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Tikkanen, J. J.

    Full Name: Tikkanen, J. J.

    Other Names:

    • J. J. Tikkanen

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 07 December 1859

    Date Died: 20 June 1930

    Place Born: Helsinki, Newland Regin, Finland

    Place Died: Helsinki, Newland Regin, Finland

    Home Country/ies: Finland

    Subject Area(s): Italian (culture or style)


    Scholar of Italian art; Finland’s first professor of art history. He was born in Helsinki, Finland, which was formerly part of Russia. Tikkanen’s father was the nationalist writer, journalist and co-founder of the newspaper Suometar, Paavo (Paul) Tikkanen (1823-1873) and his mother, Helena Maria Tengström (1829-1875), whose father (the boy’s grandfather) was the Helsinki University professor of philosophy Johann Jakob Tengström (1787-1858). The death of both parents at an early age resulted in his living with his mother’s relative. The household spoke Swedish, at that time the tongue of the educated class in Finland as the region was at that time an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire; Tikkanen was educated in that language. After an initial interest in botony, he trained under the early Finnish esthetician and proto-art-historian Carl Gustaf Estlander, who taught occasional classes in art history. Estlander suggested Tikkanen to study art from the works themselves and consentrate on archives. He received his master’s degree in 1880 beginning a friendship with the professor of art history at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin, Eduard Dobbert, who advised Tikkanen in his early career. Tikkanen studied both art history and studio art at the Akademie der Künste (Munich Academy of Art), the former under Moritz Carrière. He received his Ph.D in 1884 with a dissertation topic on Giotto under Estlander in Helsinki. The same year he was appointed docent (adjunct professor) of aesthetics and art history at the University of Helsinki, the first professional art historian in Finland, lecturing exclusively in Swedish. He also taught drawing at the Privata svenska flickskolan [school for girls] in Helsinki (to 1905). He travelled in Europe 1885-1889, meeting Martin Conway in Berlin. Everywhere Tikkenan went, he sketched his subjects, leaving vast visual notebooks for later reference. These notebooks were partially rersponsible for one of his two great contriubtions to art history. The first in 1889, was the similarity between the mosaics of San Marco and the illustrations of the fifth-century Greek manuscript, the Cotton Genesis. His second, the discovery of a manuscript of St. John Climacus (Vat. cod. graec. 1754) which had been overlooked by art historians. By 1897 he was solely professor of art history at the University. This allowed majors of art history at the University, which Tikkanen supervised. The following year he was appointed head of sculpture collection at the University, a position which he held until his death. He purchased and taught from casts of classical sculpture located in the museum. He began lecturing in Finnish in 1907–a language in which he was never completely fluent. Tikkanen wrote a vernacular art history survey, Kuvaamataiteet uudemmalla ajalla (Art History: Painting and Sculpture) in 1910. A chair of art history was established in Helniki in 1920 which he held with funds donated by Privy Counsellor Hjalmar Linder (1862-1921), known as the Linder chair. His art history survey was translated into Swedish in 1925. He retired in 1926 (age 69) and was succeeded by his student, Onni Okkonen as professor art history at the University of Helsinki. After his death, his student, the eminent Italo-sinologist, Osvald Sirén, wrote a monograph on Tikkanen. Among his pupils, Sirén became the first professor of art history in Sweden in 1908; another, Tancred Borenius, was appointed professor of art history at University College London in 1922, and Onni Okkonen, Tikkanen’s successor. His son was the architect Robert Tikkanen (1888-1947) and his grandson the author/artist Henrik Tikkanen (1924-1984). Tikkanen left a voluminous correspondence and notebooks full of sketches of the art he studied, held in the department of art history at the University of Helsinki. Though Tikkanen held the first appointment in art history in Finland, he was not the first to teach it in either than country or Scandanavia. Previously, professors of esthetics had also lectured on the topic. These forbears included Estlander in Finland, Carl Rupert Nyblom (1832-1907), at Uppsala, and Gustaf Ljunggren (1823-1905). Tikkanen avoided the esthetic approach to art history as his mentor, Estlander employed (Vakkari, Shaping, 2007). Sirén notes a Vasarian view of art (styles reaching maturity and then decline), especially in Tikkenan’s early writing. His position in the field of art history in Finland corresponded to the methodological and pedagogic approaches of Lionello Venturi in Italy. The art theory of Benedetto Croce and the Kunstwollen approach to art of Aloïs Riegl are also reflected in his writing. Between 1897 and his retirement in 1926, Tikkanen trained the first generations of art historians in Finland, establishing the principles of the discipline there. These were a strong pedagogic mission and the so-called scientific approach (documentation and adhering to less-subject analysis of art). Fifty years after Tikkenan’s death, Kurt Weitzmann acknowledged him as responsible for the “the fundamental observation that there exists a very close relationship between the Genesis mosaics of the Narthex of San Marco and the miniatures of the so-called Cotton Genesis,” (Demus, Otto. Mosaics of San Marco, 2, p. 105, 142).

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Der malerische Styl Giottos: Versuch zu einer Charakteristik desselben. Helsingfors: J.C. Frenckell, 1884; [collected studies] Studien über die Farbengebung in der mittelalterlichen buchmalerei. Borenius, Tancred, ed. Helsingfors: Akademische buchhandlung, 1933; Die Genesismosaiken von S. Marco in Venedig und ihr verhältniss zu den miniaturen der Cottonbibel, nebst einer untersuchung über den ursprung der mittelalterlichen Genesisdarstellung besonders in der byzantinischen und italienischen Kunst. Helsingfors: Druckerei der Finnischen Litteratur-Gesellschaft, 1889; Kuvaamataiteet uudemmalla ajalla. Helsinki: Otava, 1910; Die Beinstellungen in der Kunstgeschichte: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der künstlerischen Motive. Helsingfors: Druckerei der Finnischen Litteraturgesellschaft, 1912; Die moderne bildende Kunst in Finnland. Helsinki: Druckerei des Statsraates, 1925, English, Modern art in Finland Helsinski: G.P.O., 1926; Borenius, Tancred, ed. Studien über die Farbengebung in der mittelalterlichen Buchmalerei. Helsingfors: Akademische buchhandlung, 1933.


    Sirén, Osvald. Johan Jakob Tikkanen som konsthistoriker. Helsingfors: Mercator, 1933; Ringbom, Sixten. Art History in Finland before 1920. Helsinki: 1986, pp. 62 ff; Vakkari, Johanna. “Alcuni contemporanei finlandesi di Lionello Venturi: Osvald Siren, Tancred Borenius, Onni Okkonen.” Storia dell’Arte 101 (2002): 108-17; Vakkari, Johanna. “J. J. Tikkanen and the Teaching of Art History.” in, Suominen-Kokkonen, Renja, ed. The Shaping of Art History in Finland. Helsinki: Taidehistorian Seura, 2007, pp. 69-83; Vakkari, Johanna. Focus on Form: J. J. Tikkanen, Giotto and Art Research in the 19th Century. Helsinki: Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy, 2007; Hoffmann, Christian, and Vakkari, Johanna. Towards a Science of Art History: J. J. Tikkanen and Art Historical Scholarship in Europe. Helsinki: Taidehistorian Seura, 2009.


    "Tikkanen, J. J.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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