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Krautheimer, Richard

    Full Name: Krautheimer, Richard

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 06 July 1897

    Date Died: 01 November 1994

    Place Born: Fürth, Franconia, Germany

    Place Died: Rome, Lazio, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), Baroque, Byzantine (culture or style), Medieval (European), and sculpture (visual works)


    Byzantinist and baroque scholar, architectural historian; Director of Institute of Fine Art, New York University. Krautheimer was the son of Nathan Krautheimer (1854-1910) and Martha Landman (Krautheimer) (1875-1967). His cousin was Ernst Kitzinger who also became an eminent medievalist art historian. As a young man, Krautheimer enlisted in the (German) army in the First World War and saw serious war service (1916-1918). Between 1919-1923 he studied initially at the university in Jura and then successively at the universities in Munich, Berlin, and Marburg under faculty who included Heinrich Wölfflin, Adolph Goldschmidt and Werner Weisbach. He briefly worked on the state inventory of Churches for Erfurt (Inventarisierung der Erfurter Kirchen für die Preussische Denkmalpflege) during this time as well. In 1924 he married Trude Krautheimer-Hess who subsequently also studied art history and became a noted scholar and collector herself. His dissertation was completed in Halle under Paul Frankl in 1925 with the title Die Kirchen der Bettelorden in Deutschland (1240-1340). Frankl remained a strong influence to Krautheimer’s work throughout his life. It was Krautheimer who later introduced Frankl’s work to a United States readership (Sauerländer). In 1927 he completed his habilitation under Richard Hamann in Marburg-Wittenberg. The same year, while researching at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome, Krautheimer developed the idea for a handbook of Roman churches with a colleague, Rudolf Wittkower. This later to became the Corpus Basilicarum. In 1928 he accepted a privatdozent teaching position at Marburg. Except for studies-in-residence at the Hertziana (1930/31, 1932/33) he remained at Marburg. The momentous year 1933 saw Krautheimer’s first volume of the Corpus Basilicarum Christianarum Romae, a scholarly inventory and documentation of the early Christian churches in Rome eventually running five volumes. The set, however, would not be completed until 1977. That same year, 1933, the Krautheimers fled Nazi persecution, leaving Germany for good. Between 1933-1935 Krautheimer worked on the Corpus in Rome, working a day job that had been offered by Frankl’s son in that city. The ever-declining political situation for Jews in Axis-alliance countries compelled the Krautheimers to emigrate to the United States. Krautheimer initially found a position at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, a university he purportedly had never heard of. At his request, Louisville hired another fleeing art historian, Krautheimer’s friend from school days, Justus Bier. Krautheimer moved to Vassar College in 1937 at the request of Vassar’s Art Department chair, Agnes Rindge Claflin. With the United State’s entrance into the Second World War, Krautheimer and his wife became naturalized citizens and Richard volunteered for duty as a senior research analyst for the Office of Strategic Services for the years 1942-1944. Here he analyzed aerial photographs of Rome to assist in the protection of historic buildings during bombing. While still at Vassar, he taught (with lecturer status) at New York University (1938-1949). In 1942, Krautheimer published an influential article, “The Carolingian Revival of Early Christian Architecture,” in the Art Bulletin postulating a conceptual frame for medieval architecture as an intellectual “copy” or pastiche of venerable structures. He moved to NYU permanently in 1952 as the Jayne Wrightsman Professor of Fine Arts. The early 1950s were devoted to researching his one monograph on an artist, Lorenzo Ghiberti, published jointly with his wife in 1956. Krautheimer next engaged in what he considered his most difficult book to research and write: the survey volume on early Christian architecture for the Pelican History of Art series. The manuscript was completed in 1963 and published two years later. The volume is considered to be one of the finest syntheses of late antique/early medieval architecture ever published and brought Krautheimer his widest readership. He revised and reissued the work twice, in 1975 and 1979. After a second book on Ghiberti in 1971, Krautheimer retired from NYU as Samuel F. B. Morse Professor Emeritus and returned to Rome. Wolfgang Lotz, friend and fellow architectural historian, offered him a residence at the Bibliotheca Hertziana. There, Krautheimer completed his long-standing research on the Corpus Basilicarum. In these final years he set to work writing two of his most synthetic and lyrical works on art history. Rome: Profile of a City (1980) and The Rome of Alexander VII (1985) combined social history, vast breadth of archival knowledge and insightful architectural history into single volumes. In both cases, Krautheimer selected comparatively neglected periods in Roman history to offer a compelling narrative of the interaction of public works and patronage. While assisting friends with plans for his 100th birthday, Krauthiemer died at 97 at the Palazzo Zuccari. He is buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome with his wife. In terms of art-historical approach, the systematizing methodology of Krautheimer’s mentor, Frankl, “never left Krautheimer” according to Willibald Sauerländer. In his teaching, he preferred Frankl’s older German survey of the Romanesque to the Pelican History of Art survey by Kenneth John Conant, which he disparaged (Sears). As a medievalist, he emphasized German and eastern-European works, presenting a different Middle Ages from that of the predominantly Francophone American-teaching-medievalists, A. Kingsley Porter and Henri Focillon (Sears). Krautheimer’s conception of the medieval found new adherents after World War II among Marxist and Marxist-influenced historians, particularly in Germany. The modernist view of medieval architecture, one centered around the study of St-Denis and an intellectual overlay of the theories of Pseudo-Dionysius (Hans Sedlmayr, Erwin Panofsky, Otto von Simson), had been countered by Krautheimer’s 1942 article on the church as ‘copy.’ In it, he argued that medieval architects built churches as ‘copies’ of venerable archetypal structures. “By linking symbolism with the perceptions of the medieval onlooker, Krautheimer found a way of understanding the loose associations between form and meaning in the Middle Ages, and relating meaning to tradition and patrimonial intention” (Crossley). Hans-Joachim Kunst, in particular adapted this notion to a Marxist social history as the “archictectural quotation.” Krautheimer’s many students at New York University included Howard Saalman, Leo Steinberg, Frances Huemer, Marvin Trachtenberg, Thomas F. S. J. Mathews, Meg (Meinecke) Licht (b. 1926), and James S. Ackerman.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Die Kirchen der Bettelorden in Deutschland, 1240-1340. Cologne, 1925; [habilitation:] Mittelalterliche Synagogen. Marburg-Wittenberg, 1927; “Introduction to an Iconography of Medieval Architecture.” Journal of the Courtald and Warburg Institutes 5 (1942): 1-33, reprinted in: Studies in Early Christian, Medieval and Renaissance Art. New York: New York University Press, 1969.; Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980; “Sancta Maria Rotunda.” Arte del Primo millennio, Atti del II convegno per lo studio dell’arte dell’alto medio evo tenuto presso l’Universita di Pavia nel settembre 1950. Edited by Edoardo Arslan. Turin: 1953: 21-7; and Krautheimer-Hess, Trude. Lorenzo Ghiberti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956; “Mensa-coemeterium-martyium.” Cahiers archeologiques 11 (1960): 15-40; “The Carolingian Revival of Early Christian Architecture.” Art Bulletin 24 (1942): 1-38. [reprinted in a slightly revised version in] Studies in Early Christian, Medieval and Renaissance Art (above): 203-56; “Riflessioni sull’architettura paleocristiana.” In Atti del VI Congresso Internationale di Archeologia Cristiana, Ravena 23-30 settembre 1962. Studi di Antichità Christiana 26. Vatican City: 1965, pp. 567-79; Ghiberti’s Bronze Doors. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971; Corpus Basilicarum Christianarum Romae: The Early Christian Basilicas of Rome (IV-IX Centuries). Vatican City: Pontificio istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1937-1977; Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture. Pelican History of Art: 24. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1965; Mittelalterliche Synagogen. Berlin: Frankfurter Verlags-Anstalt, 1927; The Rome of Alexander VII, 1655-1667. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985; Three Christian Capitals: Topography and Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983; Zur venezianischen Trecentoplastik. Marburg an der Lahn: Verlag des Kunstgeschichtlichen Seminars der Universität Marburg an der Lahn, 1926-1935; Opicinus de Canistris; Weltbild und Bekenntnisse eines avignonesischen Klerikers des 14. Jahrhunderts. London: The Warburg Institute, 1936.


    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. 69-70 good discussion of methodology; 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. 18 mentioned, pp. 66 (method discussed), pp. 70, 81, 87 cited, 92 [his method of Carolingian art research discussed]; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 435, 542; [acts of symposium appraising the work of Richard Krautheimer:] Kliemann, Julian-Matthias, ed. In memoriam Richard Krautheimer: relazioni della giornata di studi, Roma, 20 febbraio 1995, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Salla dell’Ercole. Rome: Bibliotheca Hertziana, 1997; 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. 377-86; Trachtenberg, Marvin. “On Richard Krautheimer’s ‘Flirtation’ with Italian Renaissance Architecture.” Preface, Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000; Crossley, Paul. “Meaning and Mileau.” [sect xix of] “Introduction: Frankl’s Text: Its Achievement and Significance.” Frankl, Paul and Crossley, Paul. Gothic Architecture. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000, p. 28; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. 2nd ed. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2007, pp. 244-247; Sears, Elizabeth. “The Art-Historical Work of Walter Cahn.” in Hourihane, Colum, ed. Romanesque Art and Thought in the Twelfth Century: Essays in Honor of Walter Cahn. University Park, Pa: Penn State Press, 2008, p. 20, note 30; [obituary:] Sauerländer, Willibald. “Richard Krautheimer: 1897-1994” Burlington Magazine 137 (February 1995): 119-20.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Krautheimer, Richard." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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