Matthew Rampley’s The Vienna School of Art History is the first book in over seventy-five years to study in depth and in context the practices of art history from 1847, the year the first teaching position in the discipline was created, to 1918, the collapse of Austria-Hungary. It traces the emergence of art history as a discipline, the establishment of norms of scholarly inquiry, and the involvement of art historians in wider debates about the cultural and political identity of the monarchy.
The so-called Vienna School plays the central role in the study, but Rampley also examines the formation of art history elsewhere in Austria-Hungary. Located in the Habsburg imperial capital, Vienna art historians frequently became entangled in debates that were of importance to art historians elsewhere in the Empire, and Rampley pays particular attention to these areas of overlapping interest. He also analyzes the methodological innovations for which the Vienna School was well known. Rampley focuses most fully, however, on the larger political and ideological context of the practice of art history—particularly the way in which art-historical debates served as proxies for wider arguments over the political, social, and cultural life of the Habsburg Empire.