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Kantorowicz, Ernst Hartwig

    Full Name: Kantorowicz, Ernst Hartwig

    Other Names:

    • "Eka", nickname

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1895

    Date Died: 1963

    Place Born: Poznań, Greater Poland Voivodeship, Poland

    Place Died: Princeton, Mercer, NJ, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): iconography and Medieval (European)


    Medievalist historian who employed iconography in the analysis of his important book, The King’s Two Bodies. He was born in Posen, Prussia, which is present-day, Poznań, Poland. Kantorowicz’ parents, Joseph Kantorowicz and Clara Hepner (Kantorowicz), were wealthy, non-practicing Jews, descended from the Bronfman liquor-distribution fortune of eastern Germany. Ernst Kantorowicz was raised among the socially prominent Junker aristocracy in Prussia, graduating from the Auguste Victoria Gymnasium in Poznań with extremely low marks. He started in the family business in 1913 until World War I was declared. Joining the German army, he was wounded at Verdun and later stationed in Turkey. A furlow allowed him to begin classes at the University in Berlin, but he returned to service. After the war he volunteered for several right-wing nationalist paramilitary organizations in Poland and Germany (Munich Freikorps). He moved to Heidelberg University. His dissertation, on oriental economic history, written under Eberhard Gothein (1853-1923), was accepted for his Ph.D. in 1921. Kantorowicz had become a member of the intellectual circle form around the German poet, art-magazine publisher and conservative nationalist Stefan George (1868-1933). He, Kantorowicz, had been assigned by ultra-Neitzschian George to write a popular (though thoroughly researched) biography of Frederick II in order to stir the German people during the muddled years of the Weimar Republic. At Heidelberg he met fellow medievalist Percy Ernst Schramm. Like Schramm he studied under Heidelberg’s two major Geistesgeschichte medievalists, Karl Hampe (1869-1936) and Friedrich Baethgen (1890-1972). The result of his research was the two-volume Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite, published in 1927 with a red reverse swastika on the cover. The book was a popular success selling 10,000 copies in the first two years. Kantorowicz had no intention of an academic position, the book was to instead inspire the German people along Georgekreis lines. As such, it lacked footnotes. His detractors, particularly the University of Berlin professor Albert Brackmann (1871-1952) denounced him in 1929-1930 for Mythenschau (i.e., using myths to create a greater myth) and lacking Kleinarbeit (detailed research). That year Kantorowicz was appointed an honorary professor of medieval history (he was only 35) at Frankfurt. To quell continuing criticism of his book, Kantorowicz issued a third Ergänzungsband to his book, one solely of footnotes to his text in 1931. The same year the book appeared in English as Frederick the Second as well as in an Italian translation. He became a full professor at Frankfurt in 1932, following the death of Fedor Schneider (1879-1932). Kantorowicz began research on a book on theocratic kingship, Laudes regiae in 1934. However, though a supporter of the Nazi’s rise to power, his Jewish heritage force his chair from him because of the Nuremberg laws forbidding Jews to teach. He remained in Germany (Berlin) a friend of high-ranking Nazis like Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring (1893-1946). On the advice of the British classicist C. M. Bowra (1898-1971) Kantorowicz fled Germany, leaving his library and art collection, and accepted a postion at Oxford as a lecturer in 1938. The flamboyant scholar wrankled the conservative Oxford dons and he found a position as associate professor at the University of California Berkeley in 1940. Ironically it was to teach English constitutional history, a subject he knew little about. He rose to (full) professor at Berkeley in 1945. His book on theocratic kingship, Laudes regiae employing a new area of studies, political theology, i.e., how liturgy can be used to write history, finally appeared in as volume one in 1946. When the McCarthy-era Red Scare resulted in the California legistature requiring all University of California faculty to take a loyalty oath in 1949, Kantorowicz refused and was fired from Berkeley. He taught for a year at Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard’s medieval center near Washgington, D. C. In 1951 Erwin Panofsky urged J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, to offer Kantorowicz an appointment. He became a member the same year. Kantorowicz completed his iconographic study, begun at Berkeley, The King’s Two Bodies appeared in 1957. He began experiencing health problems in 1960. He suffered an aneurism at age 68 and died at his home. After his death, Selected Studies was published in 1965. Kantorowicz integrated art history (and a belief in dynamic personalities leading history) into medieval history. Initially lead by an intellectual vision of history (George and his circle) as large topics, his Frederick II book was written in a neo-Victorian mode with verve and eloquence, the “most exciting biography of a medieval monarch produced in this [i.e., twentieth] century” (Cantor). His The King’s Two Bodies uses symbolism and iconography to document the two roles a monarch served, mortal ruler and embodiment of the law. Interest in the book revived in the mid 1980s with translations in Italian, French, Spanish and German appearing in a five year span.

    Selected Bibliography

    Laudes Regiae: A Study in Liturgical Acclamations and Medieval Ruler Worship. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1946; The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957; Selected Studies. Locust Vally, NY: Augustin, 1965 [includes papers, “The King’s Advent” and “Gods in Uniform.” “The Baptism of the Apostles.”] Dumbarton Oaks Papers 9/10 (1955/56): 203-51. “The Archer on the Ruthwell Cross.” Art Bulletin 43 (1960): 57-9.


    Evans, Arthur R., Jr. ed. On Four Modern Humanists: Hofmannsthal, Gundolf, Curtius, Kantorowicz. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970; 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. 87, 55 n. 117; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, pp. 124, 125; Grünewald, Eckhart. Ernst Kantorowicz und Stefan George: Beiträge zur Biographie des Historikers bis zum Jahre 1938 und zu seinem Jugendwerk ‘Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite’. Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1982; Cantor, Norman F. “The Nazi Twins: Percy Ernst Schramm and Ernst Hartwig Kantorowicz.” in, Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century. New York: William Morrow, 1991, pp. 79-117; Landauer, Carl. “Ernst Kantorowicz and the Sacralization of the Past.” Central European History 27, no. 1 (1994): 1-25;Lerner, Robert E. “Ernst H. Kantorowicz (1895-1963).” in Damico, Helen and Zavadil, Joseph B., ed. Medieval Scholarship. Biographical Studies on the Formation of a Discipline. vol. 1. New York: Garland, 1995, pp. 263-276; Ruehl, Martin A.” ‘In This Time without Emperors’: The Politics of Ernst Kantorowicz’s Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite Reconsidered.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 63, (2000): 187-242; Boureau, Alain. Kantorowicz: Stories of a Historian. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001; [obituary:] “Prof. Ernst H. Kantorowicz, 68, of Advanced Study Institute Dies.” New York Times September 10, 1963, p. 39.


    "Kantorowicz, Ernst Hartwig." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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