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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

International Art History

Fennomans defended not only language but national culture in a wider sense. The only contemporary of Johan Jakob Tikkala known to have accused Tikkanen of being a Svecoman was his student Ludvig Wennervirta, who did so in an obituary published in 1933. The accusation may have had more to do with the lack of attention Tikkanen showed to Finnish art as a researcher and teacher than to language politics. Tikkanen had in fact always been interested in the history of art as a whole.

Tikkanen’s lectures concentrated on international art, and nearly half of his teaching between 1888 and 1926 dealt with the paintings and architecture of the Italian Renaissance. The majority of his academic publications, which numbered over 70, also dealt with foreign and general art history. He published his most important works in German. This focus on the international aspects of art history may have given cause for deliberate defamation among the Fennomans, which is what the obituary by Wennervirta most certainly was. Meanwhile, another responsibility along with his professorship kept Tikkanen closely connected to contemporary Finnish art. He was the secretary of the Finnish Art Society and later the chairman for a total of 35 years, and made significant contributions to advancing Finnish art throughout his life.

The professional network set up by Tikkanen covered the whole of Europe, and his most important academic community was within the Germanic cultural region. An international orientation and openness were principles shared by Carl Gustav Estlander and Tikkanen. Although there is no doubt that both were concerned with the political situation in Finland, science could not be reduced to a mere tool of nationalistic aspirations. The early academic stages of art history in Finland as well as in Europe in general owe a great deal to the German scientific community. Art history’s early theoretical influences came above all from aesthetics and philosophy—empirical influences came from history, archaeology, the antiquarian research tradition, and the natural sciences.

Tikkanen was involved in developing several of those new research methods and directions that were to lead to the birth of art history in the late 19th century. He was one of the pioneers in the study of mediaeval art, particularly in the field of illustrated manuscripts (e.g. Die Psalterillustration im Mittelalter, 1895–1900), and one of the first art historical researchers of gestures and movements, which made him one of the first iconographers and iconologists (e.g. Die Beinstellungen in der Kunstgeschichte, 1912). His areas of expertise also included the genealogy of colours (e.g. Studien über die Farbegebung in der mittelalterlichen Buchmalerei, 1933) and the history of ornaments.

The iconographic index collected by J. J. Tikkanen consists of ca 60 000 cards. Photo: Johanna Vakkari.

The J.J. Tikkanen archive recently added to the collections of the National Library of Finland contains, among other objects of interest, an index with around 60 000 filing cards. Of the many subject matters in the index, the best represented are body language, the history of art movements and iconography.

A sample of J. J. Tikkanen's iconographic index.

First published in Humanistilehti in 2008

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