Full Name: Rosenberg, Jakob
Date Born: 1893
Date Died: 1980
Place Born: Berlin, Germany
Place Died: Cambridge, Middlesex, MA, USA
Home Country/ies: Germany
Subject Area(s): Dutch (culture or style) and painting (visual works)
Rembrandt and drawing scholar; Harvard University professor 1948-1964. Rosenberg came from a family of art dealers, his brother, Saemy Rosenberg (1893-1971) eventually establishing the New York firm of Rosenberg & Stiebel. His parents were Gabriel Rosenberg and Bertha Rosenbaum (Rosenberg). Early in his life, Rosenberg planned to entry his family’s antique business. However, when World War I was declared, he joined the German army cavalry and during a campaign in France, was wounded, captured and sent to a POW camp in Scotland. In a prisoner exchange, Rosenberg was sent to Switzerland where he was allowed to study art history initially at Bern and later Zürich. After the war he apprenticed with an art dealer, however, his temperament, by his own admission was more toward scholarship than trade. He entered the university in Munich where Heinrich Wölfflin was the ordinarius professor of art history. He received his Ph. D. summa cum laude under Wölfflin in 1922 (published 1923) writing on the drawings of Martin Schongauer. The same year he married Elisabeth Husserl, daughter of the philosopher Edmund Husserl. He was hired for the Print Room of the Berlin museum, under Max J. Friedländer and its Director General, Wilhelm Bode. Although he had little personal contact with Bode, Friedländer became his other great mentor, instilling in him a love of drawings and connoisseurship. In 1928, his monograph of Jacob Ruisdael’s paintings and drawings appeared. He succeeded Friedländer as head of the Print collection in 1930 (Friedländer was now director of the Berlin Museum). Among his notable successes was diverting the selections requested by Nazi Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering–who was “borrowing” works of art for his own collection–from the precious German renaissance examples to less valuable erotic scenes. Rosenberg and Friedländer collaborated on a monograph on Lucas Cranach in 1932. His war service allowed him to remain at the Museum even after the Nazi government began purging Jews from institutions. In 1935, however, Rosenberg resigned from the Print Collection, and at the suggestion of Adolph Goldschmidt, he was issued an invitation to Harvard for the summer 1936 art history seminar, though Rosenberg had done no lecturing. His success at this, and friendship with Fogg Museum director Paul J. Sachs led to first a standing invitation and finally an appointment at Harvard in 1937. In 1939 he was made curator of Prints at the Fogg. Rosenberg acquired important works on paper for the museum, including German Expressionist examples, discarded by museums under National Socialist as “degenerate.” He was appointed an associate professor in the Department of Fine Arts in 1940 and professor in 1948, the same year as his major monograph on Rembrandt. His book Great Draughtsmen from Pisanello to Picasso, published in 1959, was a deeply personal view of his specialty area of drawings. In 1969 when the Rembrandt Research Project, a committee of art historians gathered to reduce the number of authentic Rembrandts, announced its plans, Rosenberg became a vocal critic. He retired emeritus from Harvard in 1964. In 1966 he and fellow Harvard art historian Seymour Slive) authored the volume Dutch Art and Architecture for the important Pelican History of Art series. The following year, he published his A. W. Mellon Lectures, Quality in Art, as much a historiography of connoisseurship as a guide to his own beliefs. Shortly before his death, a revised version of his Rembrandt book was chosen for publication as part of Cornell University’s Landmarks in Art History series. Rosenberg remained committed throughout his career to the formalistic methodology of his mentor, Wölfflin, preferring stylistic rather than the literary approach to art history. In later years he repudiated some of Wölfflin’s oversimplifications (Slive). Rosenberg’s brand of connoisseurship, like Friedländer’s, relied on intuition and vast experience rather than cataloging of stylistic idiosyncrasies of an individual artist that Giovanni Morelli employed. He doubted the ultimate usefulness of “committee judgments” for authenticity (for example, the Rembrandt Research Project), preferring the value of the expert individual.
[dissertation:] Die Handzeichnungen von Martin Schongauer. Munich, 1922, published, Munich: R. Piper, 1923; Rembrandt. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1948, revised and reissued as, Rembrandt: Life and Work. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980; On Quality in Art: Criteria of Excellence, Past and Present. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967, [illuminating book review by E. H. Gombrich, New York Review of Books, February 1, 1968]; and Friedländer, Max J. Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach. Berlin: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, 1932; Great Draughtsmen from Pisanello to Picasso. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959; “Friedlaender and the Berlin Museums.” Burlington Magazine 101 (March 1959): 83-5.
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. 85; 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. 43, n. 85; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 330-2; Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 2, pp. 567-571;Rosenberg, Jakob. “Reflections of an Old Art Historian.” Art Journal 26 (Winter 1967): 154-57; Shenker, Israel. “Jakob Rosenberg: the Systematic Connoisseur.” Art News 75 (April 1976): 38-43; Kramer, Hilton. “Experts Debate What Is a Rembrandt.” The New York Times October 25, 1969, p. 31; Coolidge, John. The Modern Sensibility at the Fogg Art Museum, Richard Cándida Smith, interviewer. Los Angeles: Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles, 1993; [obituaries:] Slive , Seymour. “Jakob Rosenberg.” Burlington Magazine 124, no. 946 (January 1982): 31-32; “Jakob Rosenberg, 86, Authority On Works of Rembrandt, Dead.” New York Times April 10, 1980, p. B19