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Kugler, Franz

    Full Name: Kugler, Franz

    Other Names:

    • Franz Kugler

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 19 January 1800

    Date Died: 18 March 1858

    Place Born: Szczecin, West Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland

    Place Died: Berlin, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Prussian


    Key figure in the early development of the discipline of art history (“Berlin School”); author of one of the first surveys of art history; cultural administrator for the Prussian state. He was born in Stettin, Germany, which is present-day Szczecin, Poland. Kugler’s father was Johann Georg Emanuel Kugler, a successful merchant and city father (German Counselor). The younger Kugler studied literature, music and the visual arts at the University of Berlin. Music remained with him his whole life; he penned the Volkslied “An der Saale hellem Strande,” to a tune by Friedrich Ernst Fesca (1789-1826) in 1826. Although he briefly attended classes at Heidelberg, he returned to Berlin in 1827 studying architecture at the Bauakademie. In 1831 he received his doctorate under Ernst Heinrich Toelke (1785-1869) writing his dissertation on medieval illuminated manuscripts. He habilitated two years later. In 1833 he was named Professor of art history at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and a [privatdozent at the university in Berlin. Together with poet Robert Reinick (1805-1852) he published a Liederbuch für deutsche Künstler (Songbook for German Artists) the same year. In 1837 Kugler published his two-volume Handbuch der Geschichte der Malerei (History of Painting); second only, perhaps, to the Italienische Forschungen of Karl Friedrich von Rumohr, which he likely took as a model, for a synthetic history of painting and considered by many as “first universal history of painting” (Metzler). Though Kugler personally called it a cut-and-paste job, the Handbuch was full of insights and authority (Kultermann). For example, Kugler was the first to apply the term “Carolingian” in the context of art history. His concept of a Carolingian style of art was adopted by Gustav Friedrich Waagen only two years later. The following year, 1840, Kugler published a biography of Frederick the Great, Geschichte Friedrichs des Großen. The year 1842 was a particularly momentous one for Kugler. He was named to the academic senate and brought out his Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte, (Handbook of Art History) the first survey world art. That same year he also published a monograph on the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The following year he was appointed to the Ministry of Culture overseeing all the arts of Prussia. Kugler used this position of power to take an enlightened approach to art, defining his position as one to elevate art and artists in Prussia, rivaling that Weimar. That year, too, 1843, Karl Julius Ferdinand Schnaase wrote the second synthetic history of art, and, although completely dissimilar, dedicated to Kugler. In 1845, Kugler was called to be part of a famous consultation of art historians to determine which of two version of Hans Holbein’s Burgomeister Meyer Madonna in Germany was the original. Kugler examined the Berlin (later Darmstadt) version (now believed to be the original). His essay “Ueber den Pauperismus auch in der Kunst” appeared in 1845 as well. The second edition of Part I of Kugler’s Handbook of the History of Painting, The Italian Schools, was translated in 1851 by art writer Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake, bringing his work into cognition with the English-reading world. After his death, his opinion on the Burgomeister Meyer Madonna came to be part of the body of critical opinion, the so-called “Holbein convention” held in 1871. His son, Bernhard Kugler (1837-1898) was a professor of medieval history at Tübingen. Kugler was the central figure of the emerging “Berlin School” of art history (Kultermann). Like his contemporaries, including Gustav A. Heider, Kugler wedged his art writing amid his administrative duties because the discipline was too young to make as a vocation. The Handbuch is considered one of the early art history survey texts whose theme was global art. Kugler divided world art history into four periods, Pre-Hellenic, Classical (Greek and Roman antiquity), “Romantic” (Medieval and the rise of Islam) and Modern (from the Renaissance to the 19th century). He projected a Romantic view of the Germans as the true successors of the Greeks through something Kugler termed their Organismus (“organic unity”) with the Greeks. German medieval art, according to Kugler, was the honest expression of the people. Renaissance art was viewed by Kugler as degenerate and derivative. In the 1847 revision of his Handbuch, Burckhardt, the Renaissance scholar, changed the emphasis. Kugler’s teachings continue to inspire. The American medievalist Robert Branner used Kugler’s concept of Organismus in his own teaching about the related of art to its context (Armi). Kugler’s most eminent student was the Jacob Burckhardt, himself a key figure in art history and methodology. He was friends with the artist Adolf Menzel (who illustrated Kugler’s book on Frederick the Great) and Schinkel, whose biography he wrote. Kugler (and Waagen) were the first to describe a characteristic style within the Romanesque art, first noted by Johann Dominico Fiorillo, as “Ottonian art.” Kugler in particular emphasized its the Byzantine influence and its free adaptation in the style.

    Selected Bibliography

    Handbuch der Geschichte der Malerei von Constantin dem Grossen bis auf die neuere Zeit. 2 vols. Berlin: Bei Duncker und Humbolt, 1837; Geschichte Friedrichs des Großen. Leipzig: 1840; Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte. 3 vols. 1842; Karl Friedrich Schinkel: eine Charakteristik seiner künstlerischen Wirksamkeit mit einem Portrait Schinkel’s und mit einem Facsimile seiner Handschrift. Berlin: Gropius, 1842;”Ueber den Pauperismus auch in der Kunst.” Kunstblatt 1845, No. 71; Ueber die Kunst als Gegenstand der Staatsverwaltung mit besonderem Bezuge auf die Verhältnisse des preußischen Staates. 1847


    von Bülow, Gottfried. “Kugler, Franz Theodor von.” Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie 17 (1883): 307-315; Treue, Wilhelm. “Franz Theodor Kugler: Kulturhistoriker und Kulturpolitiker.” Historische Zeitschrift 175, no. 3 (1953): 483-526; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 373, 530; Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris, 1993, pp. 89-90, 145, 157; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 228-30; Schwarzer, Mitchell. “Origins of the Art History Survey Text.” Art Journal 54 (Fall 1995): 24; Armi, C. Edson. “The Corbel Table.” Gesta 39, no. 2, [special issue:] ‘Robert Branner and the Gothic’ (2000): 89; Karlholm, Dan. Art of Illusion: the Representation of Art History in Nineteenth-Century Germany and Beyond. New York: Lang, 2006.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


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

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