Professor (Ordinarius) of art history at the University of Basel, 1938-1967; Medieval and Renaissance scholar and art historiographer. Gantner's father was Alfred Gantner (d. ca. 1943), a manager at the Baden, Switzerland, branch of the engineering firm Brown Boveri, and his mother Marie Wächter (Gantner), (d. 1944), a midwife. He attended the universities of Zürich, Basel, and Geneva before settling in 1915 at the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich. Ganter studied the winter semester in Rome under Adolfo Venturi before completing his doctorate in 1920 under Heinrich Wölfflin. Wölfflin, another Swiss native, became a personal friend. Gantner's dissertation topic was on the history of the reception of Michelangelo through the 19th century. His first major studies were on Michelangelo's preliminary cartoons for the Sistine Chapel. He began as an assistant to Paul Ganz at the University of Basel. Between 1922-1923 he edited the Swiss art journal Das Werk. His Habilitationsschrift was completed in 1926, the same year he began work on a second doctorate (through 1928) at the university in Zürich. Gantner taught as a privatdozent in Zürich beginning in 1927 and editing Das Werk for a second term. Gantner moved to the newly-founded Kunstschule, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, the same year. In Frankfurt, he also edited the periodical Das neue Frankfurt. Gantner married the portrait photographer Maria Hanna Dreyfus (1907-2005) in Frankfurt in 1932. After the Nazi accession to power in Germany in 1933, he returned to Switzerland in order to protect his Jewish wife from persecution. He began publishing his monographic set Kunstgeschichte der Schweiz in 1936. Gantner completed his second Zürich dissertation in 1938. The same year he was appointed Professor of Art History at the University of Basel, a chair previously held by the most eminent Swiss art historians, who, in addition to Wölfflin, included Jacob Burckhardt and Benedetto Croce. In 1943 he founded the publication Basler Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte. From 1952, Gantner also edited the Zeitschrift für ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft with Heinrich Lützeler. He became Rektor of the University in 1954 and a member of the Kunstmuseum Basel (Basel Art Museum) Commission. In 1958 he published a book charting the reaction to Leonardo's work, discerning four stages in the reception to the artist's work in the years following Leonardo's death. He retired from University in 1967, publishing now on Spanish art (including a major work on Goya) and the esthetician José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) until Gantner's death at 91. Gantner was deeply influenced by the teaching and friendship of Wölfflin. His work also demonstrates an intellectual lineage to his Basel predecessors Burckhardt and Croce, and the French art historian Henri Focillon, particularly Focillon's theoretical framework outline in The Life Forms of Art. He was not, however, a slavish imitator of any of them. His major study of Swiss art history is of lasting value, as is his writing on the particular to problems of the artistic imagination, specifically Leonardo and his emphasis on the "immaginario..
11 September 1896
07 April 1988
[collected works and bibliography:] Das Bild des Herzens: über Vollendung u. Unvollendung in d. Kunst: Reden u. Aufsätze. Berlin: Mann, 1979 [bibliography, pp. 163-174]; [dissertation:] Michelangelo: Die Beurteilung seiner Kunst von Lionardo bis Goethe. Beiträge zu einer Ideengeschichte der Kunsthistoriographie. Ph.D., Munich, 1920; and Reinle, Adolf. Kunstgeschichte der Schweiz von den Anfängen bis zum Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts. 4 vols. Frauenfeld: Huber, 1936-1962; Romanische Plastik: Inhalt und Form in der Kunst des 11. und 12. Jahrhunderts. Vienna: A. Schroll, 1948; Schönheit und Grenzen der klassischen Form: Burckhardt, Croce, Wölfflin: Drei Vorträge. Vienna: A. Schroll, 1949; Rodin und Michelangelo. Vienna: A. Schroll, 1953; Leonardos Visionen von der Sintflut und vom Untergang der Welt: Geschichte einer Künstlerischen Idee. Bern: Francke, 1958; and Gerke, Friedrich. Das Unvollendete als künstlerische Form: Ein Symposium. Saarbrücken, Universität des Saarlandes, Philosophische Fakultät. Bern: 1959; and Pobé, Marcel. Gallia Romanica: die hohe Kunst der romanischen Epoche in Frankreich. Vienna: A. Schroll, 1955; English, The Glory of Romanesque Art. New York: Vanguard Press, 1956 [appearing in the United Kingdom as Romanesque Art in France]; and Gerke, Friedrich (papers). Das Unvollendete als künstlerische Form: Ein Symposium. Saarbrücken, Universität des Saarlandes, Philosophische Fakultät. Bern: 1959; Goya: der Künstler und seine Welt. Berlin: Mann, 1974.
Barasch, Moshe. "Gantner's Theory of Prefiguration." British Journal of Aesthetics 3 (April 1963): 148-156; Sitt, Martina, ed. Kunsthistoriker in eigener Sache: Zehn autobiographische Skizzen. Berlin: D. Reimer, 1990, pp. 132-166; Betthausen, Peter. "Joseph Gantner." Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. 2nd ed. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2007, pp. 113-116; Hauser, Stephan E. "Basel und die Moderne." Uni Nova: Wissenschaftsmagazin der Universität Basel 88 (May 2001): 11-15; personal correspondence, Alfred Gantner (nephew), Bristol, UK, September 2007; [obituaries:] Neue Züricher Zeitung, April 9, 1988, and, April 15, 1988; Haussherr, Reiner. Jahrbuch of Mainz Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur 1991, pp. 108-112.