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Bode, Wilhelm

    Image Credit: Wikidata

    Full Name: Bode, Wilhelm

    Other Names:

    • Wilhelm Bode

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1845

    Date Died: 1929

    Place Born: Calvörde, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

    Place Died: Berlin, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Dutch (culture or style), Italian (culture or style), Italian Renaissance-Baroque styles, painting (visual works), Prussian, Renaissance, sculpture (visual works), and seventeenth century (dates CE)


    Director General of all Prussian museums 1906-1920 and major influence on German art history in the early twentieth century; scholar of Dutch 17th-century painting and Italian Renaissance painting and sculpture. Bode hailed from an illustrious German family. His grandfather, Wilhelm Julius Bode (1779-1854), had been the director of city of Braunschweig, Germany. His father, Wilhelm Bode (1812-1883) was a judge and administrator for the Duke of Braunschweig. The young Bode, initially studied law between 1864-1867 at the universities of Berlin, Göttingen, and Jura, but the lectures of the art historian Karl Julius Ferdinand Schnaase in 1869 turned his passion to art history. Bode’s poor health prevented his conscription in the Franco-Prussian War. Instead, he pursued the study of art history at Leipzig, traveling to Vienna in 1870 to study with Rudolf Eitelberger von Edelberg and the archaeologist Alexander Conze. He completed his doctorate the same year, writing on Frans Hals and his followers. In 1871 Bode visited Italy and the following year London, Paris, the Netherlands and St. Petersburg. He was a participant in the so-called “Holbein convention” determining the authenticity of one of two Meyer Madonnas painted by Hans Holbein the younger. In 1872 Bode was appointed assistant of the Skulpturen Abteilung (Department of Sculpture) for the Berlin Museum (later Altes Museum) and later assistant to the Director, Julius Meyer. His appointment ushered in a new era for Museums in Berlin and art history. With the obvious favor of the Prussian royal family, Bode rose in the museum. He was advanced to the director of Sculpture Department in 1883. A month after the birth of his daughter in 1885, his wife Maria, née Rimpau, (1845-1885) died. In an astute move, Bode recommended a protégé under his tutelage, Hugo von Tschudi to direct the museum devoted to 19th-century art in Berlin, the Königliche National-Galerie, though Tschudi had no modern art experience. In 1887 he issued his Geschichte der deutschen Plastik, his sole foray into German sculpture. He was made Director of the Paintings Collection (Gemäldegalerie) in 1890 by Kaiser Wilhelm II. An astute business person, Bode kept up with dealers from around the world, buying major works for the museum, with a combination of private and public funds unusual for the period. His acquisitions met with resistance from other art historians, including Giovanni Morelli in Italy. Bode’s procurements became so pervasive that both England and Italy enacted legal barriers to the sale of national treasures in order to limit export to Germany. In 1883 Bode created a “Sculptures of Christian Epochs,” section, to allow Italian sculptures (then housed in Graeco-Roman collection) to be shown with “Kunstkammer” objects. At age 49 in 1894 he married the thirty-five year-old Anna Gmelin (b. 1859) with whom he had two more daughters. He hired Max J. Friedländer in 1896 as an assistant in the Paintings division. A “Kaiser-Friedrich-Museums-Verein” was founded in 1897 to support the nascent development of a new museum addition. His position as museum director allowed him editorship late in the 19th century of the influential and progressive art journal Pan. In 1905 he was appointed Generalverwaltung der Königlichen Museen (director general for all Prussian museums), succeeding Richard Schöne. The previous year, Bode had opened the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, created solely under his aegis to house the art he had reorganized. Bode used his director-general position to consolidate museums into a cohesive cultural unit, much like Bismarck had done for the German states a generation earlier, and was referred to as the “Museum’s Bismarck.” Bode’s book, Italienischen Bronzestatuetten der Renaissance, volumes of which began appearing in 1906, set the standard for the study of these objects. That year, too, he hired a recent Ph.D., Wilhelm Rheinhold Otto Valentiner as his personal assistant at the Museum, shepherding his career to major positions in the United States. In 1908 he helped found the Deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft (Germany Society for the Study of Art). Disagreements with Tschudi’s progressivist collecting policies (i.e., Impressionist paintings) at the National-Galerie resulted in Bode pressing for his dismissal in 1908, the so-called “Tschudi Affair.” In 1913 he received the Prussian Order of the First Class and a year later was ennobled by Wilhelm II. Bode had a large personal art collection which he gave to the Berlin Museum. In 1923 he authored the volume for the Propyläen-Kunstgeschichte series, Kunst der Frührenaissance in Italien. Bode retired as director of the Berlin Museums in 1920, succeeded by Otto Falke. He retired from all museum responsibilities in 1925, those tasks assumed by Friedländer. However, the newly created Weimar republic had little admiration for his royal museum structure he worked so hard to build. Bode’s last years were devoted to the conservative German party. Shortly before his death he received the Orden pour le Mérite. In 1956 the Kaiser Friedrich Museum was renamed the Bode Museum, in honor of his donated oriental tapestry collection and his amazing skills as a museum director. Other historians who trained under Bode included Eduard Plietzsch. Bode exerted a strong influence on other art historians as well as art history. Friedländer termed him a genius, Karl Scheffler as “half Prussian, half Renaissance man,” and Morelli disparagingly referred to him as the “Kunstkorporal” (the corporal of art). Bode’s animosities ran as high as his friendships. When the director of the Royal Prussian Academy of Art, the artist Anton von Werner (1843-1915), questioned Bode’s assessment of a Rubens, Bode launched a nasty feud–no simple feat since Werner was extremely close to Wilhelm II–which lasted until von Werner’s death. Bode was also a detractor of Morelli, who connoisseurship methods Bode to some degree employed. His participation in the “Tschudi Affair” was a much about a pupil-gone-wrong as it was about art. Ruthless in his support of art and funding for it, he knew how to force museum appointments of his own interest, some of whom were Jewish, a feat in the Prussian orthodoxy (Paret). Bode helped the embattled illustrator of Simplizissimus Bruno Paul (1874-1968), obtain the directorship of the Museum of Applied Art (Kunstgewerbemuseum). Methodologically, Bode was critical of the rhetorical and speculative tendencies which prevailed in late 19th-century academic art history. He was suspicious of academic art history, agreeing with Julius Langbehn that university art history was too theoretical. A avid traveler, he kept a copy of Cicerone by Jacob Burckhardt (the fourth edition of which he himself had helped edit) with him in his travels. He was among the first museum directors to court private collectors, advising them freely in hopes of securing their collections, which often happened. Bode’s errors in attribution were as high profile as his successes. In 1909 he authenticated a sculptural bust of Flora as the work of Leonardo or his circle. Repairs came to light that indicated much work had been done on the sculpture in the 19th-century, if not it being an outright forgery. Known as the “Flora scandal,” the incident damaged his career although modern opinion once again links the sculpture to the Renaissance era. His distaste of the French Impressionists lasted longer than the Tschudi Affair; he attacked their work as late as the 1920s. He was early among art historians, however, to regard the paintings of Rembrandt as superior to Raphael, the latter having captured most of 19th-century imagination as the acme of painting.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Frans Hals und seine Schule. University of Leipzig, 1870; “Jacob Burckhardt,” in, Burckhardt, Jacob. Der Cicerone: eine Anleitung zum Genuss der Kunstwerke Italiens. Leipzig: E. A. Seemann, 1874, volume 1, pp. v-xv; Studien zur Geschichte der holländischen Malerei. Braunschweig: F. Vieweg, 1883; Geschichte der deutschen Plastik. Berlin: G. Grote, 1885; Italienische Bildhauer der Renaissance: Studien zur Geschichte der italienischen Plastik und Malerei auf Grund der Bildwerke und Gemälde in den königl. Museen zu Berlin. Berlin: W. Spemann, 1887; and Bruckmann, Friederick, ed. Denkmäler der renaissance-sculptur Toscanas in historischer anordnung. 112 parts. Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1892-1905; Die fürstlich liechtenstein’sche Galerie in Wien. Vienna: Gesellschaft für Vervielfältigende Kunst, 1896; Florentiner Bildhauer der Renaissance; Berlin: B. Cassirer, 1902; and Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Handzeichnungen altholländischer Genremaler. Berlin: J. Bard,1907; Die italienischen Bronzestatuetten der Renaissance. 3 vols. Berlin: B. Cassirer, 1907-12; Rembrandt und seine Zeitgenossen: Charakterbilder der grossen Meister der holländischer und vlämischen Malerschule im siebzehnten Jahrhundert. Leipzig: E. A. Seeman, 1907, excerpted and enlarged as Die Meister der holländischen und vlämischen Malerschulen. Leipzig: Seemann, 1917, English, Great Masters of Dutch and Flemish Painting. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1967; Die Kunst der Frührenaissance in Italien. Propyläen Kunstgeschichte 8. Berlin: Propyläen-Verlag, 1923; Adriaen Brouwer: sein Leben und seine Werke. Berlin: Euphorion Verlag, 1924; Botticelli: des Meisters Werke. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlag-anstalt, 1926, English, Sandro Botticelli. London: Methuen, 1925; and Bange, Ernst Friedrich. Die Sammlung Oscar Huldschinsky. Berlin: P. Cassirer, 1928; Mein Leben. 2 vols. Berlin: H. Reckendorf, 1930.


    Friedländer, Max. Reminiscences and Reflexions. London: Evelyn, Adams & Mackay, 1969, pp. 19-24; Dilly, Heinrich. Kunstgeschichte als Institution: Studien zur Geschichte einer Diziplin. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979, p. 259, n.1; Paret, Peter. “The Tschudi Affair.” Journal of Modern History 53, no. 4 (December 1981): 601; Wilhelm von Bode: Museumsdirektor und Mäzen: Wilhelm von Bode zum 150. Geburtstag. Berlin: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 1995; Wilhelm von Bode als zeitgenosse der Kunst: zum 150. Geburtstag. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 1995 [see bibliography, pp 29-31]; Justi, Ludwig. “Arnold Wilhelm von Bode.” Neue deutsche Biographie 2: 347-48; Knopp, Werner. “Blick auf Bode.” Jahrbuch Preußischer Kulturbesitz 32 (1996): 47-65; 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, p. 47 mentioned; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 158, 528; Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris, 1993, pp. 138-40, 145; Enderlein, Volkmar. Wilhelm von Bode und die Berliner Teppichsammlung. Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1995; Calder, William M. “Bode, Arnold Wilhelm von.” Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 1, p. 167; Gaehtgens, Thomas W., and Paul, Barbara, eds. Bode, Wilhelm. Mein Leben. 2 vols. Berlin: Nicolai, 1997 [especially vol. 2 “Kommentarband”]; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. 2nd ed. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2007, pp. 32-35; Sheehan, James J. Museums in the German Art World: From the End of the Old Regime to the Rise of Modernism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 142-3, 157-9.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Bode, Wilhelm." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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