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Katzenellenbogen, Adolf

    Full Name: Katzenellenbogen, Adolf

    Other Names:

    • Adolf Max Katzenellenbogen

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1901

    Date Died: 1964

    Place Born: Frankfurt am Main, Hesse, Germany

    Place Died: Baltimore, Baltimore Independent City, MD, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): French (culture or style), French Medieval styles, Medieval (European), and sculpture (visual works)

    Career(s): art historians


    Medievalist, wrote important monograph on sculpture at Chartres. Katzenellenbogen (literally, “cat’s elbow” in German) was the son of the jurist and bank director Albert Katzenellenbogen (1863-1942) and Cornelia Josephine Doctor (1870-1941), both assimilated Jews. His parents, intent on him pursuing a business career, sent him to England to learn the language at an early age. In Frankfurt, he received his Abitur from the Goethe-Gymnasium in 1920. Katzenellenbogen studied Law at Giessen, 1920-1923, receiving his doctor of jurisprudence in 1924. Beginning in 1926, he pursued art history at the newly-established University in Hamburg under the outstanding “Hamburg school” art historians Erwin Panofsky, Fritz Saxl and to a lesser extent, Charles de Tolnay. His dissertation, written under Panofsky, was on medieval iconography. His Ph.D. was granted in 1933. He moved to Konstanz (Constance), Germany, the same year as a private teacher associate with the university, supported by his family. He married the Swiss native Elisabeth Martha Holzheu (1904-1983), in 1935, a pianist. During these years, Katzenellenbogen researched the influence of theology on medieval iconography, findings which would later become his book on medieval allegories. His liberal political affiliations and his “non-Aryan” status resulted in his 1938 interning at the Dachau concentration camp. His health seriously declined there. Through the intervention of the Swiss art collector Oskar Reinhart (1885-1965) in Winterthur, he was freed and brought to Switzerland. After convalescence, Katzenellenbogen emigrated to England in 1939. There he published the first of two important monographs on medieval iconography, Allegories of the Virtues and Vices in Medieval Art, under the auspices of the Warburg Institute. He next emigrated to the United States late the same year. Through the assistance of his dissertation advisor, Panofsky, already a professor in the U.S., and New York University professor Walter W. S. Cook, he secured academic positions, beginning with Vassar College as a visiting lecturer in 1940. While in the U.S. he learned his father had perished in the extermination camp at Auschwitz in 1942. In 1943 he was appointed assistant professor at Vassar. Katzenellenbogen published a groundbreaking article on the influence of the Crusades in medieval iconography, “The Central Tympanum at Vézelay: Its Encyclopedic Meaning and Its Relation to the First Crusade,” in 1944. He became an American Citizen in 1946 and was promoted to associate professor in 1947. Katzenellenbogen was made (full) professor in 1953. With Panofsky he was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, N. J. After a visiting professorship at Smith, 1956-1958, he accepted the position as professor of Johns Hopkins University in 1958. The following year he published his important Sculptural Programs of Chartres Cathedral, which won the College Art Association’s Charles Rufus Morey award. He was a visiting professor at University of Freiberg in 1963. He died at age 63 after returning from an art conference in Germany. His M.A. students at Hopkins included the Dutch scholar Gary Schwartz. Katzenellenbogen was first an iconographer, trained by Panofsky and influenced by the French iconographer Émile Mâle. A “true heir to the Warburg [Institute] tradition” (Bober), he interwove theology and iconography into a blend of art analysis. Whitney Stoddard placed Katzenellenbogen in a straight continuum from the “father of modern [medieval] stylistic analysis,” Wilhelm Vöge, through the patterns-of-stylistic-transmission-theory of A. Kingsley Porter, commenting that while both the former writers conclusions had been questioned, Katzenellenbogen’s would likely not.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Die Psychomachie in der Kunst des Mittelalters von den Anfängen bis zum 13. Jahrhundert. Hamburg, 1933; Allegories of the Virtues and Vices in Medieval Art from Early Christian Times to the Thirteenth Century. London: Warburg Institute, 1939; “The Central Tympanum at Vézelay: Its Encyclopedic Meaning and Its Relation to the First Crusade.” Art Bulletin 26, no. 3 (September 1944): 141-151; The Sculptural Programs of Chartres Cathedral: Christ, Mary, Ecclesia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1959.


    Stoddard, Whitney A. “[Review of] The Sculptural Programs of Chartres Cathedral: Christ–Mary–Ecclesia by Adolf Katzenellenbogen.” Speculum 35, no. 4 (October 1960): 613-616; 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; 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; 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. 357-9; personal correspondence, John Katzenellenbogen, December 2009; [obituaries:] Bober, Harry. “Adolf Katzenellenbogen (1901-1964).” Art Journal 24, no. 4 (Summer 1965): 347; Schnell, Hugo. “Prof. Dr. Adolf Katzenellenbogen.” Münster 17 (1964): 427.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Katzenellenbogen, Adolf." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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