Scholar of Renaissance and Baroque art in Austria and Italy, Nazi collaborator during World War II. Frey studied (practicing) architecture at the Technische Hochschule in Vienna. In 1911, the second-Vienna School art historian Max Dvořák took him as his assistant in the Austrian monument conservation bureau. Dvořák encourage Frey to study art history, and Frey wrote his dissertation in 1915 (under Dvořák) on Bramante's plan for St. Peter's. In addition to Dvořák, other Vienna-school leaders, Julius Alwin von Schlosser and Schlosser's nemesis, Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski also exerted tremendous influence on Frey. In 1929 he published his controversial Gotik und Renaissance whose subtitle was "the principles of a modern worldview." In it, he asserted that gothic art is perceived over time (in a succession) whereas the renaissance is experienced simultaneously. He was appointed professor of Art History at Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) in 1931. In 1938, Frey authored the article "Die Entwicklung nationaler Stile in der mittelalterlichen Kunst," connecting national characteristics with style. After the invasion of Poland by Germany in 1939, Frey was one of three leading professors selected by the Nazi high command to validate Poland as a "Teutonic land" deserving of German invasion and to rewrite Polish history without Jewish involvement. Frey's 1941 book, Krakau, denied any Slavic influence in the art or culture. Likewise, his 1942 guide to the city of Lublin, one of the oldest Jewish communities in Poland, mentions Jews only once. Frey was interrogated by the OSS and relieved of his position in 1945. He returned to Austria to work in monuments preservation office in Vienna again. In 1951 he moved to Stuttgart as professor of art history at the Technische Hochschule. His post-war research involved earlier renaissance figures (Giotto) as well as Titian, Michelangelo and Rembrandt. His son, Gerhard Frey (1915-) was also a professor and edited his father's writings. Methodologically, Frey demonstrates the influence of the multiple Vienna-school scholars under whom he studied and worked. His allegiance to documentary evidence is closest to Schlosser. His theoretical view of space and time is akin to the theoretics of Dvořák. To the unorthodox Strzygowski, Frey borrowed his interest in interdisciplinary methods, and unfortunately, a predilection for assigning national/ethnic characteristics to art. In Gotik and Renaissance, Frey suggests that the Renaissance introduced a closed space (linear perspective) where figures are instantaneously comprehensible in their enclosure. By contrast, Gothic painting and sculpture requires "reading" to construct the scene by the view. This ingenious view of two art epochs draws much from Lessing's view that the visual arts are static and the arts of literature, temporal. Renaissance and baroque architecture were the thrust of his research as well as local history books on Austria in addition to his infamous Krakau and Lublin. His interest in theories of art and methodologies makes his work of lasting value. Frey's writing on style and African and Eurasian cultures shows the influence of Tübingen art historian Konrad von Lange. Joseph Frank's "Spatial Form in Modern Literature (1945) and W. J. T. Mitchell, (1980) employs this theory directly. The work of the medievalist Miriam S. Bunim (1912-1986) also draws upon Frey's theory. Frey's intent was to combine different disciplines into a philosophy of art which could make use of multiple approaches. It remained uncompleted at the time of his death.
[complete bibliography:] "Dagobert Frey: Verzeichnis seiner Werke." österreichische Zeitschrift für Kunst und Denkmalpflege 16 (1962): 154-7; [dissertation:] Bramantes St. Peter entwurf und seine apokryphen. Vienna: Anton Schroll & Co., 1915; and Titzenthaler, Edgar, ed. Krakau. Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1941; Michelangelo-Studien. Vienna: Kunstverlag A. Schroll, 1920; Johann Bernhard von Erlach: eine Studie über seine Stellung in der Entwicklung der Wiener Palastfassade. Vienna: E. Hölzel, 1923; Architecture of the renaissance from Brunelleschi to Michael Angelo. The Hague: G. Naeff, 1925; Architettura barocca. Rome: Socità editrice d'arte illustrata,1926, 1925; Gotik und Renaissance als Grundlagen der modernen Weltanschauung. Augsberg: B. Filser, 1929, English excerpt (chapter 2), "Gothic and Renaissance." Sypher, Wylie, ed. Art History: An Anthology of Modern Criticism. New York: Vintage, 1963, pp. 154-172; and Ginhart, Karl, eds. Die Kunstdenkmäler österreichs (Dehio Handbuch). Vienna: A. Schroll, 1933ff.; "Die Entwicklung nationaler Stile in der mittelalterlichen Kunst des Abendlandes." Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 16 (1938): 1-74; "Ein entwurf Giulianos da Sangallo für das gestuhl in der palazzo Medici-Riccardi. Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 5 (July 1939): 197-202; Kunstwissenschaftliche Grundfragen: Prolegomena zu einer Kunstphilosophie. Vienna: R. M. Rohrer, 1946; Grundlegung zu einer verglichenden Kunstwissenschaft: Raum und Zeit in der Kunst der afrikanisch-eurasischen Hochkulturen. Vienna: Margarete Friedrich Rohrer Verlag, 1949; "Wiener Schule der Kunstwissenschaft." in Dagobert Frey, 1883-1962: eine Erinnerungsschrift. Kiel: Kunsthistorische Institut der Universität Kiel,1962; Frey, Gerhard, ed. Manierismus als europäische Stilerscheinung: Studien zur Kunst des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer Verlag, 1964; Frodl, Walter and Frey, Gerhard, eds. Bausteine zu einer Philosophie der Kunst. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1976.
Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p.154 mentioned; 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. 97; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l'histoire de l'art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p 191; Lachnit, Edwin."Frey, Dagobert." Dictionary of Art 11: 769; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 100-101; Weinreich, Max. Hitler's Professors. New York: Yiddish Scientific Institute, 1946, pp. 84, 193; "Dagobert Frey." Sypher, Wylie, ed. Art History: An Anthology of Modern Criticism. New York: Vintage, 1963, p. 153; Gensbaur-Bendler, Ulrike. "Dagobert Frey: Lebensphilosophische Grundlagen seiner Kunsttheorie." Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgechichte 42 (1989): 53-79.