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Athena Leoussi | Art and national modernisation

The paper discusses the contribution of European artists to the modern idea of the nation, which transformed European societies into modern national states. It shows how artists engaged with the Enlightenment and Romanticism, and their two distinct visions of a modern world of nations. It shows that both visions set out to revive past traditions – past golden ages: one, the classical tradition of democratic Athens and Republican Rome, the other rural, communal and religious traditions. These revivals of the past became the touchstones of the national revolutions which transformed the relations between centre and periphery, in search of political, social, cultural and human integration. Initially antagonistic, the Enlightenment and Romanticism became a single vision – a single striving: the pursuit of both liberty and identity. Artists set out to articulate these visions as they collided and combined. In so doing, they created not only icons of the modern world of nations, but also modern forms of art.

About Athena

Athena’s research interests include, the history, theories and problems of nationalism and national identity; the comparative study of the peoples of Europe – their political and cultural histories and contacts; the representation of national identity in art; race, anti-semitism and national identity in 19th-century Europe; and the role of the classical tradition in the making of modern national identities. Through her specific interest in the revival of the classical Greek body in modern Europe, she contributed to the British Museum exhibition, ‘Defining Beauty: The Body in Ancient Greek Art‘, curated by Dr Ian Jenkins.

As Founder (1991) of the global, Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism (ASEN), which she chaired for many years, a member of ASEN’s Advisory Council, and a Founding Editor (1994) of the international journal, Nations and Nationalism (Wiley-Blackwell), which Athena continues to edit with the other members of the editorial team, she have been involved in the development of a variety of research projects, seminars, conferences and colloquia on nationalism and national identity. Her research has received funding from the Greek State, the Hellenic Foundation, and the Irving Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, USA. Athena have been an assessor for the British Academy monographs section, and for the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and has been Visiting Senior Fellow in the Government Department, LSE (2008-12), and since 2012, she hold an International Fellowship at the Panteion University (Athens, Greece). She is currently director of European studies at the University of Reading.