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Christ, Johann Friedrich

    Full Name: Christ, Johann Friedrich

    Other Names:

    • Johann Friedrich Christ

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 26 April 1700

    Date Died: 09 March 1756

    Place Born: Coburg, Bavaria, Germany

    Place Died: Leipzig, Saxony, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Classical and Northern Renaissance


    Early art historian and classicist; Cranach scholar; immediate precursor to Winckelmann. Christ’s family comprised a long line of civil servants. He was diversely educated including painting, etching and sculpting. By 1720 he was studying for state service himself in Jena, taking courses in philosophy, history and the law. After securing a position as a privy secretary in Saxe-Meiningen he began study in Halle in 1726. Christ published a life Lucas Cranach the elder the same year based upon biographies, archival research and, something relatively new for art writing, personal examination of the artist’s paintings. Christ stated in the book that the book was intended not to be part of a collection of artist’s lives, but an installment in a history of painting. Christ envisioned a book of the history of painting styles based upon study of all the arts (sculpture, graphics, etc.). His conception was to organize these by stylistic periods, a notion later brought to famous fruition under Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Christ’s was granted a master’s degree in 1728. Called to the university in Leipzig in 1731 as ausserordinarius professor, he traveled in Europe and England between 1733-1735 with the learned Count Heinrich von Bünau (1697-1762), the noble who later hired Winckelmann to be his librarian. He rose to ordinarius by 1739. His appointment as a professor of literature (Poesie) and history allowed him periodic lectures on painting and sculpture at Leipzig. In 1747 Christ issued a dictionary of artist’s marks, Anzeige und Auslegung der Monogrammatum with the encyclopedist Gottfried Sellius (d. 1767). Much of this was compiled from his personal graphics collection with which he used to teach. Christ declared this this work was to in part assist in developing a history of art based upon epochs, nations, schools and individual masters. Students who attended his lectures included two who later became important for art history, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (attending lectures between 1746-1748) and the classicist Christian Gottlob Heyne. Christ’s conception of art history–not a series of artist’s lives but as a stand-alone intellectual genre–marks the emergence of art history as a discipline. His rejection of the format based upon Giorgio Vasari and expanded by others greatly influenced Winckelmann, whose work Winckelmann had read (Kaufmann). Christ’s Anzeige und Auslegung was written to aid connoisseurship and the sorting out of authentic.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] De cura famae viro bono digna dissertationem … Leipzig, 1746, published, Leipzig: Ex Officina Langenhemia, 1746; Mvsevm Richterianvm continens fossilia animalia, vegetabilia mar. Leipzig: C. Fritsch, 1743; and Sellius, Gottfried.Anzeige und Auslegung der Monogrammatum, einzeln und verzogenen Anfangsbuchstaben de Nahmen, auch anderer Züge und Zeichen, unter welchen berühmte Mahler, Kupferstecher u.a. dergleichen Künstler, auf ihren Wercken sich verborgen haben … aus den ersten Wercken selbst, jetzt von neuem genommen. Leipzig: Caspar Fritschens wittwe, 1747


    Eberlein, Kurt Karl. Die deutsche Litterärgeschichte der Kunst im 18. Jahrhundert: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Kunstwissenschaft. Karlsruhe: Müller, 1919, p. 14; Archäologenbildnisse: Porträts und Kurzbiographien von Klassichen Archäologen deutscher Sprache. Reinhard Lullies, ed. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1988: 3-4; Kaufmann, Thomas DaCosta. “Antiquarianism, the History of Objects, and the History of Art before Winckelmann.” Journal of the History of Ideas 62 no. 3 (July 2001): 538-539; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon. 2nd. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 2007, pp. 50-51.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Christ, Johann Friedrich." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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