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Frankl, Paul

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Frankl, Paul

    Other Names:

    • Paul Frankl

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 22 April 1878

    Date Died: 30 January 1962

    Place Born: Prague, Praha, Hlavní Město, Czech Republic

    Place Died: Princeton, Mercer, NJ, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), art theory, Medieval (European), and sculpture (visual works)

    Institution(s): Institute for Advanced Study


    Medievalist architectural historian and Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, scholar; important Kunstwissenschaft Gothic theorist. Frankl’s family stemmed from a line of Jewish scholars. His father a Prague businessman, was Carl Frankl and his mother Amalia von Wiener (Frankl). He was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, which is present-day Prague, Czech Republic. He attended to German Staats-Obergymnasium in Prague, graduating in 1896. Following a year’s service in the Austrian military at a Lieutenant’s rank in 1897, he entered the Technische Hochschule in Munich and then Berlin, graduating with a degree in (practicing) architecture in 1904. He married an artist, Elsa Johanna Herzberg in 1905, working as an architect. He returned school in 1908, studying philology, history and art history at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, the latter topic under Heinrich Wölfflin. Frankl’s dissertation advisor, however, was Berthold Riehl, founder of the Institut für Kunstgeschichte (Art History Institute) there. The topic was on fifteenth-century glass painting in southern Germany, accepted in 1910. Frankl remained at Munich as Wölfflin’s assistant (through 1913), who was now Riehl’s successor, writing his Habilitationschrift on developmental phases in architecture under Wölfflin. While this work employed Wölfflin’s theoretical structure of development (and was dedicated to the master), it rejected Wölfflin’s formalism.

    Frankl worked as a privatdozent at Munich from 1914, exempt from military service in World War I because of an amputated arm, participating in the Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft editions (under the editorship of Albert Brinckmann and Fritz Burger) beginning in 1916. In 1920 he was promoted to außerordentlicher (assistant) Professor at Munich, called the following year to become ordentlicher (full) Professor at Halle. It was there that Frankl turned to the topic of Gothic architecture, which would become his life’s work and fame. His 1924 contribution to Wölfflin’s festschrift–a seminal essay–theorized stylistic laws governing Gothic and Romanesque architecture. Two years later it was expanded into his book Baukunst des Mittelalters. In 1933 at the 13th International Congress of the History of Art, Stockholm, he traveled with a group of medievalists including Richard Hamann, Kenneth John Conant and Hans R. Hahnloser, lead by Johnny Roosval, to see the discovery of the only gothic church still with its wooden arch scaffolding remaining (Frankl, Gothic). That same year the Nazis assumed control of the German government forcing the dismissal of Jews from government positions, including academics. Frankl was terminated in 1934, returning to Munich were he lived in poverty. After a brief trip to Constantinople, he published his important theory of art-historical practice, Das System der Kunstwissenschaft issued in Czechoslovakia because works by Jewish authors were no longer permitted in Germany or Austria. The 1000-plus-page treatise is his most pure example of his Kunstwissenschaft notion, a systematic art history covering all principles in all forms from all periods. This book was among those the Nazi’s selected for their book burnings.

    He traveled to the United States in 1938 but was prevented from returning because of illness. He was financially assisted in the U.S. by the German-American museum director Wilhelm Rheinhold Otto Valentiner. In 1940 Frankl was appointed a member of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton through the initiative of Princeton University professor Charles Rufus Morey and Institute of Advanced Study member (and fellow Nazi-refugee) Erwin Panofsky. Panofsky argued for the non-teaching IAS position because Frankl’s English was too poor to lecture in U.S. schools. Frankl spent much of his efforts at Princeton writing a book on the commentaries on the Gothic from that time to the present. After the War, Nikolaus Bernard Leon Pevsner invited him to write the volume on Gothic architecture for his English-language survey series, the Pelican History of Art. In 1948 Frankl returned to Germany as a guest lecturer at the universities of Berlin and Halle and in the United States at Yale University. From 1951 onward he took as his assistant the wife of Princeton medievalist Kurt Weitzmann, Josepha Weitzmann-Fiedler (1904-2000). She helped him see the completion of his manuscript for the Gothic Architecture volume for the Pelican History of art, completed in German in 1956 and his Gothic literature study, The Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations through Eight Centuries, published in 1960. He finished reading the English translation of the manuscript of the Gothic Architecture volume the day before he died, at his desk, at the Institute, at age 83. A revision of his System der Kunstwissenschaft remained unfinished, but was later issued under Weitzmann-Fiedler’s direction in 1988 as Zu Fragen des Stills. His students in Halle included Richard KrautheimerGeorg Hoeltje and Ludwig Grote.

    Frankl was one of the giants of Kunstwissenschaft (Crossley) as well as one of the last. This theoretical approach to art history had been practiced most profoundly by Vienna School historian Aloïs Riegl and Wölfflin. His Kunstwissenschaft writing consistently shows an interest in principles and categories–visual and intellectual–that control the viewer, the work of art and the conditions of its construction (Krautheimer). In Das System der Kunstwissenschaft Frankl demonstrated his ambition to create a comprehensive art history. Broken down into numerous categories (persons, things, places, time) and then into intricate substructures, (membrism, regularism, limitism, harmonism, etc.), the work constitutes “probably the most ambitious morphological and phenomenological study of the visual arts ever undertaken” (Crossley). He coined terms, such as “akyrism” to define the changing contexts and meanings of art, mostly clearly realized in his final article on Boucher’s 1752 painting “Girl on the Counch.” Frankl’s system was not always easy to follow, a fact about which Frankl himself worried. His emphasis on space as an analytic for architecture can be traced to the earlier pioneering work of Albert Brinckmann (Watkin). Frankl saw French Gothic architecture as a progressive style of the avante-garde, a laboratory of diverse ideas, in similar ways to the work of Jean Bony. (Crossley).

    Selected Bibliography

    • [complete bibliography:] van der Osten, Gerd. “Paul Frankl 1878-1962.” Wallraf-Richartz Jahrbuch 24 (1962): 7-14;
    • [dissertation:] Beiträge zur Geschichte der süddeutschen Glasmalerei im 15. Jahrhundert. Munich, 1910, published, Strassburg: J.H.E. Heitz, 1912;
    • [habilitation:] Die Entwicklungsphasen der Neuren Baukunst. Munich/Berlin: B. G. Teubner, 1914, published Leipzig: 1914, English: Principles of Architectural History: The Four Phases of Architectural Style, 1420-1900. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1968;
    • “Der Beginn der Gotik und der allgemeine Problem des Stillgeninnes.” inFestschrift Heinrich Wölfflin: Beiträge zur Kunst- und Geistesgeschichte. Munich: H. Schmidt, 1924, expanded as, Baukunst des Mittelalters: die frühmittelalterliche und romanische Baukunst. Wildpark-Potsdam: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft Athenaion, 1926;
    • Das System der Kunstwissenschaft. Brunn, Czechoslovakia [and nominally Leipzig]: Rohrer, 1938, [shortened version by the author and Ullmann, Ernst.] Zu Fragen des Stils. Leipzig: E.A. Seemann, 1988;
    • The Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations through Eight Centuries. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960;
    • “Girl on a Couch.” in Meiss, Millard, ed. Essays in Honor of Erwin Panofsky. vol. 1. New York: New York University Press, 1961, pp. 138-152;
    • Gothic Architecture. Pelican History of Art. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1962, appeared 1963.


    • [obituary:] Krautheimer, Richard. “Paul Frankl.” Art Journal 22, no. 3 (Spring 1963): 167-168.
    • Frankl, Paul. The Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations through Eight Centuries. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960, p. 15, n. 20;
    • 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, pp. 21 mentioned, 51 mentioned, 81 mentioned, 89 mentioned, 29 n. 59 (important);
    • Watkin, David. The Rise of Architectural History. London: Architectural Press, 1980 p. 12;
    • 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. 22, 33, 122 mentioned; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 266, 287, 543;
    • Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 96-99;
    • 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. 152-7;
    • [insightful historiographic essay:] Crossley, Paul. “Introduction: Frankl’s Text: Its Achievement and Significance.” Frankl, Paul and Crossley, Paul. Gothic Architecture. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 7-31;

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Frankl, Paul." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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