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Cohn-Wiener, Ernst

    Image Credit: Art Historiography

    Full Name: Cohn-Wiener, Ernst

    Other Names:

    • Ernst Cohn

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1882

    Date Died: 1941

    Place Born: Tilsit, Germany

    Place Died: New York, NY, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Indian (South Asian), Islam, Islamic (culture or style), Medieval (European), and Southeast Asian


    Medievalist art historian who later focused on Islamic and Indian art. Cohn-Wiener was born to Alfred Cohn, a pensioner, and Helene Wiener. After graduating from the Bromberg Gymnasium (West Prussia, today Bydgoszcz, Poland) in 1902  he studied art history under the major art historians of Germany in Berlin and Heidelberg. These included, Adolph Goldschmidt, Heinrich Wölfflin, Max J. Friedländer, Arthur Haseloff, Carl Nicolaus Heinrich Justi, Hanns Swarzenski, Werner Weisbach–Haseloff and Swarzenski were the ones highlighted in the printed version of his dissertation. That dissertation, written under Henry Thode, 1906 and issued the following year, was on the medieval Codex Bruchsal. From 1906 to 1908, he was an assistant at the Technische Hochschule Karlsruhe (Technical University of Karlsruhe) under Professor Marc Rosenberg (1852-1930), researching throughout Europe. He shortened his name to simply “Cohn” in 1907.  Between 1908 to 1933, Cohn was a lecturer in art history at Humboldt University in Berlin. His two-volumen Die Entwicklungsgeschichte der Stile  (Developmental History of Style), 1910, appeared in Russian in 1913. In 1919 he advanced to head of the art history department, eventually, 1926, becoming chair of the faculty. Cohn had an engaging lecture style, organizing his talks around events on Western art history from antiquity to the present and synthesizing Asian art as well. An engaging speaker, his university lectures attracted 300-400 in addition to talks at the Jewish Community College, in museum tours, and radio broadcasts.  During this time, Cohn’s interests changed to middle eastern and Asian art. He made two study trips, 1924 and 1925, through Central Asia, Russia, and China researching Islamic and far eastern art. He discovered unknown monuments in Turkistan (in Samarkand, Bukhara) Leading to his book, Turan.  Cohn continued his research trips in 1930 and 1932 through Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. At his return to Germany in 1933, the Nazi racial laws against Jews took effect Cohn, who had converted to Christianity, was nevertheless dismissed from all his positions. His publications banned, he was forced to emigrate, first to London as a guest of Lord Herbert Samuel (1870-1963), lecturing at the Royal Asiatic Society, the India Society, and the University of London. Through his connection with Lord Samuel, he was offered a job in India heading the museums and art school for the Maharajah of Baroda in 1934. He modernized both institutions, founding departments in Islamic Art and Indian Miniatures (the Museum included Western art). He lectured at Bombay University as well. Cohn moved to the United States in 1939, for health reasons, securing a stipend at the newly-founded American Institute for Iranian Art and Archeology in New York (an initiative of Arthur Upham Pope). He died there in 1941, leaving an immense collection of more than 3,500 photographs from Turkestan and other countries.

    Cohn’s book,  Turan, was for a long time the only work on Islamic architecture in Central Asia. However, he spoke poor English and his scholarship fell, like that of his mentor, Thode, “more in the category of a popular lecturer. He [was] not an outstanding authority in the field of Oriental art…” (Walter W. S. Cook).

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Uber den Codex Bruchsal I der Karlsruher Hof- u. Landesbibliothek und eine ihm verwandte Handschrift. Heidelberg, 1906, [published] Karlsruhe: Lang, 1907; Die Entwicklungsgeschichte der Stile in der bildenden Kunst. vol 1: Vom Altertum bis zur Gotik. vol 2: Von der Renaissance bis zur Gegenwart. Leipzig: Teubner,  1910; Willy Jaeckel. Leipzig: Verlag von Klinkhardt & Biermann,  1920; Das Kunstgewerbe des Ostens. Ägypten, Vorderasien, Islam, China und Japan Geschichte, Stile, Technik. Berlin: Verlag für kunstwissenschaft, 1923; Asia: Einführung in die Kunstwelt des Ostens: Indien, Chia, Japan, Islam. Berlin: R. Mosse, 1929;  Die jüdische Kunst. Ihre Geschichte von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Berlin: M. Wasservogel, 1929; Turan: Islamische Baukunst in Mittelasien. Berlin: E. Wasmuth, 1930;  “An Unknown Timurid building.”  Burlington Magazine 16 (1935): 272-277; Catalogue of the European Picture in the Baroda Picture Gallery. Baroda: Baroda State Press, 1935; “The Origin of Persian Carpet Patterns.” Islamic Culture (Hyderabad) 11 (1937);    “Persian Architecture in Central Asia.” In, Pope, Arthur Upham, ed. Survey of Persian Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1938; “The Baroda Picture Gallery.”  Asiatic Review 34 (1938): 89-90; “Miniatures of a Razm Nameh from Akbar’s Time.” Indian Art 12 (1938): 90-92; “A relief by the Master of Naumburg.”  Burlington Magazine 77 (1940): 27.


    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. 101-4.


    Contributors: Cassandra Klos and Emily Crockett


    Cassandra Klos and Emily Crockett. "Cohn-Wiener, Ernst." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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