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Pinder, Wilhelm

    Full Name: Pinder, Wilhelm

    Other Names:

    • Wilhelm Pinder

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 25 June 1878

    Date Died: 03 May 1947

    Place Born: Kassel, Hesse, Germany

    Place Died: Berlin, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Medieval (European)


    Medievalist art historian, proponent of the “generational” idea of art. Pinder initially studied in Göttingen to become a lawyer before switching to archaeology. He attended courses at both the universities of Berlin and Munich. In 1896 he moved to Leipzig to study under August Schmarsow, under whom he wrote a dissertation in art history in 1903. Between 1905 and 1911 he was a lecturer in Würzburg. During this time he published his highly innovative Einleitende Voruntersuchung zu einer Rhythmik Romanischer Innenräume in der Normandie (Preliminary Investigation into Rhythmic Structures in Romanesque Interiors in Normandy), 1904, which interpreted works of architecture using a metaphor of living organisms, a feature similar of his mentor’s writing. His Würzburg years also saw the publication of his major study on local sculpture, Die Mittelalterliche Plastik Würzburgs (Sculpture of the Middle Ages in Würzburg), his first articulation of what would become his generational theory of art. Pinder rose rapidly through the academic ranks, achieving appointments in Darmstadt (Technische Hochschule 1911-1916), Breslau (modern Wroclaw, Poland) where he was chair (1916-1917), 1918 in Strasbourg, and 1919 in Leipzig. Pinder had been testing notions of national character and Zeitgeist in art history for some time. During his Leipzig years, however, he fully presented his theory of “generations” in art history, through his influential Das Problem der Generationen in der Kunstgeschichte Europas (1924). He rose to full professor in Munich in 1927 (through 1935). Pinder’s strong nationalism and almost exclusive focus on the art of Germany attracted the praise of the burgeoning Nazi party. His denunciation of his Jewish colleague at the University, August Liebmann Mayer by attacking Mayer’s work at the Alte Pinakothek, resulted in Mayer’s dismissal. After the Nazi’s assumption to power, Pinder was appointed to a chair at the University of Berlin (1935), though one of his students, Otto von Simson later asserted the Nazi cultural minister disapproved. He was succeeded at Munich by Hans Jantzen. His two assistants in Munich, Ernst Michalski and Ernst Strauss, both Jewish, were dismissed because of the Nuremberg law forbidding Jews to teach. In Berlin Pinder advised the Nazi government on looting art for the Reich collections. His loyalty to the Nazis appeared to waver; Pinder was a member of the intellectual group Mittwoch Kreis (Wednesday Circle), whose membership was largely anti-Nazi. However, with the German surrender, he was imprisoned by the British as a Nazi collaborator, initially mistaken for another higher official, and eventually released. He died of a heart attack shortly thereafter. Pinder supervised the dissertations of some of the most prominent art historians of the next generations, including Ernst Kitzinger, Nikolaus Bernard Leon Pevsner, Hermann Theodor Beenken, Hans Gerhard Evers, Wolfgang Herrmann, Elizabeth Gilmore Holt, Hans Vogel, Florentine Mütherich, Bernhard Degenhart, Edith Hoffmann, Josef Adolf Schmoll genannt Eisenwerth and von Simson. Less prestigious students included Erhard Göpel (1906-1966). Pinder exercised a large influence in the Germany of his time. His writing and lecturing style was sophisticated yet full of a playfulness that delights in language (Hoffmann). Pevsner, a student of Pinder’s, recalled that he spoke “the way they do in the movies” (Games). Pinder also contributed to the modestly priced, heavily illustrated series of paperbacks on art history “Die blauen Bücher.” These caught the public imagination and helped Pinder to be recognized both academically and in the popular imagination (Halbertsma). His association with the Nazism was both through a methodology based upon his nationalism and “Volk”-ideology as well as his high public profile. He argued that those unable to understand him did so because they did not have enough Volkisch blood in them. Pinder’s devotion to art, however, was stronger than to Hitler, as demonstrated by articles decrying the Nazi attack on modern art, for example, his “Was ist deutsch an der deutschen Kunst?” of 1933. One of his students, von Simson, doubted his Nazi sympathies altogether. Methodologically, Pinder developed and propagated what he called a “generational view of art history.” Art, by which he usually meant German art, could be understood as the interaction between older and younger generations of artists within a region. Pinder saw these regional styles as driven by the “artistic genius,” a concept imbued throughout his writing. He was capable of overestimating the influence of German art on the other countries of Europe, as in his three-volume Die Kunst der deutschen Kaiserzeit (1935). His reliance on intuition as a basis of judgment increasingly accept nationalistic concepts of Volk. At his best, however, Pinder could synthesize vast accomplishments of German art into convincing histories. His Die deutsche Plastik vom ausgehenden Mittelalter bis zum Ende der Renaissance (1914, 1929) is considered the first great history of German sculpture (Hoffmann). Pinder’s understanding and use of hermeneutics is still admired today. In his later years his interest expanded to include the baroque, in which he again produced pioneering studies. His methodological dominance was only supplanted after World War II by the methodology of Günter Bandmann.

    Selected Bibliography

    Einleitende Voruntersuchung zu einer Rythmik romanischer Innenräume in der Normandie. Strasbourg: Heitz & Mindel, 1904; Zur Rhythmik romanischer Innenräume in der Normandie. Strasbourg: Heitz, 1904-05; Deutsche Dome des Mittelalters. Düsseldorf-Leipzig: Langewiesche, 1910; Mittelalterliche Plastik Würzburgs: Versuch einer lokalen Entwickelungsgeschichte vom Ende des 13. bis zum Anfang des 15. Jahrhunderts. Würzburg: C. Kabitzsch, 1911; Die deutsche Plastik des fünfzehnten Jahrhunderts. Munich, 1924; Die deutsche Plastik vom ausgehenden Mittelalter bis zum Ende der Renaissance. Potsdam: Athenaion, 1924-29; Das Problem der Generation in der Kunstgeschichte Europas. Berlin: Frankfurter Verlaganstalt, 1926; Der bamberger Dom und seine Bildwerke. Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1927; Goethe und die bildenden Kunst. Munich: Verlag der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1933; [his argument against Nazi persecution of modern art] “Was is deutsch an der deutschen Kunst?” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 2 (1933): 405; [examples of one of his “blauen Bücher”] Deutsche Barockplastik. Königstein im Taunua-Leipzig: Langewiesche, 1933; Der Kölner Dom. Königstein im Taunus-Leipzig: Langewiesche, 1934; Deutsche Burgen und fest Schlösser. Königstein im Taunus-Leipzig: Langewiesche, 1938; Gesammalte Aufsätze aus Jahren 1907-1935. Edited by Leo Bruhns. Leipzig: Seemann, 1938; Deutscher Barock: die grossen Baumeister des 18. Jahrhunderts. Königstein im Taunus-Leipzig: Langewiesche, 1940.


    Festschrift für Wilhelm Pinder zum 60. Geburtstag. Leipzig: Seeman, 1938; Weigert, H. “Wilhelm Pinder zum 60. Geburtstag.” Deutsche Zukunft 6 no. 25 (1939): 8; Meyer, Bruno. Wer die Sterne zu Freunden nahm . . . Dank, Bekenntnis und Besinnubung: Briefe and Wilhelm Pinder. Leipzig: Goten, 1944; Hoffmann, Edith. “Wilhelm Pinder.” Burlington Magazine 89 (July 1947): 198; “Wilhelm Pinder zum 70. Geburtstag.” Aufbau 4 (1948): 524; Boehlich, W. “Wilhelm Pinder.” Hamburgische Akademie Rundschau 3 (1948-49): 524; Jantzen, Hans. “Wilhelm Pinder.” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 1 nos. 1-2 (1947): 73-76; Dvorák, Max. Idealism and Naturalism in Gothic Art. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967, 219; 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, 51 mentioned; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, 23-5; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, 286; Heinrich Dilly, editor. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1990, pp. 235-48; Halbertsma, Marlite. “Wilhelm Pinder.” Altmeister moderner Kunstgeschichte. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1990; Halbertsma, Marlite. Wilhelm Pinder und die deutsche Kunstgeschichte. Worms: Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1992; Liebl, Ulrike. “Wilhelm Pinder.” The Dictionary of Art 24: 819-820; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 309-12; Games, Stephen. “Introduction.” Pevsner on Art and Architecture: the Radio Talks. London: Methuen, 2002, pp. xviii-xix, xxxiv; [transcript] “Otto von Simson, interviewed by Richard Cándida Smith.” Art History Oral Documentation Project. Getty Research Institute, Malibu, CA, pp. 10-14.


    "Pinder, Wilhelm." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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