Várna, Hungary; [present day Slovakia]
North Atlantic Ocean
Donatello and Italian Renaissance sculpture scholar. Lányi's father was Arpád Lányi, a Hungarian bureaucrat. The younger Lányi attended a humanities Gymnasium in Budapest, receiving his Abitur in 1920. Between 1920 and 1924 and again in 1927 he studied art history, archaeology and history in Vienna under the Vienna-School scholar Julius von Schlosser and then in Munich under Wilhelm Pinder. He wrote a dissertation (likely supervised by Pinder) in Munich on Jacopo della Quercia in 1929. Between 1929 and 1932 he worked as a volunteer researcher for the State Art Museum in Berlin in the graphics collection under Max Friedländer and at the Kaiser Friedrich-Wilhelm Museum under Thomas Demmler and, particularly important for his later work, the Italian Renaissance sculpture scholar Frida Schottmüller. In 1932 a Swiss benefactor financed a research stay in Florence at the Kunsthistorisches Institut where he worked on a monograph on Donatello. There he met Monika Mann (1910-1992), the daughter of the novelist Thomas Mann (1875-1955), who was studying art history at the time. The 1938 laws against Jews holding academic or museum positions in the Reich made a career in German-speaking countries impossible for him. He emigrated to England in 1938 with Mann where he continued his Donatello research. The two married in 1939. As England became a target for Nazi strikes, his father-in-law, living in Princeton, NJ, used his connections to secure a visa for travel to Canada. The boat carrying them to North America, the "SS City of Benares" was torpedoed in the North Atlantic by the German U-boat U-48 and sunk. Lányi drowned and his wife was injured, but survived. The suitcases containing his notes for his book on Donatello were returned to his widow recovering in Scotland who took them with her to the United States. Two of Lányi's articles in English appeared posthumously in the Art Bulletin and the Burlington Magazine. His notes and photographs on Donatello was considered so important they were taken over by the New York University Renaissance scholar H. W. Janson and published with Janson's text in 1957 as the critical catalog on the sculptor. Lányi's untimely death is one of the great tragedies of art history. An historian of great promise, his writings influenced John Pope-Hennessey, later the director of Victoria and Albert Museum and eminent sculpture historian. Drowned at sea.
Quercia Studien. Munich, 1929, published as the same in, Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft 7 (1930): 25-63; "Pontormos Bildnis der Maria Salviati de'Medici." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 4 no.2/3 (January-July 1933): 88-102; "Donatello's Angels for the Siena Font: A Reconstruction " Burlington Magazine 75, no. 439 (October 1939): 142-143ff.; and Falk, Ilse. "The Genesis of Andrea Pisano's Bronze Doors." Art Bulletin 25, no. 2 (June 1943): 132-153; "The Louvre Portrait of Five Florentines." Burlington Magazine 84, no. 493 (April 1944): 87-93ff.; and Janson, H. W. The Sculpture of Donatello. 2 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957.
Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 1, pp. 419-420; Mann, Monika. Vergangenes und Gegenwärtiges: Erinnerungen. Munich: Kindler, 1956, pp. 106ff; "Forward" and "Introduction." Janson, H. W.The Sculpture of Donatello. vol. 1. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957; viii-xvii.