Statement on Venetian Room Protest and the Cultural Heritage of Schloss Leopoldskron

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Dec 10, 2018
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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Statement on Venetian Room Protest and the Cultural Heritage of Schloss Leopoldskron

Statement from Salzburg Global Seminar on the cultural heritage of Schloss Leopoldskron The Venetian Room at Schloss Leopoldskron

On Saturday, October 21, the final day of the 2018 Salzburg Global Young Cultural Innovators Forum, Salzburg Global Seminar staff was made aware that several protest posters had been put up in the Venetian Room of Schloss Leopoldskron. The posters were a protest against the Commedia dell’arte paintings on the walls of the Venetian Room, which the protestors viewed as depictions of blackface and racial prejudice.

The Venetian Room was installed in Schloss Leopoldskron in 1930 by its previous owner, the theatre producer and director Max Reinhardt, after he acquired the wooden panels and paintings from Italy. The paintings depict scenes of the Commedia dell’arte (“Comedy of professional artists”), an influential form of traveling and improvisational theatre that originated in Italy in the 15th century. The paintings in the Venetian Room are generally regarded to be 18th-century copies of original paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau.

The characters in the Commedia dell’arte wear leather masks of varying types. These masks have been the hallmark of the Commedia dell’arte for hundreds of years, and have been the subject of continuous study and interpretation. The scenes from the Commedia dell’arte displayed in the Venetian Room depict characters wearing these masks, including the character Arlecchino (Harlequin), who wears a black mask that appears as if it is – or could be – a depiction of blackface.
 
The history of the Commedia dell’arte is long and complex, and we fully acknowledge that some artworks in the Venetian Room can be interpreted as blackface and therefore racially prejudiced, just as we recognize that other elements of Schloss Leopoldskron’s cultural heritage can raise difficult questions about historical and structural injustice. The protest during the recent Young Cultural Innovators Forum, therefore, raises important issues that we have a responsibility to examine and engage in a manner consistent with our institutional respect for equality, diversity, and inclusion.

As a public interest institution committed to shaping a better world, Salzburg Global Seminar values our ability to offer a safe place where people from every background feel accepted and inspired.  Issues such as these that incite hurt and anger are particularly challenging to deal with thoughtfully.  But in the spirit of all that makes Salzburg Global and Schloss Leopoldskron welcoming to people from all over the world, we are eager to listen to concerns and ideas about how we can best adapt our approach to the conservation of – and conversations about – Schloss Leopoldskron, including the cycles of power, persecution, and renewal that are woven into its nearly 300-year-old history.

As we do this, we are committed to engaging with our Fellows to understand their views and ideas, and as a starting point, we have requested that Fellows of our Young Cultural Innovators Forum share their perspectives on how we can adapt our practices to ensure our environment is as inclusive and transparent as possible.

We have also undertaken a comprehensive review of the artwork and other elements of Schloss Leopoldskron’s cultural history and heritage. We hope this review will help us improve our own understanding of these sensitive issues, including ways we can continue to be thoughtful, transparent, and ethical stewards of the unique – and sometimes contested – history and cultural heritage of Schloss Leopoldskron.

As we move forward, we welcome all ideas and thoughts from our community of Fellows, friends, and supporters, and urge you to get in touch with us at feedback@SalzburgGlobal.org should you like to engage in a conversation on these important questions.