Republic, Scotland, Russia, and especially the Scandinavian countries. The bibliography is also quite extensive and genuinely international. In addition to the Italian authors quoted by Facos, I would like to remember the studies on Symbolist art by Luigi Carluccio, Maria Mimita Lamberti, Gianna Piantoni and Maria Teresa Benedetti. With her new book, Michelle Facos confirms herself one of the main scholars in 19th-century art, and among those who brought new life into the art history of Northern Europe, on a par with Patricia G. Berman for Norway and Denmark, and with Salma Sarajas-Korte, Marjatta Levanto and Riikka Stewen for Finland.

Facos Symbolist Art Cover