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Dvořák, Max

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    Full Name: Dvořák, Max

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 04 June 1874

    Date Died: 08 February 1921

    Place Born: Roudnice, Ústecký Kraj, Czech Republic

    Place Died: Hrušovany nad Jevišovkou , Jihomoravský Kraj, Czech Republic

    Home Country/ies: Austria

    Subject Area(s): art theory


    One of the pillars of “Vienna-School” of art history; employed a Geistesgeschichte methodology (cf. Dilthey). Dvořák was the son of a archivist and librarian for the Palace of Roudnice, Bohemia. He was born in Raudnitz, Bohemia, which is present-day Roudnice, Czech Republic. He began his education in Prague, migrating to Vienna in 1895 where he completed a doctorate in history at the Institut für österreichische Geschichtsforschung in 1897 in Vienna. While in Vienna he became intrigued with the works of Aloïs Riegl and Franz Wickhoff the latter also a graduate of the Institut. In 1901 he completed his Habilitation on thirteenth- and fourteenth-century manuscript illumination in Bohemia. He became Wickhoff’s assistant, and by 1902 a lecturer (Privatdozent) at the University of Vienna. Riegl died in 1905 and Dvořák, with the help of Julius Alwin von Schlosser, was appointed to Riegl’s position as curator of public monuments in Austria, part of the teaching staff of the University. When Dvořák was appointed a full professor in 1909, the appointment touched off the great schism among the art faculty at Vienna. The decidedly pro-Germanic camp resented the Czech Dvořák’s elevation; their retribution erupted at Wickhoff’s death when the group succeeded in appointing the maverick and nationalist ideologue Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski from Graz, an art historian much criticized by Wickhoff, Riegl and Schlosser. Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski set up his own, competing art history institute, known as the Wiener Institut, resulting in Dvořák and Strzygowski teaching from different art history “centers” within the same University. Dvořák took his position as public monuments curator seriously, helping save many Austrian art treasures for post-World War I war reparation. He published a guideline for conservation, the Katechismus der Denkmalpflege (1916), continuing the publication of the Kunstgeschichtliches Jahrbuch der Zentralkommission für die Erhaltung der Kunst- und historischen Denkmale, and the establishment of an inventory of Austrian and Hungarian monuments, österreichische Kunstopographie in 1907. Dvořák’s lectures on baroque art of 1905-1906 constructed a history of modern art beginning with Tintoretto and running through Velázquez, Rembrandt and the impressionists. Though in later years his conception of art would often be viewed a set of tensions, idealism vs. naturalism, etc., his allegiance to art of all periods remained. He was one of the early writers to deal in an objective way with Italian Mannerism, a style still condemned by many art historians (cf. Wölfflin) as degenerate. It occupied his 1918-20 lectures. Donald Posner characterized Dvořák’s 1920 one on El Greco and Italian Mannerism, in which he analyzed the subjective and expressionistic motives of the style as a “spiritual crisis” as brilliant. One of his Dvořák’s publications was a forward to a 1921 picture facsimiles by Oskar Kokoschka. He died in Grusbach, Czech Republic, which is present-day Hru’ovany nad Jevi’ovkou, Cezch Republic. He is buried in the cemetery at Grußbach bei Znaim (Hrušovany) in a traditional grave, although Adolf Loos had designed a modernist mausoleum for him.

    Methodologically, the early work of Dvořák is close to that of Riegl’s. He used Riegl’s evolutionary model of art history, describing (in his Habilitation, for example) the “great stream of artistic development.” He employed a strongly formal analysis of objects, arguing, as for example in Das Rätsel der Kunst der Brüder Van Eyck for a linear progression of art based upon stylistic analysis. In Das Rätsel, Dvořák discounted the naturalism of the van Eyck as a sudden appearance, tracing instead the continuous progression from quattrocento realism through French manuscript illumination to northern Renaissance painting. His later work increasingly demonstrates his belief that the intellectual content, discerned from subject mater and form, is the key to understanding it. Instead of a close, connoisseurship reading of individual works, Dvořák’s later writing opts for broader historical principles. This Geistesgeschichte method is best demonstrated in his Idealismus und Naturalismus in der gotischen Skulptur und Malerei (1917, English, 1967), where he argues among other things, that the degree of verisimilitude of an art object reflects an artist’s personal expression, not a struggle between abstraction and naturalism. The work of Otto Benesch and Hans Tietze both build on this method. Dvořák’s view of Italian Mannerism, that it was an angst-ridden time whose incongruous art reflected a chaotic society was adopted by subsequent art historians of Mannerism. The notion that Dvořák’s art-historical writing verged on the popular, sensational and grandiose has been disputed recently (Rampley). Edwin Lachnit described the Vienna School methodology as a triangle of Dvořák, a history-based approach; Wickhoff, stylistic; and Riegl/Schlosser, the linguistic-historical standpoints. Together these four make up the principal fame and direction of the Vienna school of the early 20th century. Dvořák’s students included Dagobert Frey, Guido Kaschnitz von Weinberg, Karl Maria Swoboda, Josef Borovicka Eugen Dostál Jan Gebauer, Jaroslav Helfert, Antonín Matejcek, Jaromír Pecírka, Oskar Pollak, Zdenek Wirth, Frederick Antal, Richard Offner, Emil Kaufmann Heinrich Schwarz and Robert Hedicke; Ludwig Münz wrote his dissertation under Dvořák but Dvořák’s death precluded its approval. His archives, much of which are still unpublished, are housed at the University of Vienna. In Italy, his method was popularized in the writings of Lionello Venturi.

    Selected Bibliography

    [habilitation:] “Die Illuminatoren des Johann von Neumarkt.” Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses (1901): 35-127; “Idealismus und Naturalismus in der gotischen Skulptur und Malerei.” Historische Zeitschrift 119 (1918): 1-62, 185-246. [Also published in Kunstgeschichte: Studien zur abendlichen Kunstwicklung, below]; Idealism and Naturalism in Gothic Art. Preface by Karl Maria Swoboda. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967; “Das Rätsel der Kunst der Brüder Van Eyck.” Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhochsten Kaiserhauses 24 (1904): 161-317; Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kunstgeschichte. edited (posthumously) by Karl Maria Swoboda and Johannes Wilde. Munich: Piper, 1929; Kunstgeschichte als Geistesgeschichte: Studien zur abendländischen Kunstentwicklung. Munich: R. Piper, 1924, English, The History of Art as the History of Ideas. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984; “Vorwort.” Oskar Kokoschka: Variationen über ein Thema. Vienna: Richard Lányi, 1921, “über Greco und den Manierismus.” [in Kunstgeschichte als Geistesgeschichte volume], abridged English, “El Greco and Mannerism.” Coolidge, John, trans. The Magazine of Art 46 no. 1 (1953): 14-23.


    Frey, Dagobert. “Max Dvořáks Stellung in der Kunstgeschichte.” Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 1 no. 15 (1923): 1-21; Benesch, Otto. “Max Dvořák: Ein Versuch der historischen Geisteswissenschaften.” Reportorium für Kunstwissenschaft 44 (1924): 159-97, reprinted in Otto Benesch: Collected Writings. Vol. 4. London: Phaidon, 1973, 267-303; Benesch, Otto. “Max Dvorák (1874-1921).” In Große Österreicher/Neue Österreichische Biographie ab 1815. 10 (1957): 189-198, reprinted in Otto Benesch: Collected Writings. Vol. 4. London: Phaidon, 1973, 304-314; Posner, Donald. “Introduction.” Friedlaender, Walter. Mannerism and Anti-Mannerism in Italian Painting. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965, pp. xii-xiii; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. “Geistesgeschichte and Art History.” Art Journal 30, no. 2 (Winter, 1970): 148-153; 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. 21 mentioned, pp. 95-97; Rokyta, Hugo. “Max Dvořák und seine Schule in den Böhmischen Ländern.” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Kunst und Denkmalpflege 28 no. 3 (1974): 81-89 [entire issue devoted to Dvořák]; Busse, Hans-Bertold. Kunst und Wisenschaft, Untersuchung zur Asthetik und Methodik der Kunstgeschichtswissenschaft. Mittenwald: Mäander Kunstverlag, 1981: 85-108; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, pp. 152-153; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 163; German Essays on Art History. Gert Schiff, ed. New York: Continuum, 1988, pp. xlix-lii, 279; Schwarzer, Mitchell. “Cosmopolitan Difference in Max Dvořák’s Art History.” Art Bulletin 74 (December 1992): 669-678; Edwin Lachnit, “Max Dvořák.” The Dictionary of Art 9: 472-3 (1996); Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 65-68; Rampley, Matthew. “Max Dvorák: Art History and the Crisis of Modernity.” Art History 26 no. 2 (April 2003): 214-237; Aurenhammer, Hans. “Max Dvořák and the History of Medieval Art.” Journal of Art Historiography 2 (2010)


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Dvořák, Max." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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