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Changing Identities. Art and architecture as bearer of meaning


Prof. dr. A.F.W. (Lex) Bosman

Faculty of Humanities

Capaciteitsgroep Kunstgeschiedenis


Throughout history, architecture and art have been used in different contexts to claim and proclaim identities, to create and confirm new identities and sometimes to impose or suppress existing identities. When Charles the Great for example was expanding his empire, a major issue of his political strategy was how to employ art and architecture in order to create a common identity among people who had been fighting each other for generations. In the first half of the twentieth century the young artist Henry Cartier-Bresson found part of his own identity in the surrealist group in France, which was proclaimed as the identity of a group. These are just two examples of architecture and art having always proved to be a vital tool, not only to express specific identities in specific contexts, but also to convince other high-ranking individuals or large groups.
This group is researching the various means how art and architecture in past and present times were and still are applied in the process of the search for identity. This search for identity is applicable to multifarious groups and entities – local, regional, national, transnational, economic, religious, political, ideological, artistic and professional – that can be positioned in various ways in the larger social-cultural context, varying from subcultures and peripheral to dominant groups. Taking the dynamic process of identity formation on the basis of art’s and architecture’s meaning as a starting point, we research all possible related questions, in various periods from the Middle Ages to the present, in both art and architecture.

Work plan and time schedule

The research group will run for a longer period of time, with short term as well as long term output. We are aiming at a period of at least 5 years, during which short term results will be delivered as papers and publications. After several years we would like to aim at an international conference, to confront our results with those of colleagues abroad.
Part of the programme will also be the preparation of one or more a research grants from NWO or ERC.

Societal relevance

The meaning of art and architecture in modern society and the articulation through art and architecture of group identities and identity processes have great societal relevance. They are an important topic in the public debate about high-low culture; national identity; the international reputation of Dutch art, architecture and design; government subsidies for the arts; national heritage, to name just a few. The researchers of our group collaborate with many people and institutions outside the academic world, in order to communicate research results with a larger audience. We valorise our expertise in jury’s, funds, editorial and advisory boards, contributions to exhibitions, public debates and lectures for a larger audience. We have long lasting, intensive relationship with the Amsterdam Centre for Architecture, the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam, Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser, Heritage Days, that reach a larger audience.

Members of the research group

C.A.H.H. Bertram
prof.dr. A.F.W. Bosman
dr. P.A. Brouwer
C.A. Drieënhuizen
prof.dr. M. Gnade
dr. K.H. Broekhuijsen - Kruijer
dr. G.M. Langfeld
dr. M.K. van Mechelen
dr. M.I.D. van Rijsingen
drs. A.J.R. Rulkens
prof.dr. G. van Tussenbroek
dr. W.A.W. van Welie - Vink
W.A. Wagemakers MA


We collaborate with various partners, depending on the project. They are: ETH Zürich (Institute of Historic Building Research and Conservation); Free University Brussels (AE-lab Architectural Engineering) Rijksdienst voor Cultureel Erfgoed (RCA); Bureau Monumenten en Archeologie, Amsterdam; Dutch University Institute for Art History, Florence (NIKI, Italy); Institute of Fine Arts, New York University; Martin-Luther-Universität Halle; Bibliotheca Hertziana Rome