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Furtwängler, Adolf

    Image Credit: ArchInForm

    Full Name: Furtwängler, Adolf

    Other Names:

    • Adolf Michael Furtwängler

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 30 June 1853

    Date Died: 11 October 1907

    Place Born: Freiburg im Breisgau, Hesse, Germany

    Place Died: Athens, Region of Attica, Greece

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Ancient Greek (culture or style), archaeology, ceramic ware (visual works), Classical, Greek pottery styles, pottery (visual works), and vase


    Professor of classical archaeology and museum director; established modern methods of ancient Greek vase analysis. Furtwängler’s father was a classical scholar and schoolmaster. From 1870 onward, Furtwängler studied at Leipzig, under Johannes Overbeck and Freiburg where he received his undergraduate degree. His dissertation, Eros in der Vasenmalerei, was written in 1874, (published 1876) in Munich under Enrico Brunn. Furtwängler would later write a memoir of von Brunn. The academic years 1876-1877 and 1877-1878 he worked under a stipend at the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI), in several Mediterranean countries. In 1878 he participated in the Olympia excavation site of Heinrich Schliemann in Greece. He completed his habilitation the following year under Reinhard Kekulé in Bonn. In 1879 he published together with his colleague Georg Loeschcke, Mykenische Thongefäße. This groundbreaking study established the difference between Mycenaean and Geometric pottery. Furtwängler achieved appointments in 1880 both as assistant director at the Königliche Museen zu Berlin and as a privatdozent at the University in Berlin. In later years Furtwängler concluded he had dedicated his best years to the museum. His book on the Sabouroff collection (1883-1887) demonstrated his mastery on classical terracottas. He married in 1885 to Adelheid Wendt. The same year, his two-volume Beschreibung der Vasensammlung im Antiquarium (Writings on Vase Paining in Antiquity) appeared, a book describing over four thousand objects in a manner still emulated today. Meisterwerke der griechischen Plastik (Masterworks of Greek Sculpture) appearing in 1893, served to initiate his method to a larger audience than his earlier works and impress scholars. In 1894 he left Berlin to succeed his mentor, von Brunn, as professor of classical archaeology in Munich, adding to his duties the Director of the Glyptothek Museum. The English translation to Meisterwerke, Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture, translated by Eugenie Strong, appeared in 1895. These two editions formed what Johannes Sieveking called “the Book of Books,” the “Bible of archaeologists.” Furtwängler issued a study on Greek gems and their inscriptions in 1900, Die Antiken Gemmen, demonstrating again his breadth of classical knowledge. In the same year, he renewed the excavations at the temple of Aphaia in Aigina. Furtwängler and Karl W. Reichhold began issuing a corpus of Greek vases, Griechische Vasenmalerei in 1904, issued in six “Lieferungen.” He published his research on Aphaia in Aigina in a monograph of 1906. Furtwängler embarked on writing a history of ancient art the following year, but contracted a case of dysentery in Aigina and died at age 54, cutting short a brilliant career. His students formed the most eminent of the next generation of classical art historians and archaeologists. These included, in addition to Sieveking, Ludwig Curtius, Oskar Waldhauer (1883-1935), Georg Lippold, Eduard Schmidt, Anton Hekler and initially Ernst Buschor. His research significantly influenced many major scholars, most notable among them J. D. Beazley, and the classicists Carl Blegen (1887-1971) and A. J. B. Wace (1879-1957). The eminent orchestra conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954), was his son. After his death, Friedrich Hauser assumed editorship of the project. Buschor completed volume three of Furtwängler’s Griechische Vasenmalerei in 1932. Furtwängler is buried in Athens. Furtwängler’s accomplishment cannot be overstated. He developed a pioneering method for prehistorical stylistic categorization of small artworks, principally pottery sherds. At the time, pottery fragments were thought to be of little importance by archaeologists. Furtwängler demonstrated that documenting the specific strata where vases were discovered could establish both the dating of pottery as well as the chronology of the cites. His belief in the importance of sherds also led him to assemble many many, theorizing the artists and schools of Greek vase painting. It was a technique he learned from his mentor, von Brunn, who had developed a similar method for Greek sculpture. (Furtwängler, like most of his contemporaries, still largely ignored the value of unpainted pottery). Furtwängler and Reichhold’s Griechische Vasenmalerei raised the standard for accurate drawings of vase paintings to an exceptional level. His volume on gems, Die Antiken Gemmen of 1900, remained his most influential work of his lifetime. featured exceptionally accurate drawings of vase paintings. Furtwängler’s attribution of Roman copies of Greek sculpture to artists was also influential in augmenting interest in style and artistic personalities of classical art. Following in the tracks of Winckelmann, he conceived of a history of ancient art built upon an aesthetic appreciation of “masterpieces” of ancient art that served as “records of Western art-historical development” (Marchand). Furtwängler’s work on attributing Roman copies of Greek sculpture to artists spurred an interest in the study of style and artistic personalities in classical art (Rouet). He was perhaps the last classicist to fulfill the Totalitätsideal of Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker, the goal that a classical historian could master all aspects of the studies he pursued. Together with Welcker and Brunn,

    Selected Bibliography

    and Loeschcke, Georg. Mykenische Thongefäße. Festschrift zur Feier des fünfzigjährigen Bestehens des Deutschen Archaeologischen Institutes in Rom. Berlin: In Commission bei A. Asher und Co., 1879; Beschreibung der Vasensammlung im Antiquarium. 2 vols. Berlin: W. Spemann, 1885; Katalog der Vasensammlung im Berliner Antiquarium, 1885; Meisterwerke der griechischen Plastik: kunstgeschichtliche Untersuchungen Leipzig: Giesecke & Devrient, 1893, English, Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture: a Series of Essays on the History of Art. Sellers, Eugénie, trans. London: W. Heinemann, 1895; and Urlichs, H. L. Denkmäler griechischer und römischer Skulptur: im Auftrag des K. Bayer, Staatsministeriums des Innern für kirchen- und schulangelegenheiten. Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1898, English, Greek & Roman Sculpture. Taylor, Horace, trans. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd/New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1914; Die antiken Gemmen: Geschichte der Steinschneidekunst im klassischen Altertum. Berlin: Gesecke & Devrient, 1900; and Reichhold, Karl, and Hauser, Friedrich. Griechische Vasenmalerei: Auswahl hervorragender Vasenbilder. 3 vols. Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1904, 1909, and 1932 [only the first volume under Furtwängler]; Die Aegineten der Glyptothek König Ludwigs I: nach den Resultaten der neuen bayerischen Ausgrabung. Munich: In Kommission bei A. Buchholz, 1906; “Heinrich von Brunn” in, Geist und Gestalt: Biographische Beiträge zur Geschichte der bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften vornehmlich im zweiten Jahrhundert ihres Bestehens. Vol. 1, Munich: Beck, 1959.


    Furtwängler was the most important and influential German archaeologist of the nineteenth century (Lullies); John Boardman in 2001 termed Furtwängler “probably the greatest classical archaeologist of all time.” LS 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. 46 mentioned; Lullies, Reinhard. “Adolf Furtwängler 1853-1907” Archäologenbildnisse: Porträts und Kurzbiographien von Klassichen Archäologen deutscher Sprache. Reinhard Lullies, ed. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1988: 110-111; Ridgway, Brunhilde Sismondo. “The State of Research on Ancient Art,” Art Bulletin 68 (March 1986): 8, mentioned; Marchand, Suzanne L. Down from Olympus: Archaeology and Philhellenism in Germany, 1750-1970. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996: 87, 144-146; John Boardman. The History of Greek Vases. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2001, pp. 129, mentioned; Medwid, Linda M. The Makers of Classical Archaeology : a Reference Work. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2000; Calder, William. “Adolf Furtwängler.” Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 475-76.


    "Furtwängler, Adolf." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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