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Brendel, Otto J.

    Full Name: Brendel, Otto J.

    Other Names:

    • Otto Johannes Brendel

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1901

    Date Died: 1973

    Place Born: Nuremberg (also Nürnberg), Germany

    Place Died: New York, NY, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): ancient, Ancient Greek (culture or style), archaeology, Classical, Etruscan (culture or style), and Roman (ancient Italian culture or period)


    Archaeologist and art historian; specialist in ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan art. Brendel’s father was a church minister in Nuremberg, Bavaria and the younger Brendel retained a lifelong interest in theology himself. He attended the Neues Gymnasium where he early on developed an interest in classical studies. As a youth he joined the Wandersvogel youth, hiking and singing in the German countryside during the years of economic hardship of the first World War. He painted and played both the cello and piano as part of evening’s entertainment with his family. An early course by Paul Hensel (1860-1930) on the philosophy of history remained with him his entire life. In 1919 he spent a year as an assistant to the painter Max Unold. In 1920 Bendel began working on his Abitur at the university at Heidelberg, where Ludwig Curtius had recently moved to become Ordiarius (full professor). Heidelberg offered Brendel the opportunity to study with the finest minds of that age. These included classicists Franz Boll (1867-1924), Alfred von Domaszewski (1856-1927), Friedrich Karl von Duhn (1851-1930), Richard Carl Meister (1848-1912), and Eugen Täubler (1879-1953); the literary theorist Ernst Robert Curtius (1886-1956), literary historian Friedrich Gundolf (1880-1931), philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), the classical art historians Karl Leo Heinrich Lehmann and Friedrich Zimmer. Brendel worked on the Michelangelo bibliography project for Ernst Steinmann during 1922 at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome. In 1923 he left the university for a position as the Assistant Keeper at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen, under Frederik Poulsen (1876-1950). Poulsen became Brendel’s mentor and lifelong friend and Brendel soon became fluent in Danish. He returned to Heidelberg in 1926, securing a grant for travel to provincial museums in north Italy in 1927. The young Brendel was already a cigar-smoking bon vivant and at Heidelberg quickly became a favorite pupil (Ludwig) Curtius. The following year he received his Ph.D. under Curtius, writing on the topic of Roman iconography of the Augustan period. He married fellow Heidelberg student Maria Wiegert (1902-1994) in 1929, and, armed with a stipend from the Deutsches Archaeologisches Institut (German Archaeological Institute, or DAI), spent the 1929-1930 academic year on a scholarly Wanderjahre. Brendel became a Privatdozent at Erlangen in 1931, but took a leave the next year to be First Assistant to Curtius, who was now Director at the DAI in Rome. Brendel was fired from his job by the Nazis in 1936 for being married to a Jew (“non-Aryan”). He took a year as a research fellow at University of Durham (England) Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and then London 1936-1938 at the Warburg Institute. Late in 1938 he traveled to the United States as a guest lecturer, remaining there the rest of his career. After a year as visiting professor of art and archaeology at Vassar College, when his family finally joined him from Germany, and several at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, 1938-1941, he moved to Bloomington, IN, to be Professor for Archaeology and Art History at Indiana University (1941-1956). Brendel spent the years 1949-1951 at the American Academy in Rome first under a Prix de Rome and then with a Fulbright Fellowship. At Bloomington, he also wrote the manuscript for his book on erotic art in Greco-Roman antiquity, published only in 1970 by the Kinsey Institute. In 1956 he was named Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. Under the chair of Rudolf Wittkower, Columbia boasted one of the finest art history departments in the nation. Brendel and his wife attended the month meetings of the Archaeology Club, an informal group of classical art historians, whose ranks included Dorothy Kent Hill of the Walters Gallery, Homer Thompson (1906-2000) and his wife Dorothy Burr Thompson of the Institute for Advanced Study, Frances Follin Jones of the Princeton Art Gallery, and Evelyn B. Harrison. He became emeritus in 1963, continuing to teach until his retirement in June of 1973. He died that September. At the time of his death he had completed the manuscript for the Pelican History of Art volume on Etruscan art, which was published in 1978. Brendel’s scholarship, like that of his mentor Ludwig Curtius, demonstrates careful stylistic analysis of the object combined with a knowledge of the literary sources. His Prolegomena to the Study of Roman Art is a historiography of the discipline which has become indispensable for any student of the topic.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Ikonographie des Kaisers Augustus. Heidelberg, 1931; “Prolegomena to the Study of Roman Art.” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 21 (1953): 7-73, revised and reprinted separately as Prolegomena to the Study of Roman Art. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979; Etruscan Art. Pelican History of Art 43. New York: Penguin Books, 1978; The Visible Idea: Interpretations of Classical Art. Washington, DC: Decatur House, 1980; Ikonographie des Kaisers Augustus. 1931; “Symbolik der Kugel.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archaeologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung 51 (1936): 1-95, reprinted as, Symbolism of the Sphere: a Contribution to the History of Earlier Greek Philosophy. Leiden: Brill, 1977, “Classicism in Roman architecture.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 29 (October 1970): 264; “Borrowings from Ancient Art in Titian.” Art Bulletin 37 (June 1955): 113-25.


    Calder, William M., III. “Biographical Note.” In Memoriam Otto J. Brendel: Essays in Archaeology and the Humanities. Edited by Larissa Bonfante and Helga von Heintze. Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1976, x-xi, [complete bibliography,] xii-xiv; 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. 81, mentioned; Archäologenbildnisse: Porträts und Kurzbiographien von Klassichen Archäologen deutscher Sprache. Reinhard Lullies, ed. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1988: 283-284; Calder, William. “Brendel, Otto J.” Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 190-91; Bonfante, Larissa. “Maria Weigert Brendel.”


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Brendel, Otto J.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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