chapter  11
19 Pages

Classicism and knowing the world in early modern Sweden

WithVesa-Pekka Herva, Jonas M. Nordin

The foundations of Western culture and society are commonly traced back to the ancient Greco-Roman world, and classical antiquity has been appropriated in myriad ways in the literal and figurative building of the post-medieval modern world. The complex process of modernization involved, among other things, the development of new economic systems, large-scale urbanization, European colonization of the world, multiculturalism, and ultimately the birth of an industrialized consumer society. Modernization also involved a gradual secularization of Western society and the emergence of a scientific understanding of the world. Our aim in this chapter is to consider the material and intellectual appropriation of the classical and ancient worlds in early modern Sweden, and in particular to discuss how the uses of the past were embedded in – and came to manipulate – people’s perception and understanding of the world. “Classicism” is a term which can mean different things in different contexts, but

we use it in an inclusive sense to denote any form of appropriating real or imagined classical antiquity. Fascination with classical antiquity started in Renaissance Italy and spread elsewhere in Europe, including regions like Sweden which historically had very little, if any, direct contact with the classical world. Classicism influenced both the European intellectual environment and its architecture and other types of material culture. In addition to classicism, the early modern period saw the birth of a broader antiquarian interest in the ancient past, which in Sweden developed into the curious ideology of Gothicism (see Eriksson 2002). Classicism and the broader appropriation of ancient worlds in early modern

Sweden are considered in this chapter from a material culture perspective informed by the recent discussion of relational ontologies and epistemologies in anthropology and archaeology.While the views discussed below are relevant to and have implications

for the study of excavated materials (e.g., Herva 2009, 2010a), the approach taken in this chapter is archaeological in the sense that it revolves around the more general issue of how people related with material culture and the material world in the early modern period. Classicism and other forms of appropriating the past in seventeenth-century Sweden provide a useful perspective on that broader issue. This chapter will consider relational thinking in the context of early modern

Sweden from two perspectives, or on two levels. First, it seeks to appreciate the relational dimension of the perception and understanding of the world in the Renaissance and Baroque period. A key idea in this respect is that magic and magical thinking were more important and integral to everyday engagement with the world than has previously been recognized in post-medieval archaeology. Relational thinking, we propose, provides tools for reassessing the nature and significance of magical thinking, which rationalism has dismissed and misrepresented since the later seventeenth century. Second, this chapter will address the role of dynamic two-way relationships between people and the material world on a more general level. In particular, we will discuss how knowledge about the world has been constituted in relation to material culture in the post-medieval period, and how material culture contributed to historical processes by shaping people’s thought and behavior, albeit perhaps unconsciously.