Kurz, Otto

Full Name: 
Kurz, Otto
Date Born: 
Date Died: 
Place Born: 
Vienna, Austria
Place Died: 
London, England, UK
Home Country: 

Kurz was the son of a medical doctor, Maximilian Kurz (1871-1941) and Anna Mandel (Kurz) (1884-1941). He attended the humanistiches Gymnasium in Vienna before entering the University of Vienna to study art history in 1927. There he heard lectures by Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski and Hans Tietze, eventually completing his dissertation in 1931 under Julius Alwin von Schlosser on the topic of the early work of Guido Reni, then a much under-valued artist. For two years he taught a course on conservation at the Institut für österreichischen Geschichtsforschung, an institution modeled after the école des Chartres. He also volunteered in the main art-history library of Vienna, the österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie. Kurz assisted fellow Schlosser student Ernst Kris, now a curator at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, on the myths of artists, which appeared as the book Die Legende vom Künstler in 1933. While still a Schlosser student, Nazi thugs took advantage of the police immunity in the university, bludgeoning Kurz, a Jew, in the middle of the university library. Untimately unable to find work in an Austria evermore aligning itself with Nazi Germany, Schlosser and Kris, helped Kurz secure a job at the private Warburg Library in Hamburg, then under the direction of Fritz Saxl. Saxl returned to Vienna only long enough to pass the eleven examinations at the Geschichtsforschung institute (1933). When Saxl moved the Warburg to London, Kurz was invited to emigrate to England as well. In England he completed the first volume of Warburg's Bibliography of the Survival of the Classics (1934). A fellow Schlosser student, the art historian Hilde Schüller accompanied him and the two were married in 1937 (see Hilde Kurz). Kurz was able to find employment editing a critical edition of Marco Polo's Description of the World. His interest in Guido Reni caught the attention of art historian Denis Mahon, one of the few Italian baroque enthusiasts in England at the time. Kurz used an introduction from Heinrich Bodmer to assist Mahon with Italian translation and Mahon took Kurz to the Soviet Union to view baroque art. Mahon's contribution to Kurz's salary made it possible for Kurz to survive in England. He completed a book with Hugo Buchthal on Christian manuscripts. In 1939 Saxl secured a two-year grant for Kurz and Gombrich from Sir Percival David (1892-1964). When World War II was declared in Britain, Kurz was interned as an enemy alien. In 1943 he was commission by Anthony Blunt to catalog the collection of Bolognese drawings at Windsor Castle (published 1955). By 1944, Kurz had secured a position as assistant librarian at the Warburg, whose permanent home was now the University of London. He was made Librarian in 1949.Throughout his life, Kurz venerated the memory of his mentor, Schlosser. He updated and translated Schlosser's Kunstliteratur into Italian (1964) and issued a moving personal memoir in 1955. Kurz was so enamored of his teacher that, according to Gombrich, Kurz deleted paragraphs of a draft of his dissertation with pencil marks next to them, assuming they were criticisms by Schlosser, never bothering to ask (they were marks of approval).

Selected Bibliography: 
[complete bibliography:] "Bibliography of O. Kurz's Published Articles." Otto Kurz, 1908-1975. s.l.: s.n, 1975, pp. 4-14; "Barocco: storia di un concetto." Barocco europeo e barocco veneziano. Vittore Branca, ed. Florence: 1963; [and Kris, Ernst] Die Legende vom Künstler: ein geschichtlicher Versuch. Vienna: Krystall-Verlag, 1934, English, Legend, Myth and Magic in the Image of the Artist: An Historical Experiment. Trans. Alistair Laing. Revised by Otto Kurz. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979; and Buchthal, Hugo. A Hand List of Illuminated Oriental Christian Manuscripts. London: The Warburg Institute, 1942; edited, with Gombrich, Ernst H., and Held, Julius. Essays in Honor of Hans Tietze, 1880-1954. New York: Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1958; Bolognese Drawings of the XVII & XVIII Centuries: in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. London: Phaidon Press, 1955, 2nd ed. Bologna: Nuova Alfa Editoriale, 1988; European Clocks and Watches in the Near East. London: Warburg Institute, University of London, 1975; Fakes: a Handbook for Collectors and Students. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1948; Selected Studies. London: Dorian Press, 1977-1982; Bibliography of Jewish Art. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1967; and Mayer, L. A., and Ettinghausen, Richard. Mamluk Playing Cards. Leiden: Brill, 1971, [in fact, 1972]; "Julius von Schlosser: Personlità-Metodo-Lavoro." Critica d'arte 11/12 (1955): 402-19.
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. 89 mentioned, 24 n. 48; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l'histoire de l'art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 165, 530; 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. 399-404; "Words Spoken at Otto Kurz's funeral, 10 September, 1975." Otto Kurz, 1908-1975. s.l.: s.n, 1975, pp. 2-3; Gombrich, Ernst H. "Preface." The Decorative Arts of Europe and the Islamic East. Selected Studies [of] Otto Kurz. vol. 1 London: Dorian Press, 1977, pp. i-iii; Gombrich, Ernst. "The Exploration of Culture Contacts: The Services to Scholarship of Otto Kurz (1908-1975)." Tributes: Interpreters of our Cultural Tradition. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984, pp. 235-49.