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Kraus, Franz Xaver

    Full Name: Kraus, Franz Xaver

    Other Names:

    • Franz Xaver Kraus

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 18 September 1840

    Date Died: 28 December 1901

    Place Born: Trier, Rhineland Palatinate, Germany

    Place Died: San Remo, Imperia, Liguria, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): archaeology, Christianity, German (culture, style, period), and Medieval (European)


    Founder of archaeological studies in medieval art history in Germany; church reformer. Kraus’ parents were Paul Kraus (1804-1865), an art teacher at Gymnasium in Trier and Maria Magdalena Kraus (1801-1871). The young Kraus graduated from the same Gymnasium in 1858 and entered the seminary. He left the seminary in 1860 for financial reasons, travelling to Paris, tutoring French there and studying science at the Bibliothèque Nationale. Kraus wrote and submitted a paper to the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (without taking classes there) which qualified him for a doctorate (Ph.D.) in 1862. He returned to Trier the same year, completing his theological studies in 1864 and ordained a priest. The same year he moved to University of Freiburg, studying under the church historian Johann Baptist Alzog (1808-1878) and also at Tübingen. He completed a second dissertation, this one in theology, from Freiburg in 1865 on the topic of the church father Synesius of Cyrene (fl. 392-413). He was posted to Pfalzel (today, greater Trier). Kraus failed to secure a teaching post at the Trier seminary, however, in part because of his criticisms of the relics in the Diocese. While Kraus was publishing on theological issues and reform, he began writing texts on art based upon his religious knowledge and interest. His Die Kunst bei den alten Christen appeared in 1868. In 1872 Kraus was appointed to the faculty of the University of Strasbourg to a chair of Christian art history. Kraus’s academic enemies were still strong. An appointment at Breslau in 1874 was blocked by the Bishop of Breslau, Heinrich Förster (1800-1881). As Kraus became more and more disillusioned with the political nature of the Roman Catholic church, he focused attention on studying the extant objects and buildings of medieval Germany. He published an inventory of medieval art, Kunst and Alterthum in Elsass-Lothringen, in 1876. In 1878 he succeeded his mentor Alzog in Freiburg as professor of church history. During his Freiburg tenure, Kraus wrote his books of most lasting value, on art and a biography of Dante. These included, beginning in 1882, his Real-Encyklopadie der christlichen Alterthumer (volume 2 published in 1886). He was appointed curator of religious antiquities in Baden, and a member of the Baden Historical Commission from 1883 onward. Kraus was commissioned by the Baden government to produce a facsimile of the Codex Maness for the 500-year anniversary of the Heidelberg University (1886), published by Trübner in 1887. In 1890 he was made a privy councillor, holding the pro-rectorship of the university, 1890-1891. His most important work, Geschichte der christlichen Kunst appeared in 1896. In his final years, he sat on the executive board of the newly-founded Kunsthistorisches Institute in Florence. Kraus died of stomach cancer at age 61 during a recuperative stay at Sanremo. At his death, he left his considerable library to the the town of Trier and money for a Chair and an Institute for Christian Archaeology at the University of Freiburg. The second volume of the Geschichte der christlichen Kunst, covering to the close of the Italian Renaissance, was completed by Joseph Sauer (1872-1949) in 1908. Kraus is buried in the Freiburg central cemetery. Kraus founded the study of archaeological (physical monuments) research for the middles ages in Germany (Schiel, 1979). Willibald Sauerländer included Kraus among the “pantheon of great [early] art historians” of medieval art whose numbers included Adolphe Napoléon Didron, Charles Cahier, Camille Martin and Ferdinand Piper.

    Selected Bibliography

    [complete bibliography:] Schiel, Hubert. “Das Schrifttum von F.X. Kraus.” Kraus, Franz Xaver. Tagebücher. Cologne: J. P. Bachem, 1957, pp. 765-776; [dissertation:] “Studien fiber Synesios von Kyrene.” Theologische Quartalschrift 47 (1865); Beitrage zur Trierischen Archaologie and Geschichte. I. Der heilige Nagel in der Domkirche zu Trier. Trier, 1868; Die Kunst bei den alten Christen. Frankfort am Main, 1868; Die christliche Kunst in ihren friihesten Anfangen. Mit besonderer Berucksichtigung der neuesten Resultate der Katakomben-Forschung popular dargestellt. Leipzig, 1872; and Rossi, Giovanni Battista de, and Northcote, J. Spencer, and Brownlow, W.-R. Roma sotterranea: die römischen Katakomben. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder’sche Verlagshandlung, 1873; Kunst und Alterthum in Elsass-Lothringen. 3 vols. Strassburg: Schmidt, 1876-1889; Synchronistische Tabellen zur christlichen Kunstgeschichte: ein Hülfsbuch für Studierende. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1880; and Sauer, Joseph. Geschichte der christlichen Kunst. 2 vols. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder’sche Verlagshandlung, 1896-1908; Essays. 2 vols. Berlin: Paetel, 1896-1901.


    Lauchert, Friedrich. “Kraus, Franz Xaver.” Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, pp. 699-700; Schiel, Hubert, ed. Kraus, Franz Xaver. Tagebücher. Cologne: J. P. Bachem, 1957; Schiel, Hubert. “Kraus, Franz Xaver.” Neue deutsche Biographie 12 (1979), pp. 684-685; Sauerländer, Willibald. “Émile Mâle.” Dictionnaire critique des historiens de l’art actifs en France de la Révolution à la Première Guerre mondiale [website]; Graf, Michael. Franz Xaver Kraus (1840-1901): zwischen Kulturkampf und Modernismuskrise. Münster: Lit Vlg. Hopf, 2003.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Kraus, Franz Xaver." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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