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Jaffé, Hans L. C.

    Image Credit: Wikidata

    Full Name: Jaffé, Hans L. C.

    Other Names:

    • Hans Ludwig Cohn Jaffé

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1915

    Date Died: 1984

    Place Born: Frankfurt am Main, Hesse, Germany

    Place Died: Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Contemporary (style of art) and Modern (style or period)


    Professor of the History of Modern and Contemporary Art. Jaffé was born of Jewish parents in Frankfurt am Main. In 1933, he left Nazi Germany and immigrated to The Netherlands. Shortly before, he had finished high school at the Goethe Gymnasium in Frankfurt. The same year he began studying art history at the University of Amsterdam. Among his teachers was Ferrand Whaley Hudig (1883-1937) who died the year Jaffé finished his study under the supervision of I. Q. van Regteren Altena. Between 1935 and the German occupation of the Netherlands, he worked at the Stedelijk Museum (Municipal Museum) of Amsterdam, first as a volunteer. Before the war, he also taught history of art at the Nieuwe Kunstschool in Amsterdam. In 1942 Jaffé fled to Lucern, Switzerland, where his parents lived in exile. In 1944, he served in the army of the Allies as an officer for the preservation of the arts. Jaffé began his post-war career as curator of the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam in 1947. In 1953, he became deputy director under Willem Jacob Henri Berend Sandberg (1897-1984). One of the exhibitions he organized was on the Dutch art movement of De Stijl. It became for Jaffé the starting point for further research in this field. In 1956, he obtained a doctoral degree with his dissertation: De Stijl 1917-1931: the Dutch Contribution to Modern Art. His adviser was again Van Regteren Altena. With this publication, written in English, Jaffé won international fame. In 1958, he accepted a position as privaatdocent at the University of Amsterdam with a public lecture on “Het probleem der werkelijkheid in de beeldende kunst der twintigste eeuw” (The problem of reality in twentieth-century modern art). In 1961, he gave up his deputy directorship at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, and two years later he was appointed as extraordinarius professor of the history of modern and contemporary art at the University of Amsterdam. His inaugural lecture was entitled: “Het beeld en het woord” (The Image and the Word). His engaging style of teaching attracted many students who were eager to hear about his view on modern art, which for him was not a play of forms, but the expression of a worldview. Jaffé also pointed out to his students the importance of being in close contact with art objects before studying their deeper content. For several years he served as the chairman of the Dutch section of the international association of art critics (A.I.C.A.). As the first professor of modern art in the Netherlands, he played an important role as the promoter of twentieth-century art. When he retired, in 1984, his students and colleagues dedicated to him an Album studiosorum: Met eigen ogen (With One’s Own Eyes). Jaffé was in an advanced stage of illness at that time and he died a week before the date of his official retirement. In the introduction to his book on De Stijl, Jaffé wrote: Art history in its present stage and after having passed through a period of descriptive cataloguing of phenomena, is now mainly concerned with one ever recurring question: the research into the reason of artistic expression, into the conditions under which the several styles were able to develop in the course of time. Jaffé was strongly influenced by the scholarly research of the art historian Max Dvořák, who is known for the concept of Geistesgeschichte in art history. Jaffé also wanted to see the artist as the representative of a specific group within society. In 1964, in a lecture: Spinoza en het beeldend denken, he elucidated the relationship between Spinoza’s understanding of the world as a cosmic unity of nature and mankind and certain currents of artistic expression, such as the romanticism of the painter Philipp Otto Runge (1777-1810) and the abstract De Stijl movement. In the same lecture he pointed to the dialectic poles in art, the Apollonian and Dionysian, as described by Nietzsche. Jaffé established a link between Apollonian art and the worldview of Spinoza, assuming that the ideas of his favorite philosopher would be dominant in the art of the new generation. In 1986, Evert van Uitert, Jaffé’s former student and successor, delivered his inaugural lecture Het geloof in de moderne kunst (the Belief in Modern Art), in which he criticized Jaffe’s and others’ personal involvement in art and in the artist’s world. Van Uitert suggested that the art historian should rather occupy an outsider’s position as a critical observer.

    Selected Bibliography

    [For a complete list of publications, see:] Beeld (1984,3); De Stijl 1917-1931 – the Dutch Contribution to Modern Art. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1956; Het probleem der werkelijkheid in de beeldende kunst der twintigste eeuw. (Openbare les gehouden bij de opening van zijn colleges als privaatdocent in de geschiedenis en de waardering van de beeldende kunst in de XXe eeuw aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam op 13 mei 1958). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1958; Inleiding tot de kunst van Mondriaan. Assen: Born, 1959; De schilderkunst van de twintigste eeuw. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1963; Het beeld en het woord (Inaugurele rede uitgesproken bij de aanvaarding van het ambt van buitengewoon hoogleraar in de geschiedenis der moderne en hedendaagse kunst aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam). Amsterdam: 1964; Pablo Picasso. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1964; Spinoza en het beeldend denken. (Mededelingen XXI vanwege het Spinozahuis) Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1965; Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Painting. New York: Dell Pub. Co., 1968; Willink. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff/Landshoff, 1969; Piet Mondrian. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1969; De wereld van de impressionisten: Kunstenaars die schilderden uit pure levensvreugde. Amsterdam: De Geïllustreerde Pers, 1969; The World of the Impressionists: the Artists who Painted with Delight in Being Alive. Maplewood, N.J.: Hammond Inc., 1969; Paul Klee. Florence: Sansoni, 1971; Vordemberge-Gildewart. Mensch und Werk. Köln: DuMont Schauberg, 1971; The History of World Painting. New York: Alpine Fine Arts Collection, 1980; Theo van Doesburg. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff/Landshoff, 1983; Reinink, Adriaan Wessel, Voolen, Edward van, and others Over utopie en werkelijkheid in de beeldende kunst: verzamelde opstellen van H.L.C. Jaffé (1915-1984). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff/Landshoff, 1986.


    Beeld (1984, 3); Gribling, Frank. Hans Jaffé The Burlington Magazine 127 (February 1985): 92-93; Hodin, J. P. Art & Artists 220 (January 1985): 6; Halbertsma, Marlite. Hans Jaffé, zijn visie op moderne kunst en moderne kunstgeschiedenis Jong Holland 4 no. 2 (1988): 22-31; Lambers, Rob. Hans Jaffé, kunsthistoricus en promotor van de moderne kunst. Onder professoren. Kunstlicht 14 no.1 (1993): 10-14; Hecht, Peter; Stolwijk, Chris; Hoogenboom, Annemieke, eds. Kunstgeschiedenis in Nederland. Negen opstellen. Amsterdam: Prometheus, 1998, pp. 98, 100, 101, 104, 165, 190 mentioned. [Festschrift:] Adang, M.; Brandhof, M. van den; Nieuwstraten, R.; Stokvis, W., and Vries, J. de. eds. Met eigen ogen. Opstellen aangeboden door leerlingen en medewerkers aan Hans L. C. Jaffé. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1984.

    Contributors: Monique Daniels


    Monique Daniels. "Jaffé, Hans L. C.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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