Ernst Kitzinger

Ernst Kitzinger

Ernst Kitzinger (December 12 1912 - January 22 2003) was a German-American historian of late antique, early medieval, and Byzantine art.


Kitzinger was born into a highly educated Jewish family in Munich; his father, Wilhelm Nathan Kitzinger, was a prominent lawyer, and his cousin, Richard Krautheimer, would likewise become a major historian of late antique and Byzantine architecture. He entered the University of Munich in 1931, where he studied the history of art under Wilhelm Pinder. The beginning of the Nazi regime in 1933 raised the immediate possibility that Jewish students might be banned from receiving degrees. Kitzinger accordingly completed his dissertation, a brief but influential study of Roman painting in the 7th and 8th centuries, with exceptional speed, and defended it in the fall of 1934. Later that same year he left Germany.

Kitzinger travelled first to Rome, before settling in England, where he found employment at the British Museum. He quickly developed an interest in Anglo-Saxon art, publishing several important studies of the subject, and assessing the Sutton Hoo treasure when it was unearthed in 1939. In 1937 he travelled to Egypt and Istanbul, thus further widening his perspective on late antique and early medieval art as an "international" phenomenon. It was this perspective that he brought to his first book, "Early Medieval Art at the British Museum" (1940). More than a guidebook, this was in fact an attempt to describe the transformation of the classical style into the medieval, a subject which Kitzinger would revisit on many occasions throughout his career.

In a paradoxical turn of events, Kitzinger, forced to leave Germany because he was Jewish, was in 1940 forced to leave England because he was German. He was imprisoned in Australia for nine months, where he passed the time by learning Russian from a fellow prisoner.

In 1941 the Warburg Institute was able to secure Kitzinger's release, and he travelled to Washington D.C., where he became a fellow at Dumbarton Oaks. There Kitzinger was assigned to study the Byzantine monuments of the Balkans, producing as a result an important article on the monuments of Stobi. Several years later, and also as the result of an assignment, Kitzinger began work on a complete survey of the mosaics of Norman Sicily. This project would occupy him for the rest of his life, resulting in the eventual publication of his six-volume corpus, "I mosaici del periodo normanno in Sicilia" (1992).

Kitzinger quickly advanced through the ranks at Dumbarton Oaks, becoming an Assistant Professor in 1946, Associate Professor in 1951, Director of Studies in 1955, and Professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology in 1956. As Director of Studies he transformed Dumbarton Oaks into an academic institution of international renown, ensuring the annual publication of the institute's journal of Byzantine studies ("Dumbarton Oaks Papers"), creating a photographic archive, and serving as a mentor to the younger scholars.

Dumbarton Oaks had always been associated with Harvard University, and Kitzinger had occasionally taught courses at its Cambridge campus. In 1967 he moved to Harvard permanently, accepting a position as the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor, which he held until his retirement in 1979. At Harvard Kitzinger supervised eighteen dissertations, and many of his students (including Christine Kondoleon, Irving Lavin, Henry Maguire, Lawrence Nees, and William Tronzo) became significant art historians in their own right.

The major theoretical contributions of Kitzinger's later career are embodied in his book "Byzantine art in the making" (1977), originally delivered as a series of lectures at the University of Cambridge, and in a volume of his collected essays, "The art of Byzantium and the medieval West" (1976). In both volumes Kitzinger maintained his life-long preoccupation with the analysis of style change in late antique and early medieval art, and his conviction that stylistic analysis could speak with an authority equal to that of iconography or textual history. To this end he developed a theory of "modes," according to which certain styles were appropriate to the depiction of certain subjects. In "Byzantine art in the making", furthermore, he essayed a bold attempt to trace the stylistic "dialectic" of the period in question:

At certain times and in certain places bold stabs were made in the direction of new, unclassical forms, only to be followed by reactions, retrospective movements and revivals. In some contexts such developments - in either direction - took place slowly, hestitantly, and by steps so small as to be almost imperceptible. In addition there were extraordinary attempts at synthesis, at reconciling conflicting aesthetic ideals. Out of this complex dialectic, medieval form emerged. [E. Kitzinger, "Byzantine art in the making: main lines of stylistic development in Mediterranean art, 3th-7th century" (Cambridge, 1977), 4.]

Since stylistic analysis fell out of fashion in the 1980s and 1990s, the legacy of Kitzinger's theories remains uncertain. "Byzantine art in the making" has been described as the last gasp of Viennese-style formalist art history on the model of Alois Riegl and Josef Strzygowski. [J. Elsner, "The birth of late antiquity: Riegl and Strzygowski in 1901," "Art History" 25 (2002), 374-76.] However, it has also been argued that "when the pendulum of fashion swings back again, [Kitzinger's] works will undoubtedly be central to a reconsideration of style." [H. Maguire, "Ernst Kitzinger: 1912-2003," "Dumbarton Oaks Papers" 57 (2003), ix-xiv.] .

Kitzinger died in Poughkeepsie, New York at age 90.



*cite journal|last=Maguire|first=Henry|title=Ernst Kitzinger: 1912-2003|journal=Dumbarton Oaks Papers|volume=5|pages=ix-xiv|year=2003|id=ISSN|0070-7546 ( [ Available online.] )

External links

* [ Kitzinger at the "Biographical Dictionary of Art Historians"]

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