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Johan Jakob Tikkanen

Born December 7, 1857, Helsinki. Died June 20, 1930, Helsinki

Master of Arts 1880, Licentiate 1884, Imperial Alexander University

Docent in aesthetics and art history 1884–7, Imperial Alexander University
Professor extraordinary 1897–1920 and professor ordinary 1920–26 of art history, Imperial Alexander University (University of Helsinki 1919–)
Acting professor of aesthetics and comparative literature 1901 and 1905 Imperial Alexander University (University of Helsinki 1919–)
Head of the sculpture collection of the University of Helsinki 1898–1926 and head of the Drawing School 1908–26
Secretary of the Finnish Art Society 1892–1920, chairman 1920–22
Vice chairman of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland 1922–24
Vice chairman of the Friends of Ateneum 1919–20
Chairman of the National Council for Visual Arts 1918–23

Awards and special achievements
Official representative of the University of Helsinki at the 800th anniversary celebrations of the University of Bologna, 1888
Member of the Finnish Society of Science and Letters 1911
Finnish Literature Society prize 1914
Member of the Comitato di Patrocinio of the international conference of art history in Rome 1918
Finnish Society of Science and Letters prize 1914

Photo: Taidehistorian kuvakeskus, Helsingin yliopisto

Written by Johanna Vakkari (Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta, ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

Art History as an Independent Discipline

Johan Jakob Tikkanen was appointed docent in art history and aesthetics in 1884, the same year he completed his doctoral dissertation Der malerische Styl Giotto’s – Versuch zu einer Charakteristik desselbe. It was the first purely formal analytic study of the works of the Italian master Giotto. Tikkanen was made professor extraordinary in 1897, but it was not until 1920 that he became professor ordinary, when funds donated by the privy counsellor Hjalmar Linder were used to establish the professorship in art history. Throughout his long career at the Univeristy, Tikkanen shaped the subject of art history in Finland into an independent discipline in accordance with international standards. He retired in 1926, at the age of 69.

A marble relief of Johan Jakob Tikkanen, made by Felix Nylund in 1927. Photo: Päivi Rainio / Helsinki University Museum.

J.J. Tikkanen was active in a time when the language quarrels between the Fennomans and the Svecomans were at fever pitch. Although he was exceptionally influential and active in the scientific, artistic and cultural life of Finland, he kept his distance from the activities of the language movements, as well as from politics in general. This is understandable in light of his bilingual background, and the fact that his Swedish speaking relatives had also actively participated in improving the status of the Finnish language. His father, Paavo Tikkanen (1823-1873), was a Finnish speaking journalist from Kiuruvesi and the editor and founding member of the first Finnish language daily newspaper in the country, Suometar. His mother, Helena Tengström (1829-1857), was in turn a member of an old and distinguished Swedish speaking family. Her father, Johan Jakob Tengström, was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Helsinki and a long-term proponent of improving the standing of the Finnish language.

Having lost his parents at an early age, Tikkanen grew up with his mother’s family, and was educated in Swedish. His primary guardian was Carolina Tengström, the second wife of his grandfather J.J. Tengström and the sister of Fredrika Runeberg. For this reason their circle of friends also included the national poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg and the sculptor Walter Runeberg, as well as other influential figures of the time, such as Zacharias Topelius and Johan Vilhelm Snellman. Also contributing to this varied Finnish and Swedish background was the influence of Tikkanen’s most influential teacher at the University, Professor of Aesthetics and Modern Literature Carl Gustaf Estlander (1834-1910). Being a figurehead for cultural Swedes and having strong connections to other Nordic countries, Estlander was a proponent of a bilingual Finland where culture would develop side-by-side in Finnish and Swedish. Tikkanen shared this view of one people with two languages. His liberal stance on language politics is evident not only in his correspondence but also in other contemporary sources.

J. J. Tikkanen with his wife Lilly (née Westzynthius) and his son Robert (born 1888). Photo: University of Helsinki.

First published in Humanistilehti in 2008

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