Skip to content

Rumohr, Karl Friedrich von

    Full Name: Rumohr, Karl Friedrich von

    Other Names:

    • Karl Friedrich von Rumohr

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1785

    Date Died: 1843

    Place Born: Reinhardsgrimma, Saxony, Germany

    Place Died: Dresden, Saxony, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): documentaries (documents), documentary (general concept), and Modern (style or period)


    Founder of modern art history (history based on documentary study); key member of the Berlin school of art history. Rumohr was born to Henning von Rumohr (1722-1804) and belonged to a noble Holstein family. His inheritance enabled him to pursue his art-historical interests without the constraints of employment. After attending the Gymnasium in Holzminden, Rumohr entered the university in Göttingen, focusing on foreign-languages and studying under Johann Dominico Fiorillo. Rumohr’s dedication to documentary sources likely derived from the influence of another scholar, the historian Barthold Georg Niebuhr (1776-1831). He made his first journey to Italy by 1804 with artists Franz and Johannes Riepenhausen and Ludwig Tieck Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853). He returned to Hamburg in 1806 studying art and learning painting. In 1815, Rumohr returned to the notion of a society of art scholars. He met Goethe during an extended visit to Weimar. A second trip, lasting the years 1816 to 1821, was influential for the prominent expatriate German community he met there, including the Nazarene artists, and the art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen. He scoured Italian archives during his stay in the country, pouring through the archives of Rome, Florence, Milan, Siena, Perugia and Mantua. Like many art authors, Rumohr began his critical analysis of Italian art with Giorgio Vasari. He initially planned only to produce a German translation (and commentary) of the Vite, but his ever-increasing familiarity with the documentary sources of Italian art made him realize how little of Vasari could be accepted. He returned to Hamburg via Munich in 1821 where he was active in the artistic community there and publishing a book on cooking. In 1825 moved to Berlin where he published the results of his art-historical research, his Italienischen Forschungen, (Italian Investigations) in 1827. The Forschungen focus on medieval Italian painting and Raphael, because he viewed the era after 1530 as a period of decline in renaissance painting. It was probably Rumohr’s attitude that influenced both the Nazarenes and the English Pre-Raphaelites to come to the same conclusions. In Berlin, Rumohr was tapped by the Prussian government to advise them on a comprehensive public museum of art. The return of art work from Napoleon’s museum had re-ignited the notion of an art museum in Berlin akin to the great institutions in Munich, Dresden and Vienna. For years, Aloys Hirt then a curator of the Kaiser’s pictures had pressed for such a museum. But Hirt was a bureaucrat, not an historian. His vision for the museum was little more than a warehouse of the collection (though he did press for hanging pictures by school and era rather than subject). Rumohr and Waagen understood that the impetus for a public collection of art was first esthetic and then historic. Rumohr disagreed bitterly with Hirt and their rivalry eventually forced Hirt’s resignation. Rumohr was considered to lead the new museum, but was turned down by the crown in favor of Waagen. However, Rumohr may have in fact preferred the decision. He returned to Italy for the years 1828-1829, and then again in 1837, increasingly devoting time to agricultural studies and cooking. He moved to Gut Rothenhausen in 1835. In 1838 the young Giovanni Morelli, the establisher of connoisseurship, met Rumohr, greatly influencing Morelli’s work. After a final trip to Italy in 1841, Rumohr retired to another of his estates in Lübeck, Rothenhausen, in 1842. He died the following year, his friend Gottfried Semper designed a monument for him. His art collection was auctioned in 1846. Rumohr’s Italienische Forschungen was among the first art histories to be constructed through the use of written primary source documents, culled from Italian archives, the hallmark of modern art-historical scholarship. Eschewing the classical-art centered view of art history, Rumohr strove for a more objective art history. The twentieth-century documentary scholar Julius Alwin von Schlosser described him as the founder of modern art research. An anti-romantic (and anti-Hegelian), Rumohr’s way of thinking developed a critical opposition with that of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (he early on disagreed with Winckelmann’s analysis of Castor and Pollux statue). He asserted that nature was the primary source for the analysis of art history, attempting to free art history from the prevailing romantic-era literary/aesthetic ties. During his lifetime, Rumohr was not primarily known for his art writing. An eccentric and noted gourmet, his 1822 cookbook on simplified cuisine, Geist der Kochkunst (Spirit of the Cooking Arts) was written under the pseudonym of his servant. An 1834 book on etiquette, Schule der Höflichkeit, and his rhymed fable verses the following year, Kynalopekomachia: Der Hunde Fuchsenstreit were both popular successes. A witty raconteur, sketches of him show up in the memoirs of Count Adolf von Schack (1815-1894), Pauline Gotter Schelling (1786-1854), and Karl von Lorck. Goethe characterized him as a profound cognoscenti of Italian art. Hegel mentioned him in his work ästhetik of 1835. Wilhelm von Humboldt argued that Italienischen Forschungen was the first art historical work written in a historical and spiritual sense. Historians who were directly affected by Rumohr’s methodology, in addition to Waagen, included Heinrich Gustav Hotho, Karl Julius Ferdinand Schnaase, Friedrich Kugler, (the “Berlin School”) and in the twentieth century, Viennese scholar, Schlosser. Beyond those 19th-century scholars and literati, it is unclear how far his influence carried during his time. Rumohr and the other members of the Berlin school of art history made the greatest contribution to the writing of art history in the next century.

    Selected Bibliography

    König, Joseph. [pseudonym] Geist der Kochkunst. Stuttgardt: Cotta, 1822; Italienische Forschungen, 3 vols in 1. Berlin: Nicolai’sche Buchhandlung, 1827-31, updated edition with introduction by Schlosser, Julius. Italienische Forschungen. Frankfurt a.M.: Frankfurter verlags-Anstalt, 1920; Ursprung der Besitzlosigkeit des Colonen im neueren Toscana: aus den Urkunden. Hamburg: Perthes und Besser, 1830; Schule der Höflichkeit: für Alt und Jung. Stuttgart: J.G. Cotta’sche Buchhandlung, 1834; Kynalopekomachia: Der Hunde Fuchsenstreit. Lübeck: v. Rohden, 1835; Untersuchung der Gründe für die Annahme : dass Maso di Finiguerra Erfinder des Handgriffes sei, gestochene Metallplatten auf genetztes Papier abzudrucken. Leipzig: R. Weigel, 1841; introduction, Rio, Alexis-François, and De Boni, Filippo. Della poesia cristiana nelle sue forme. Venice: Co’ tipi del Gondoliere, 1841.


    Schultz, Heinrich Wilhelm. Karl Friedrich von Rumohr: Sein Leben und seine Schriften. Leipzig: 1844; Schlosser, Julius von. “Carl Friedrich von Rumohr als Begründer der neueren Kunstforschung,” In, Schlosser, Julius, ed. Rumohr, Karl Friedrich. Italienische Forschungen. Frankfurt am Main: Frankfurter Verlag-Anstalt, 1920, pp. v-xxxviii; Kultermann, Udo. Geschichte der Kunstgeschichte: Der Weg einer Wissenschaft. Frankfurt am Main and Vienna: Ullstein, 1981, pp. 155, 161-164; 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. 44, 44 n. 87; Waetzoldt, Wilhelm. Deutsche Kunsthistoriker vom Sandrart bis Justi. vol. 2. Leipzig: E. A. Seeman, 1924, pp. 292-318; German Essays on Art History. Gert Schiff, ed. New York: Continuum, 1988, pp. xxvii-xxx, 281; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 332-35; Müller-Tamm, Pia. Rumohrs “Haushalt der Kunst” : zu einem kunsttheoretischen Werk der Goethe-Zeit. Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1991; Schwarzer, Mitchell. “Origins of the Art History Survey Text.” Art Journal 54 (Fall 1995): 24.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Rumohr, Karl Friedrich von." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: