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Badt, Kurt

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Badt, Kurt

    Other Names:

    • Kurt Badt

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1890

    Date Died: 1973

    Place Born: Berlin, Germany

    Place Died: Überlingen am Bodensee, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): art theory, Baroque, methodology, and Modern (style or period)


    Private scholar; art historian of the baroque and modern periods; methodological theorist. Badt was born to a prosperous Banking family in Berlin. His father, Leopold Badt (1858-1929) raised his children in a rarefied cultural atmosphere, giving them every opportunity to experience art. The younger Badt attended the Berlin-Charlottenburg Reformgymnasium, graduating in 1906. Between 1909-1914 he studied art history and philosophy at the universities of Berlin, Munich and finally at Freiburg (im Breisgau) under Wilhelm Vöge. While a student, Badt took a young Erwin Panofsky to hear a lecture by Vöge and thus cementing one of the most famous pupil/teacher relationships in art history. Badt’s doctoral thesis, written in 1914, was on the Renaissance painter Andrea Solario. He never wrote a habilitation or taught professionally until nearly his retirement. Badt began his career as an assistant at the Bremen Kunsthalle, studying studio painting and sculpture. Throughout his career, his art-historical writing always reflected a painter’s interest in details and their relationship to the world. He married Ella C. Wollheim around this time. Badt taught privately at Ludwigshafen/Bodensee, lecturing on the philosophy of G. F. W. Hegel (1770-1831), Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), the latter whom he knew personally. His early writings in the 1920s included contemporary artists, such as Wilhelm Lehmbruck. His first marriage dissolved, Badt married Helen “Leni” Arnheim (1906-1973), the sister of the esthetician and art historian Rudolf Arnheim. With the ascension of the Hitler’s party in Germany in 1933, Badt moved to Munich in anonymity to avoid Nazi persecution. Although a declared Roman Catholic, Badt’s Jewish heritage eventually forced him to flee Nazi Germany at the outbreak of World War II in 1939. He gained a research position at the newly founded Warburg Institute in London, remaining there until after the war. In 1946 he published Eugène Delacroix Drawings, his first book since the partial publication of his thesis in 1914. Badt returned to Germany in 1950 and became a German citizen in 1952, assisting with the reorganization of the university system. The post-war German period of his life resulted in his greatest publishing output. In 1961 Badt issued a series of essays (some previously published) on Jan Vermeer which outlined Badt’s methodology ‘Modell und Maler’ von Vermeer, but also pointedly criticizing the methodology of ‘second Vienna school’ art historian Hans Sedlmayr. Sedlmayr, perhaps staunchest supporter of Nazism to retain an art history professorship after World War II, argued for a pseudo-scientific theoretic approach to art. Ever rooted in the object, Badt’s Vermeer attacked Sedlmayr on methodological grounds. In 1968 he was invited by literary theorist Hans Robert Jauss (1921-1997) to the newly founded University of Constance (Konstanz). Badt’s work greatly influenced the art historians Gertrude Berthold (b. 1920), the Sedlmayr student Lorenz Dittmann, Martin Gosebruch, Walter Hatto Gross, Josef Adolf Schmoll genannt Eisenwerth and Max Imdahl. Despondent in old age, Badt committed suicide at 83. Badt regarded art as a portrait of reality (Wirklichkeitsdarstellung). Of particular interest to him was the subject matter of the work and meaning of colors in paintings. This method lent itself best to the artists he studied: Nicolas Poussin, Jan Vermeer, John Constable, Eugène Delacroix, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh and Paolo Veronese. Badt considered the “masterpiece” to be the only art worth studying. Among his appreciators, Jauss, (1975) praised him for mentioning human suffering in his works, often forgotten by other historical works. W. Eugene Kleinbauer, Jr. characterized him as “too rigid for analysis.” Badt’s art history owes much to Johann Gustav Droysen’s Historik (1868). Badt wrote about the distinction between art history and its political, social and economic implications. He questioned deeply rooted principles of art history as had Heinrich Wölfflin. Since he was writing against the norm, other art historians often portrayed as a traitor and his understanding of art was questioned. His writings and methodology sparked greatest interest in fields outside art history.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Andrea Solario: Sein Leben und sein Werke: Ein Beitrag zur Kunstgeschichte der Lombardei. Freiburg, 1914, [partially published as] Grundlagen zu einer kritischen Biographie des Malers Andrea Solario. Leipzig: s.n., 1914; “Cezanne’s Watercolour Technique.” The Burlington Magazine 83 (October 1943): 246-8; Eugène Delacroix Drawings. Oxford: B. Cassirer, 1946; John Constable’s Clouds. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1950, [the original German-language text was never published]; Die Kunst Cézannes. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1956, English, The Art of Cézanne. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965; “Raphael’s Incendio del Borgo.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 22 (January 1959): 35-59; Modell und Maler von Jan Vermeer, Probleme der Interpretation; eine Streitschrift gegen Hans Sedlmayr. Cologne: M. DuMont Schauberg, 1961; Die Farbenlehre Van Goghs. Cologne: DuMont, 1961; Eugène Delacroix: Werke und Ideale. Cologne: DuMont,1965; Kunsttheoretische Versuche: ausgewählte Aufsätze, Cologne: M. Dumont Schauberg, 1968; Die Kunst des Nicolas Poussin. Cologne: DuMont Schauberg, 1969; “Ein angebliches selbstbildnis von Nicolas Poussin.” Pantheon 27 (September 1969): 395-8; Das Spätwerk Cézannes. Constance: Druckerei u. Verlagsanst. Universitätsverlag, 1971; Ernst Barlach, der Bildhauer. Neumünster: Wachholtz, 1971; Eine Wissenschaftslehre der Kunstgeschichte. Cologne: M. Dumont Schauberg, 1971.


    Panofsky, Erwin. “Wilhelm Vöge: A Biographical Memoir.” Art Journal 28 no. 1 (Fall 1968): 34; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, pp. 74, 103; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 104 mentioned; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1999, pp. 4-6; 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. 21-24; [personal correspondence, W. Lee Troutman, January, 2011].

    Contributors: HP and Lee Sorensen


    HP and Lee Sorensen. "Badt, Kurt." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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