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Conze, Alexander

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Conze, Alexander

    Other Names:

    • Alexander Christian Leopold Conze

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1831

    Date Died: 1914

    Place Born: Hanover, Germany

    Place Died: Berlin, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Anatolian (culture or style), ancient, Ancient Greek (culture or style), antiquities (object genre), Early Western World, Greek sculpture styles, Near Eastern (Early Western World), Pergamene (culture or style), and sculpture (visual works)


    Director of antique sculpture at Berlin Museum 1877-1887; brought Pergamon altar to Berlin. Conze was the son of a cavalry officer. He initially studied law at the university in Göttingen before changing to classics. His dissertation was written under Eduard Gerhard in Berlin in 1855. Conze made trips to Paris and London and was particularly inspired by the Elgin Marbles. He was appointed Professor (Extraordinarius) at University of Halle in 1863, moving to the University of Vienna in 1869 (through 1877). In Vienna he founded the archaeological-epigraphical department. Beginning in 1873, Conze devoted efforts to excavating Samothrace with the intention of revealing the entire site, but his duties at Vienna prevented this. In 1877 Richard Schöne, who had replaced Conze at Halle, lobbied for Conze appointment as Director of the antique sculpture collection at the Berlin Museum (to 1887). Conze followed the somewhat disappointing tenure of Karl Bötticher (1806-1889). In 1887 Conze resigned his position at the museum to become secretary (director) of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI). As secretary-general he was instrumental in reorienting the DAI toward the needs and to serve the glory of the German Empire (as opposed to international scholarship). He also founded the Roman-Germanic Commission in Frankfurt am Main. He joined Wilhelm Dörpfeld and Carl Humann in the excavation of Pergamon beginning in 1878 (to 1886, second dig 1900-02). At Pergamon, Conze realized his ambition of finding an entire city. The most significant of his finds, the great Pergamon altar, is now in the Berlin Museum. Beginning in 1893, he launched the publication of a corpus on Attic grave stele, Die attischen Grabreliefs (to 1911) as well as Melian vases, Melische Tongefässe in 1902. His students included the Vienna-school art historian Franz Wickhoff.A specialist in ancient Greek art, Conze helped to redefine 19th-century archaeology away from a humanistic and aestheticizing study of ancient art works and toward a technical science of painstaking historical reconstruction. He was one of the first to promote “big archaeology” (large scale, highly organized digs). Conze preferred making new finds rather than studying existing objects. His most spectacular find, the Pergamon Altar, one of the most important complete Hellenistic finds in archaeology, failed to bring Conze the recognition he deserved or hoped for. The cost of the reports was extreme and the altar, despite it’s art-historical significance, was less important politically than had been expected. In the twentieth century, the altar languished in East Germany after World War II, where it was difficult for visitors to enjoy.

    Selected Bibliography

    Melische Thongefäße. Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1862; “Zur Geschichte der Anfänge griechischer Kunst.”, in: Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien (Phil.-Hist. Kl) 64, 1870: 505-534; 73 (1873) 221-250; Archaeologische untersuchungen auf Samothrake. Vienna: C. Gerold’s Sohn, 1875-80; Beiträge zur Geschichte der griechischen Plastik. Halle: Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses, 1869; Die ergebnisse der ausgrabungen zu Pergamon, 1880-1881. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1882; Wiener Vorlegeblätter für archaeologische übungen [serial]. Vienna: A. Hölder, 1869-1891; and Michaelis, Adolf, and Postolakas, Achilleus. Die attischen Grabreliefs. Berlin: W. Spemann, 1893-1922; Reise auf den Inseln des Thrakischen Meeres. Hannover: C. Rümpler, 1860; Reise auf der Insel Lesbos. Hannover: C. Rümpler, 1865.


    Archäologenbildnisse: Porträts und Kurzbiographien von Klassichen Archäologen deutscher Sprache. Reinhard Lullies, ed. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1988: 59-60; Suzanne L. Marchand. Down from Olympus: Archaeology and Philhellenism in Germany, 1750-1970. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996: 97-103; Calder, William. “Conze, Alexander Christian Leopold.” Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 1, p. 324.


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Conze, Alexander." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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