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Heckscher, William S.

    Image Credit: ArchInForm

    Full Name: Heckscher, William S.

    Other Names:

    • William Heckscher

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1904

    Date Died: 1999

    Place Born: Hamburg, Germany

    Place Died: Princeton, Mercer, NJ, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Baroque, Dutch (culture or style), Dutch Golden Age, museums (institutions), and Netherlandish Renaissance-Baroque styles

    Career(s): directors (administrators) and museum directors


    Dutch baroque scholar; art museum director; student of Panofsky. Heckscher was raised in Hamburg, where he attended the University of Hamburg, studying under Erwin Panofsky. Heckscher described his student years in Hamburg as part of a group of deeply dedicated students whose ranks included Horst W. Janson, Walter W. Horn, Ursula Hoff, and Lotte Brand Foerster. Among the faculty at Hamburg were Charles de Tolnay, Edgar Wind whom he characterized as a “magician”, as well as Panofsky, whom he termed a “witty, acerbic and conceited genius.” It was Panofsky, according to one of Heckscher’s students, who helped steer Heckscher in the Warburg-School style of art history. Heckscher received his doctorate in 1935, emigrating almost immediately to the US in 1936, where he spent a year at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton. Suspicions about German aliens were so high, that Heckscher passed most of the years of World War II first as an enemy alien in an internment camp in Britain and Canada. During the latter incarceration, he tutored newer internees to pass Canadian universities’ entrance exams. After the war, Heckscher taught at universities in the United States, then returning to europe to teach at the Institute of Art History in Utrecht (1955-1965). His familiarity with art-historical institutions on both sides of the Atlantic made him in instrumental in bringing scholarship closer together, such as successfully bring a copy of the Index of Christian Art to Utrecht. In 1966 he became Chair of the Department of Art History at Duke University, a position he held until his retirement in 1974. A James B. Duke professor, he was also director of the Duke University Museum of Art, 1970-1974. Heckscher and his family retired to Princeton, where he remained active writing articles and advising the Princeton University Library. He was awarded an honorary degree from McGill University for his work with fellow prisoners in the Canadian camp.

    Selected Bibliography

    Rembrandt’s Anatomy of Dr. Nicolaas Tulp; an Iconological Study. New York: New York University Press, 1958. “Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk.” Art Bulletin 29 (1947): 155-82. “The Genesis of Iconology,” in Stil und überlieferung in der Kunst des Abendlandes Akten des XXI Internationalen Kongresses für Kunstgeschichte. Bonn, 1964, 3 (1967): 239-62; Art and literature : studies in relationship. Baden-Baden: V. Koerner, 1994; and Sherman, Agnes B. Emblematic Variants: Literary echoes of Alciati’s term emblema : a Vocabulary Drawn from the Title Pages of Emblem Books. New York: AMS Press, 1995; The Genesis of Iconology. Berlin: Mann, 1967; The Princeton Alciati Companion: a Glossary of Neo-Latin Words and Phrases used by Andrea Alciati and the Emblem Book Writers of his Time. New York: Garland, 1989; [memoir of Erwin Panofsky, in] Panofsky, Erwin. Three Essays on Style. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.


    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. 81 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. 65 cited; 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. 271-5; New York Times, February 7, 2000, Section B; p. 9; Sears, Elizabeth. “The Life and Work of William S. Heckscher.” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 53 no1 (1990): 107-33; [festschrift and bibliography to 1964] Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 15 (1964); [transcript] William S. Heckscher, and Roxanne Heckscher. Interviews with Art Historians, 1991-2002. Getty Research Institute, Malibu, CA.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Heckscher, William S.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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