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Bernheimer, Richard

    Full Name: Bernheimer, Richard

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1907

    Date Died: 1958

    Place Born: Munich, Bavaria, Germany

    Place Died: Lisbon, Portugal

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Medieval (European) and phenomenology

    Career(s): educators


    Medievalist art historian and professor; wrote on phenomenology. Bernheimer was born into a prominent family of art dealers, Bernheimer of Munich. In the early 20th century, the firm was one of the most important dealerships in precious materials, antiquities, Gobelins and oriental carpets. Between 1925-30, Bernheimer studied art history (both Western and Oriental) as well as archeology in Munich, Berlin and Rome with Wilhelm Pinder, Adolph Goldschmidt, August Liebmann Mayer, Hans Kauffmann, Werner Weisbach and Hans Hildebrandt. His dissertation, written under Pinder, was on Roman animal sculpture and its originating motives. Between the time of graduation and the Nazi assumption of power in 1933, he apparently taught privately and worked in the family business. Of Jewish extraction, Bernheimer was forced to flee Germany in 1933, securing a position at The University of Pennsylvania teaching undergraduates. Between 1933 and 1958 was respectively lecturer, Assistant Professor, and Associate Professor (1942) at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, also serving in the US army during the World War II. In 1951 he was appointed full professor. He spent the year 1941 at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He committed suicide in Portugal at age 50. His son, Charles Bernheimer (1942-1998), was a noted scholar of Comparative Literature and Multicultural Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Bernheimer’s life interest was in Oriental influences on the west, but his publications were wide ranging. His most important book, Wild Men in the Middle Ages (1952), reflects his willingness to delve deeply into folklore and history to write a highly original and respected book. Known as well for an interest in mathematics, music and theology, Wild Men looked at fertility rites involving the staged capture of “wild men” in medieval Europe. His research allowed him to come up with compelling interpretations of beasts in medieval and reniassance art that had puzzled other scholars such as Erwin Panofsky. An enthusiastic teacher, his positive lecturing style was noted by many of his students.

    Selected Bibliography

    Nature of Representation: A Phenomenological Inquiry. Edited by Horst W. Janson. New York: New York University Press, 1961; Romanische Tierplastik und die Ursprünge ihrer Motive. Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1931; Wild Men in the Middle Ages: a Study in Art, Sentiment and Demonology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952; Religion and Art. New York: Art Treasures of the World, 1954; “Theatrum Mundi,” Art Bulletin 38 (1956): 225-247.


    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. 97; 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. 73, 30 n.65; Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munchen: Saur, 1999, vol. 1, pp. 48-9; Erich Pfeiffer-Belli, Hundert Jahre Bernheimer: 1864-1964. Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1964; obituary, Weltkunst (December,1958): 18; obituary, New York Times, June 7, 1958, p. 19; Wilson Library Bulletin 33 (1958): 15.


    "Bernheimer, Richard." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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