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Klein, Robert

    Full Name: Klein, Robert

    Other Names:

    • Robert Klein

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1918

    Date Died: 1967

    Place Born: Timișoara, Timiş, Romania

    Place Died: Florence, Tuscany, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Romania

    Subject Area(s): Renaissance


    Scholar of Renaissance-era art history. Klein was born and raised in Romania. He studied medicine between 1936-1937 in Cluj, Romania, then philosophy at the German University in Prague, returning to science disciplines in Bucharest, 1938-1939. At the outbreak to World War II, Klein served in the Romanian military, initially a neutral country. When Romania joined the Axis, he was identified as a Jew by the Reich-allied government and worked as forced labor. After a coup in 1944 leading to the country’s joining the Allies, Klein was liberated. He subsequently volunteered in the defense of Hungary and Czechoslovakia until the end of the war. In 1947 Klein was awarded his degree (licence) in philosophy at the University of Bucharest, attracting a scholarship for graduate study by the French government to study in Paris. In France, Klein declared himself a political refugee from his Communist homeland but, at the request of the Romanian government, the French withdrew his scholarship. Beginning in 1948, he supported himself marginally by tutoring and menial jobs (including washing dishes). He earned his diplôme d’études supérieures in esthetics in 1953. His thesis was on the Greek concept of techne in arts writings from Plato to Giordano Bruno. The following year he became the secretary for the historian Augustin Renaudet (1880-1958) (through 1958), a professor emeritus at the Collège de France. Klein studied under Renaudet’s student, the art historian André Chastel, developing a life-long friendship with him. Under Chastel, Klein wrote a critical edition of Idea, by Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo. He and Chastel assembled the exhibition “L’Europe humaniste” for the Belgian government in 1954 (catalog published in 1963). In 1958 he worked as technical assistant to the Hispanicist Marcel Bataillon (1895-1977), Administrator of the Collège de France. Klein was awarded his diplôme de l’école pratique des hautes études, IVe section, in 1959 for his work on Lomazzo. He joined the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, engaged in the index of Leonardo’s manuscripts and a critical edition of De Sculptura (1504) by Pomponio Gauricus (1481/2-1528) with members of the l’école pratique des hautes études, IVe. In 1963, Klein published an article, “Considérations sur les fondements de l’iconographie,” considered by many as the most penetrating critique of iconology. For the 1966-1967 academic year, he was professor of the History of Art at the University of Montreal. While a scholar at Villa I Tatti in 1967, he committed suicide in the nearby hills of Settignano, leaving much of his scholarly work unfinished or to be published after his death. His edition of De sculptura appeared in 1969 and his collected papers, in an edition by Gallimard, edited by Chastel, in 1970. Klein was considered the most gifted companion and collaborator of Chastel (Sauerländer). Unfortunately, Klein lost many of his productive years after his defection to the West earning a meager living. As a scholar, his main training was in philosophy and, as Henri Thomas Zerner pointed out, Klein remained most comfortable in that discourse. Klein admired Erwin Panofsky and the interdisciplinary approach to art history as manifested through Jacob Burckhardt. He possessed an intimate knowledge of art theory contemporary to the time of its production.

    Selected Bibliography

    [Afterward] Burckhardt, Jacob. La civilisation de la Renaissance en Italie: un essai. Paris: Librairie Plon, 1958; “La dernière me´ditation de Savonarole.” Bibliothèque d’humanisme et renaissance 23 (1961): 441-448; and Chastel, André. L’age de l’humanisme: l’Europe de la Renaissance. Paris: éditions des Deux-Mondes, 1963; “Considérations sur les fondements de l’iconographie.” Ermeneutica e tradizione, Atti del III Colloquio internazionale sulla Tematica della demitizzazione. Archivo di Filosofia no. 1-2 (1963): 419-436, English (see Form and Meaning, pp. 143-160); edited, with Zerner, Henri. Italian Art, 1500-1600: Sources and Documents. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966; [French annotated edition, with Chatel, André, of] Gaurico, Pomponio. De sculptura (1504). Geneva: Droz, 1969; La forme et l’intelligible, écrits sur la Renaissance et l’art moderne. Articles et essais réunis et présentés par André Chastel. Paris: Gallimard, 1970, English, Form and Meaning: Essays on the Renaissance and Modern Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.


    Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986 p. 229; Sauerländer, Willibald. “André Chastel.” Burlington Magazine 113 (January 1991): 38; Zerner, Henri. “Foreward.” Klein, Robert. Form and Meaning: Essays on the Renaissance and Modern Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980, pp. vii-xi.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Klein, Robert." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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