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Lamprecht, Karl

    Full Name: Lamprecht, Karl

    Other Names:

    • Karl Lamprecht

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1856

    Date Died: 1915

    Place Born: Jessen, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

    Place Died: Leipzig, Saxony, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Medieval (European)

    Career(s): art historians


    Medievalist and one of the founders of cultural history who began his career writing art history. Lamprecht was the son of a Lutheran minister, also named Karl Lamprecht. After attending the Volksschule and Gymnasium in Wittenberg, Lamprecht entered the famous Gymnasum boarding school at Schulpforta in 1866. Graduating in 1874, he began university studies (in history) the same year in Göttingen, where the courses of Ernst Bernheim (1850-1942) and philosopher Rudolf Hermann Lotze (1817-1881) were significant. He continued historical study at Leipzig under the historian Carl von Noorden (1833-1883), the historical economist Wilhelm Roscher (1817-1894), and the psychologist Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920). Perhaps most important, at Leipzig, Lamprecht encounted the cultural historian Georg Voigt (1827-1891) who introduced him to the work of Jacob Burckhardt. He earn his doctorate in 1879, but was so enthused with art that he spent an additional semester as a post-doctorate studying art history in Munich. Lamprecht moved to Bonn where he wrote his Habilitationschrift in 1881, remaining there as a Privatdozent. He published his study of illuminated manuscript initials, Initialornamentik des VIII. bis XIII. Jahrhunderts in 1882. He rose to extraordinarius Professor in 1885. At Bonn, Lamprecht deeply influenced the young art history student (and later seminal medievalist art historian) Wilhelm Vöge, whom Erwin Panofsky cited as Vöge’s true mentor. Lamprecht also exerted an effect on other naiscent art history students at Bonn, Aby M. Warburg and Paul Clemen. In 1890 Lamprecht moved to Marburg as Ordinarius Professor, but had, by the following year, accepted a call to Leipzig, 1891, where he remained for the rest of his career. That year he began publishing his controvericial Deutsche Geschichte (German History). As an historian, Lamprecht’s objectivity was sometimes tempered by partisanship; traditional historians attacked him for his omissions and errors (Gombrich). The historians Max Lenz (1850-1932), Heinrich von Sybel (1817-1895), and Friedrich Meinecke (1862-1954) were among his most virulent. The criticism broadened into methodological arguments, known as the Methodenstreit which became acronmonious, lasting in fact through 1905 but in reality his whole life. In 1904 Lamprecht was a lecturer at the St. Louis Exposition (World’s Fair) and the Columbia University sesquicentennial. His Columbia lectures appeared in English as the book What is History?. The recently-graduated Richard Hamann found his philosophy compelling and begann incorporating it into his own writing. In 1907 he created the Institut fur Kultur- und Universalgeschichte at the university to better host his study interests. “Kultur” for Lamprecht rested on the notion of “Volk,” the notion of popular movements as opposed to the impetus of great individuals in moving history. Immediately after his death, the historian Alfred Doren (1869-1934) authored the first evaluation of Lamprecht as an art historian (1916). Lamprecht was the most prominent cultural historian in late-nineteenth-century Germany, his fame resting upon his Deutsche Geschichte (1891-1909) and three-volume Deutsches Wirtschaftsleben im Mittelalter (1885-1886). He was a champion of the modern “scientific” approach to the humanities (Weintraub). His methodology–his ‘new’ history–took the historical system of G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831) and translated it into psychological terms (Gombrich). Using Herbart’s notion of association, i.e., why some ideas are pushed asside pscyhologically for others, Lamprecht created a model to explain cultural change. Employing the model of stages of human consciousness, Lamprecht’s mapped this staged development onto German history. As an emerging cultural historian, Lamprecht investigated art history frequently, particularly in the 1880s, the very years in which art history was being shaped as a discipline in universities in Germany. Indeed, Hippolyte Taine in France and Karl Julius Ferdinand Schnaase in Germany were emphasizing art as documentary evidence to history. Lamprecht likewise frequently drew on the art of a period to build his case of collective psychology. Painting and sculpture were Lamprecht’s favorite document in the Deutsche Geschichte. He pinned the development of figural drawing in the middle ages to the emerging consciousness of the individual. He contrasted Rembrandt’s use of what Lamprecht called an imaginary light source (outside the picture) with Impressionism’s disfuse atmosphere as the hallmarks of “individualistic” and “subjective” ages. In the twentieth-century, Lamprecht’s cultural history reputation was overshadowed by the more sober Burckhardt, but Lamprecht’s Kulturgeschichte may have been more directly relevant for art history’s development than Burckhardt’s (Brush). Of his two famous students who became art historians, Warburg adopted Lamprecht’s psycyhological approach to art (Gombrich), and Vöge drew upon Lamprecht’s notion of a total history of art for his own work (Panofsky).

    Selected Bibliography

    Initialornamentik des VIII. bis XIII. Jahrhunderts. Leipzig: Alphons Dürr, 1882;Deutsche Geschichte. 12 vols. Berlin: Gaertner, 1891-1909; Deutsches wirtschaftsleben im Mittelalter: Untersuchungen uber die Entwicklung der materiellen Kultur des platten Landes auf Grund der Quellen zunachst des Mosellandes. 3 vols in 4. Leipzig: A. Durr, 1885-1886; What is History? Five Lectures on the Modern Science of History. New York: Macmillan, 1905.


    Doren, Alfred. “Karl Lamprechts Geschichtstheorie und die Kunstgeschichte,” Zeitschrift für Àsthetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft 11 (1916): 353-389; Popper, Annie M. “Karl Gotthard Lamprecht.” in Schmitt, Bernadotte, ed. Some Historians of Modern Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942 , pp. 217-239; Weintraub, Karl J. “Lamprecht 1856-1915.” in Visions of Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966, pp. 161-207; [Vöge reminiscence] Panofsky, Erwin. “Wilhelm Vöge: A Biographical Memoir.” Art Journal 28 no. 1 (Fall 1968): 29; Gombrich, Ernst H. Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986, pp. 29-30; Chickering, Roger. “Young Lamprecht: An Essay in Biography and Historiography.” History and Theory 28, no. 2 (May 1989): 198-214; Brush, Kathryn. “The Cultural Historian Karl Lamprecht: Practitioner and Progenitor of Art History.” Central European History 26 (1993): 139-164; Chickering, Roger. Karl Lamprecht: a German Academic Life (1856-1915). [Atlantic Highlands,] NJ: Humanities Press, 1993.


    "Lamprecht, Karl." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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