The different meanings of a donation in the age of the birth of a public sphere in Bohemia

Abstract : In the Czech lands, the end of the eighteenth century can be considered the period when a critical public was born and when cultural and intellectual life started being institutionalised at the level of the “country”, i.e., at the level of the nation-to-be. Scholarly discussions took place in reviews and printed books. Institutions such as the Society of Sciences, the Gallery of Art and later the “National Museum” appeared. Intellectual life emancipated itself from the court, church and university.
The various involvements in the public sphere of Franz Joseph Kinský (1739-1805) offer an opportunity to examine and question practices within this new publicity and the wide scale of meanings given to the word “public” in the context of its differentiation. Kinský's donation (1777) of his family's and of his own library to the newly founded Public and University Library is well known and usually considered as a patriotic act of abnegation in favour of the public in the Czech lands. The way this donation took place is nevertheless complex and not univocal. It can be considered to be in continuity with the representation strategy of the Kinský family (who intended to offer the family library as early as the 1740s). It can be regarded as an enlightened patriotic act in order to improve the general level of education and as a means of collaboration with the policy of Maria Theresa in this domain (Kinský was nominated to the post of director of the Public i.e., Imperial and Royal Library). Kinský's involvement in Prague scholarly circles, especially in the Society of Sciences, and his relations with the first librarian of the Public Library, Raphael Ungar, show that his donation was also regarded as support given to these newly emancipated elites in the Czech lands, which actually formed the learned public attending the Clementinum library.
Kinský's image as a donor of books - very symbolic Czech cultural artefacts - benefits from various sources of prestige recognised in his time, and remained relevant throughout the nineteenth century.
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Conference papers
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Claire Madl. The different meanings of a donation in the age of the birth of a public sphere in Bohemia. Collective and individual patronage (mécénat) and the culture of public giving in the civil society, May 2008, Prague, Czech Republic. ⟨halshs-00370634⟩

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