CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


WHYTE, Iain Boyd
The Gains and Losses of Translation

Session 18 Media and Visuality

University of Edinburgh


This paper argues that translation is an essential underpinning of art history.  In the English-speaking world, art history has evolved through translation from a succession of dominant source languages: Greek, Latin and Italian in the Renaissance, French in the Enlightenment, and German in the nineteenth century.  Since the mid-twentieth century, English has emerged as the dominant source language in the discipline.  Throughout history, translators have faced the same choices: faithfulness versus beauty, literal versus literary, word-for-word or sense-for-sense. Literal or literary, the translation is never the same as the original.  It is always a creative reworking in which the translator has the power to add a new voice, to create, invent, and interpret.  There are both gains and losses as the translator creates a new network of intertextual relations, derived from the receptor culture.  The potential for formal and semantic loss is enormous, but the gains are equally striking, and the internationalization of knowledge is unthinkable without translation.  None of this is politically neutral, however, and the act of translation confirms and reinforces hegemonic power relations.

WHYTE, Iain Boyd

Formerly Professor of Architectural History at the University of Edinburgh from 1996 to 2104, Iain Boyd Whyte is now an Honorary Research Professor in the University.  He has published extensively on architectural modernism in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, and on post-1945 urbanism.  Beyond architecture, he has written on twentieth-century German art and on Anglo-German literary relations.  He is founding editor of the Getty Foundation funded e-journal, Art in Translation.  A former fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung and a Getty Scholar, he was co-curator of the Council of Europe exhibition Art and Power, shown in London, Barcelona and Berlin in 1996/97. He has served as a Trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  Recent publications include Beyond the Finite: The Sublime in Art and Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) and Metropolis Berlin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).  For the academic year 2015-2016 he was Samuel H. Kress Professor at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.