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Hetzer, Theodor

    Full Name: Hetzer, Theodor

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1890

    Date Died: 1946

    Place Born: Kharkiv, Kharkivs'ka Oblast', Ukraine

    Place Died: Überlingen am Bodensee, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Ukraine

    Subject Area(s): Italian (culture or style), Italian Renaissance-Baroque styles, Renaissance, and Spanish (culture or style)


    Hetzer studied art history under Wilhelm Vöge and Heinrich Wölfflin. However, it was at Basel that the teaching of Friedrich Rintelen greatly affected his work, particularly his appreciation for Giotto. He wrote his dissertation under Rintelen on the early paintings of Titian with a degree granted in 1919. Hetzer was appointed professor of art history at the University of Leipzig in 1923, focusing on the art of the Italian and northern Renaissance, Giotto, Titian and Raphael, and Dürer. He also wrote on the Baroque artists Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt. He was appointed Ordinarius professor in 1935. His book of the same year, Titian: A History of His Color, is a history of the use of color in Eurpean art. Hetzer’s Geistesgeschichte-style art history resulted in his theorizing of a crisis in painting ocurring around 1800. To Hetzer, the work of Francisco de Goya was the change point to a resurgence of painting, culinating in the work of Paul Cézanne.His 1950 “Francisco Goya und die Krise der Kunst um 1800,” (Goya and the Crisis of Art around 1800), became his most important essay and a signicant study in Goya scholarship. Hetzer suffered with poor health most of his life, finally succombing to a heart aliment at Überlingen on Lake Constance shortly after World War II. His students included Gertrude Berthold.

    Hetzer’s work as an art historian has been littled studied since his death, somewhat ironically given his importance for the discipline. His major influence for art historiography was as a teacher (Licht). Methodologically, Hetzer continued Wölfflin’s predominantly formalist art history, adding to it a transcendental significance to form (Schiff). This Geistesgeschicte approach, that artists represented the spirit of their age in their work, was characteristic of the dominant intellectural approach of his time. Hetzer believed that there was one continuous period of high achievement in art history, the years 1300-1800. These centuries, Hetzer said, were the time when the strict mathematical design of the picture plane formed the “Bild” (image/significance) of art. He found rhythmic kinship between the great artists of the Renaissance and Baroque era. Hetzer’s career was marked by a certain shyness. He “never took his share of the public applause gathered by many of his contemporaries in a Germany that was willing to pay respect and even homage to art historians” (Licht). His approach, particularly on Goya, influenced later art historians including Fred Licht.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Die frühen Gemälde des Tizian. Basel, 1919, published, Basel: Verlag Benno Schwabe, 1920; [bibliography:] Berthold, Gertrude. “Verzeichnis der Schriften Theodor Hetzers.” in Klingner, Friedrich. Theodor Hetzer. Frankfurt: V. Klostermann, 1947 p. 22-23; [collected essays:] Aufsätze und Vorträge. 2 vols. Leipzig: 1957; [collected works:] Schriften Theodor Hetzers. Mittenwald: Mäander, 1981-1998, specifically, 1. Giotto: Grundlegung der neuzeitlichen Kunst, 2. Die Bildkunst Dürers, 3. Das Ornamentale und die Gestalt, 4. Bild als bau: elemente der Bildgestaltung von Giotto bis Tieplo, 5. Rubens und Rembrandt, 6. Italienische Architektur, 7. Tizian: Geschichte seiner Farbe, die frühen Gemälde, Bildnisse, 8. Venezianische Malerei: von ihren Anfängen bis zum Tode Tintorettos, 9. Zur Geschichte des Bildes: von der Antike bis Cézanne; Giotto, seine Stellung in der europäischen Kunst. Frankfurt am Main: V. Klostermann 1941; Die sixtinische Madonna. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1947; [two essays are among the very few works to be translated in to English:] “The Creative Union of Classical and North Elements in the High Renaissance.” in, German Essays on Art History. Gert Schiff, ed. New York: Continuum, 1988, pp.146-164; “Francisco Goya und die Krise der Kunst um 1800.” Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 14 (1950): 7-22, English, “Francesco de Goya and the Crisis of Art Around 1800.” translated by Vivian Volbach, in Licht, Fred, ed. Goya in Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973, pp. 92-113.


    Klingner, Friedrich, ed. Theodor Hetzer: Gedächtnisrede, gehalten in der Universität Leipzig am 15. Januar 1947. Frankfurt: V. Klostermann, 1947; 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. 49 and n. 99; Goya in Perspective. Edited by Fred Licht. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973: 171, [short, personal summary]; Wölfflin, Heinrich. Heinrich Wölfflin, 1864-1945: Autobiographie, Tagebücher und Briefe. Joseph Ganter, ed. Basel: Schwabe & Co., 1982, p. 492; ; German Essays on Art History. Gert Schiff, ed. New York: Continuum, 1988, pp. xxxix-xlii (excellent summary of his importance), 280; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 178-180.


    "Hetzer, Theodor." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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