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Goldschmidt, Adolph

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Goldschmidt, Adolph

    Other Names:

    • Adolph David Goldschmidt

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1863

    Date Died: 1944

    Place Born: Hamburg, Germany

    Place Died: Basel, Basle-Town, Switzerland

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Medieval (European)

    Institution(s): Universität Leipzig


    Medievalist art historian, influential teacher to a generation of art historians and successor to Heinrich Wölfflin in Berlin. Goldschmidt was the eldest of seven children of wealthy Hamburg financier Martin Goldschmidt (1823-1903) and Louise Arnold (Goldschmidt) (1839-1919). He attended the Realgymnasium in Hamburg and then two years training in his father’s office for a career in banking. Traveling to London the following year to learn international banking, Goldschmidt spent much of his time drawing and painting, preparing himself for university studies in the natural sciences or art. Upon his return to Germany in 1884, he began studies at the university in Jena, transferring to Kiel in 1886 and finally to Leipzig, the few universities to offer a degree in art history. At Leipzig he studied under Anton Springer, completing his dissertation under him at the university in Lübeck on medieval painting and sculpture in 1889. Goldschmidt’s fellow art history students at Lübeck included Max J. Friedländer, Gustav Pauli and Paul Clemen, all of whom would become important art historians. After his dissertation, Goldschmidt traveled in Belgium, France, England and the Netherlands gathering material for his habilitation on the twelfth-century manuscript, the Albani Psalter. In France he me Wilhelm Vöge, the other major German medievalist of his generation and himself a recent Ph.D. He taught at Berlin as a Privatdozent, 1892-1903, the first medievalist to teach art history there. Although as a Privatdozent he could not officially supervise dissertations, he essentially did it anyway, inspiring the work of students Arthur Haseloff and Georg Swarzenski, both of whom also became prominent medievalists. In Berlin he met Heinrich Wölfflin who was teaching at the University; the two developed a strong friendship. As a researcher whose method was rooted in studying the object and its documents, Goldschmidt developed fast friendships with museum curators Wilhelm Bode and renewed his acquaintance with Bode’s curatorial assistant, Vöge. Goldschmidt was made Extraordinarius professor in Berlin in 1903. The following year accepted a call to establish a department of art history at the university in Halle and assume a rank of Ordinarius professor. The Halle years, 1904-1912, were spent developing the department and recruiting students. He supervised an astounding forty-two doctoral candidates at Halle, among whom included Hans Jantzen, Otto Homburger, Rudolf Oldenbourg, Ludwig Burchard, Werner Noack and Hermann Giesau. His Halle tenure also established the so-called Goldschmidt school of art history. Goldschmidt’s interest in art spanned all periods. In addition to supervising dissertations in baroque, renaissance and medieval topics, he took a strong interest in the contemporary arts of Halle and Thuringia, advocating purchase of contemporary art by the city. In 1908 he helped found the Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, the group responsible for a national inventory of monuments in Germany. When Wölfflin left Berlin in 1912 for the University in Munich, he arranged for his former colleague Goldschmidt to replace him. His position at Halle was filled by Wilhelm Waetzoldt, who had also studied under Goldschmidt. At Berlin, Goldschmidt expanded the Art History Institute there, supervising another fifty-four dissertations until his retirement in 1932. Among the eminent scholars who wrote their theses under Goldschmidt during the Berlin years were Ernst Gall, Alexander Dorner, Albert Boeckler, Alfred Neumeyer, Rudolf Wittkower, Erich Meyer, Ulrich Middeldorf, and Kurt Weitzmann. In addition, Goldschmidt supervised post-doctoral work of Erwin Panofsky, Hans Kauffmann and Walter Paatz. In 1914 Goldschmidt issued the first of his three inventories of medieval ivories in the western world, an art form whose objects were widely scattered and poorly documented. Goldschmidt’s profile among English-speaking scholars and collectors also rose. Scholarly exchanges between Harvard’s A. Kingsley Porter and Paul J. Sachs led to two sabbaticals teaching there, making him the first German art historian to visit the United States after World War I. These occurred in the 1927-1928 year and again in 1930-1931. In 1926 and 1932 he wrote two of the volumes for the corpus Richard Hamann was issuing on bronze doors. At the same time, Goldschmidt issued his two-volume examination of Carolingian and Ottonian manuscript illumination Die deutsche Buchmalerei. He retired in 1932. Goldschmidt was welcomed in the United States and through his friendship with Walter W. S. Cook returned again in 1936-1937 to teach at New York University. He also lectured at Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Wellesley College, the Morgan Library and Cleveland Museum of Art. He was instrumental in recommending a fellow German-Jewish art historian fleeing Nazi Germany, Jakob Rosenberg, to Harvard. The mounting Nazi pressure in Germany to dismiss Jews from positions of leadership hit Goldschmidt particularly hard. A patriotic German who had worked his life to elucidate the monuments of his own country, he resisted emigration until he was no longer permitted to use the university library. In 1939 he moved to Basel, Switzerland, with the aid of collector Robert von Hirsch (1883-1977) where he died in 1944. Goldschmidt was one of the founders of the modern study of medieval monuments, basing his method upon scientific observation and comparison of monuments from first-hand experience. Employing a methodology of iconography and formal analysis, he taught or inspired nearly all the major medievalists of the latter twentieth century. He railed against the prevalent metaphysical interpretation of art, and in particular the work of Wölfflin. Style and appearance were not, Goldschmidt insisted, the result of a predetermined impulse of the age in which they were created. Panofsky described Goldschmidt’s accomplishment as “the precise solution of precisely formulated problems and the study of monuments that was at once detailed and comprehensive.” His dedication to the genre of the corpus was indicative both of his level of scholarship and in his willingness to create tools for future generations. His work was refined later in the twentieth century by Kurt Weitzmann and Fritz Volbach.

    Selected Bibliography

    Lübecker Malerei und Plastik bis 1530. Lübeck: Nöhring, 1889; Die Kirchenthür des Heiligen Ambrosius im Mailand: ein Denkmal frühchristlicher Skulptur. Strassburg: Heitz, 1902; Die Albanipsalter in Hildesheim und seine Bezeihung zur symbolisch Kirchensculptur des XII. Jahrhunderts. Berlin: Siemans, 1895; Das Evangeliar im Rathaus 20 Goslar. Berlin: Bard, 1910; Die Elfenbeinskulpturen aus Zeit der karolingischen und sächischen Kaiser, VIII.-VI. Jahrhundert. 4 vols. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1914-26; “Das Nachleben der antiken Formen im Mittelalter,” in axl, Fritz, ed. Vorträge der Bibliothek des Warburg Institutes. Leipzig: 1923; Die deutsche Bronzetüren des frühen Mittelalters. Marburg an der Lahn: 1926; Die deutsche Buchmalerei. Munich: Wolff, 1928, English, German Illumination. New York: Harcourt & Brace, 1928; and Weitzmann, Kurt. Die byzantinischen Elfenbeinskulpturen des X.-XIII. Jahrhunderts. 2 vols. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1930-34.


    Heise, Carl Georg. Adolph Goldschmidt zum Gedächtnis, 1863-1944. Hamburg: Ernst Hauswedell, 1963; Dvorák, Max. Idealism and Naturalism in Gothic Art. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967, p. 198; [Panofsky estimation] Erwin Panofsky. “Wilhelm Vöge: A Biographical Memoir.” Art Journal 28 no. 1 (Fall 1968): 27-28; World Biographical Dictionary, 605; 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. 33 mentioned, 44 mentioned, 46 (and n. 94); Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 63 mentioned; Wölfflin, Heinrich. Heinrich Wölfflin, 1864-1945: Autobiographie, Tagebücher und Briefe. Joseph Ganter, ed. 2nd ed. Basel: Schwabe & Co., 1984, p. 491; Kauffmann, Hans. “Adolf Goldschmidt.” Neue Deutsche Biographie 6: 613-14; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 542; Weitzmann, Kurt. Adolph Goldschmidt und die Berliner Kunstgeschichte. Berlin: Kunsthistorisches Institut, Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaften der Freien Universität Berlin, 1985; Dictionary of Art 12: 873; 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. 211-18; Brush, Kathryn. The Shaping of Art History: Wilhelm Vöge, Adolph Goldschmidt, and the Study of Medieval Art. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 125-127; Brush, Kathryn. “Adolf Goldschmidt (1863-1944)” in Medieval Scholarship: Biographical Studies on the Formation of a Discipline. Volume 3. New York: Garland, 2000, pp. 245-58; Brands, Gunnar, and Dilly, Heinrich, eds. Adolph Goldschmidt (1863-1944): Normal Art History im 20 Jahrhundert. Weimar: VDG, 2007; [obituary:] Weitzmann, Kurt. “Adolph Goldschmidt.” College Art Journal 4 (1944): 47-50.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Goldschmidt, Adolph." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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