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Einem, Herbert von

    Full Name: Einem, Herbert von

    Other Names:

    • Herbert von Einem

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1905

    Date Died: 1983

    Place Born: Saarburg, Rhineland Palatinate, Germany

    Place Died: Göttingen, Lower Saxony, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): art theory, eighteenth century (dates CE), German (culture, style, period), and nineteenth century (dates CE)


    Historian of German 18th/19th-century art; methodological theorist. The son of a military officer, von Einem demonstrated an interest in art from high school. After studying law, he turned to art history in 1923, studying at Göttingen, Berlin and Munich. In 1928, he completed his dissertation under Georg Vitzthum von Eckstädt. Einem worked in the Field Museum in Hannover until 1936. His 1935 habilitationschrift was written under the classicist Carl Fernow and Wilhelm Waetzoldt in Halle and Göttingen. From 1936 he began publishing on the subject of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), of whose art theory he became an expert. In 1938 Einem published a monograph on Caspar David Friedrich which contradicted Kurt Karl Eberlein and Eberlein’s view that Friedrich held strong nationalist pride. Later he returned to privatdozent status for political reasons. Einem was forced to leave a 1936 essay of his on popular (volkisch) elements in art anonymous, though highly regarded by the Warburg school historians, because of the mounting political pressure of the Nazis. In 1943 he was appointed professor at Greifswald, but did not teach there due to military service and subsequent imprisonment (1945). After 1945 he published a series of shorter works dedicated to the master painters of European Renaissance art of the 17th century. He continued Vitzthum’s work as an Ordinariat in Göttingen and in 1947 held one of the chairs with Heinrich Lützeler at the University of Bonn. He and Lützeler founded the Bonner Beiträge zur Kunstwissenschaft in 1950. Einem remained at Bonn becoming emeritus in 1970. Because he had no ties to the Nazi regime, he was an ideal representative for post-war German art historical collaboration. Between 1960-1968 he headed the Association of German Art Historians and was the President of the International Committee of Art History (CIHA), 1964-1969. An invitation to succeed Hans Sedlmayr in Munich of 1963 was declined. In 1974 he returned to Göttingen. Einem was among the great theorists of art history. He regarded art history as a branch of general history, viewing the artist as a product of his/her historical period. He embraced the concept forwarded by Ernst Cassirer that art philosophy is not complete without art history and vice versa. In Fragen kunstgeschichtlicher Interpretation, 1952, von Einem wrote that art history as a particular language with mythical implications. The emergence of Christian mythos created a crisis of art, a loss of art’s order for von Einem. A strong supporter of academic training for art history, he argued that older art forms needed to be understood from a knowledge of contemporary art as well. In this regard, he contrasted art historians such as Joseph Gantner, asserting that the abstraction in Egyptian sculpture, for example, differed from modern sculptural abstraction (see, Revision der Kunstgeschichte? 1931/1932). Einem maintained that Kunstwissenschaft was a resource to understanding mankind. This explains in part his willingness to write on diverse art subjects. His students included Florens Deuchler.

    Selected Bibliography

    [complete bibliography through 1964:] Osten, Gert von der, editor. Festschrift für Herbert von Einem zum 16. Februar 1965. Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1965; Caspar David Friedrich. Berlin: Im Rembrandt-verlag 1938; “Aufgaben der Kunstgeschichte in der Zukunft.” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 5 (1936): 1-6; edited. Fernow, Carl Ludwig. Römische Briefe an Johann Pohrt 1793-1798. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1944; Die Bildnisse der deutschen Künstler in Rom, 1800-1830. Berlin: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, 1952; Beiträge zu Goethes Kunstauffassung. Hamburg: M. von Schröder, 1956; Masaccios Zinsgroschen. Cologne: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1967; Die Medicimadonna Michelangelos. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1973; Stil und überlieferung: Aufsätze zur Kunstgeschichte des Abendlandes. Dusseldorf: L. Schwann, 1971; “Die Folgen des Krieges”: ein Alterswerk von Peter Paul Rubens. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1975; Deutsche Malerei des Klassizismus und der Romantik: 1760-1840. Munich: Beck, 1978.


    Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 70-73;

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Einem, Herbert von." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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