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Strzygowski, Josef Rudolf Thomas

    Full Name: Strzygowski, Josef Rudolf Thomas

    Other Names:

    • Josef Strzygowski

    Gender: male

    Place Born: Bielsko-Biala, Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

    Place Died: Vienna, Vienna state, Austria

    Home Country/ies: Austria

    Subject Area(s): European, Late Antique, and Medieval (European)


    Professor in Graz and later at Vienna (from 1909); major exponent of the concept that western European late antique and medieval arts owed much to the influences of the east. He was born in Bielitz, Silesia, Austria which is present-day Bielsko-Biala, Poland. Strzygowski’s father was a clothing manufacturer. His mother, Edle Trass von Friedelfeldt was from minor nobility. He was raised in Biala, Austrian Silesia, predominently Polish in its makeup. Strzygowski attended the Gymnasium in Jena and then a Realschule in Brunn. After graduation at age 18 he entered his father’s weaving factory. After two years, he left to return to study in Vienna under Rudolf Eitelberger von Edelberg and Moriz Thausing, then with Herman Grimm in Berlin, before writing a dissertation in Munich in 1885 under Enrico Brunn and the Halle classicist Carl Robert. His dissertation topic was on images of the baptism of Christ, drawn from eastern sources. He wrote his Habilitationschrft in Vienna in 1887 and at 25, began lecturng there. After study trip supplied by the DAI to Rome and subsequently Greece, Russia and France, Strzygowski accepted the first chair (professorship) of art history at the University of Graz in 1892. His early publications on Byzantine and Roman art were severely criticized by the Vienna School art historians Aloïs Riegl and Franz Wickhoff as being poorly researched and thought out. Personal and methodological enmity between Strzygowski and the scholars of Vienna developed which lasted their lifetimes.

    Strzygowski spent the years 1894-1895 in Egypt. In 1901, he published a groundbreaking theoretical study, Orient oder Rom, arguing that early medieval architecture owed much of its influence to the oriental middle east. This effectively questioned the cannon of art history predominant at the time, that Christian art was a direct outgrowth of the styles of Greece and Rome. Strzygowski developed an elaborate “Nordic myth” explanation for art, contending that non-objective ornament was a northern-European tendency, whereas illusionistic verisimilitude was a “southern” trait. He championed the work of contemporary artist Arnold Böcklin as a re-emerging of the Nordic style. Strzygowski was voted to succeed the chair held by his adversary, Wickhoff at Wickhoff’s death in 1909 to the University of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Institut–a decision determined by only one vote and perhaps pushed by the Archduke Ferdinand. The Institut selected the other holder of the chair be the more conventional art scholarly, Max Dvořák. This sealed a rivalry between Strzygowski and Dvořák (and his student and successor, Julius Alwin von Schlosser). Strzygowski’s work attracted the notice of Princeton art department chair Allen Marquand in a 1910 article. His plans for a research Institute to study the arts of the Middle East, Southeast Europe and Asia, with offices in Tehran and Beijing, foundered in1912 because of financing. In 1913, Strzygowski and a group of colleagues mapped Armenian monuments. The result was the 1918 book Die Baukunst der Armenien und Europa Ergebnisse the first architectural history of Armenia.

    Divisions at the Institut worsened with Dvořák’s untimely death in 1921. Dvořák’s student, Schlosser, assumed his chair, proving more agressive in his personal and methodological opposition to Strzygowski than his mentor had been. Strzygowski, claiming he held the longer chair to the Institut split the instituion in half with his as the first, Erstes Kunsthistorisches Institut or Wiener Institut, and Schlosser’s as the second. Strzygowski’s Institute was a center where scholars from various countries and disciplines could study and teach. The popularity of his institute further angered the Vienna-School scholars. Strzygowski lectured widely; at Havard and Bryn Mawr in the United States in 1922 and in Europe. His lectures delivered for the Olaus-Petri foundation in Upsala appeared as Origin of Christian Church Art, 1923, and lectures at the University of London as Early Church art in Northern Europe, 1928. After the death of his first wife, he married a painter, Herta Karasek. When he retired in 1933, his institute was dissolved. In the final years, Strzygowski embraced the Nazi sentiments of racism and nationalism, although these appeared to be more the logical conclusion of his earlier theories than any attempt to court the political authorities. His most famous pupils, Otto Demus, Ernst Diez, and Fritz Novotny were able to employ his methodology without its political ramifications. Even pupils of his Vienna School rivals, such as Hans Sedlmayr (Schlosser’s student) adopted the structural analysis and methodological analogies of Strzygowski’s best work (Lachnit).

    Strzygowski sought the origins of early Christian iconography in the Hellenistic cities of its origins. He approached works by determining their parent forms. His work was characterized by the study of origins of constructive processes in architecture (i.e. the vault and the cupola), stylistic representations of animals in northern art, and the origins of Viking ship building in native wood construction of Central Europe. Strzygowski’s methodological vision was one of uniting two strands of observation which he termed “factual research” and “viewer-research.” His essays ranged from the art of Armenia, Ravenna and the Middle East, as well as on aspects of northern European art. His work encouraged Wladimir Sas-Zaloziecky in Graz and Demus in Vienna to study the history of Byzantine art and Dagobert Frey, then teaching in Wrocław, and Heinrich Gerhard Franz in Graz for the areas of East Asia. The architectural historian David Watkin wrote of Kleinasien, ein Neuland der Kunstgeschichte sixty-seven years later that is it “rich, stimulating, and written from the heart about the things he loved best..

    Selected Bibliography

    [partial bibliography:] Karasek, Alfred. Verzeichnis der Schriften von Josef Strzygowski. Klagenfur: A. Kollitsch, 1933; Orient oder Rom? Beiträge zur geschichte der Späantiken und frühchristlichen Kunst. Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1900; Hellas in des Orients Umarmung. Munich: Ullgemeinen Zeitung, 1902; Kleinasien: ein Neuland der Kunstgeschichte. Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1903; and Schulz, Bruno. “Mschatta, I: Bericht über die Aufnahme der Ruine.” and “II: Kunstwissenschaftliche Untersuchung.” Jahrbuch der preuszischen Kunstsammlungen 25 (1904): 205-373; and Berchem, Max van, and Bell, Gertrude Lowthian. Amida: Matériaux pour l’épigraphie et l’histoire musulmanes du Diyar-bekr. Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1910; Altai-Iran und Völkerwanderung: ziergeschichtliche Untersuchungen über den Eintritt der Wander- und Nordvölker in die Treibhäuser geistigen Lebens, anknüpfend an einen Schatzfund in Albanien. Leipzig: J.C. Hinrich, 1917; Die Baukunst der Armenien und Europa Ergebnisse einer vom Kunsthistorischen Institute der Universität Wien 1913 durchgeführten Forschungsreise. Vienna: A. Schroll & Co., 1918; Ursprung der christlichen Kirchenkunst: neue Tatsachen und Grundsätze der Kunstforschung: 8 Vorträge der Olaus Petri-Stiftung in Upsala. Leipzig: Hinrichs 1920; Die Krisis der Geisteswissenschaften: Vorgeführt am Beispiel der Forschung über bildende Kunst; Ein grundsätzlicher Rahmenversuch. Vienna: A. Schroll, 1923 [a Proto- Nazi work, Kleinbauer, Modern Perspectives, 23]; Origin of Christian Church Art: New Facts and Principles of Research. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923; “Grundsatzliches und Tatsachliches.” Die Kunstwissenschaft der Gegenwart, in Selbstdarstellungen. Edited by Johannes Jahn. Leipzig: 1924: 157-81; Early Church Art in Northern Europe with Special Reference to Timber Construction and Decoration. London: B.T. Batsford, 1928; Asiens bildende Kunst in Stichproben, ihr Wesen und ihre Entwicklung, ein Versuch. Augsburg: Dr. B. Filser, 1930; Aufgang des Nordens, Lebenskampf eines Kunstforschers um ein deutsches Weltbild. Leipzig: Schwarzhäupter-Verlag, 1936.


    Marquand, Allan. “Strzygowski and his Theory of Early Christian Art.” Harvard Theological Review (July 1910): 357-365; 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. 23; Watkin, David. The Rise of Architectural History. London: Architectural Press, 1980, p. 91; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 155, 165-171; Marchand, Suzanne. “The Rhetoric of Artifacts and the Decline of Classical Humanism: The Case of Josef Strzygowski.” in Grafton, Anthony, and Marchand, Suzanne L., eds., Proof and Persuasion in History. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1994, pp 117; Wharton, Annabel. “The Scholarly Frame: Orientalism and the Construction of Late Ancient Art History.” chapter 1 of Refiguring the Post Classical City. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 1-14; Edwin Lachnit, “Josef Strzygowski.” The Dictionary of Art 29: 795-6; Maranci, Christina. Medieval Armenian Architecture in Historiography: Josef Strzygowski and his Legacy. Dissertation, Princeton University, 1998, pp. 89-99; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 400-403; Maranci, Christina. Medieval Armenian Architecture: Constructions of Race and Nation. Sterling, VA: Peeters, 2000; Olin, Margaret. “Art History and Ideology: Alois Riegl and Josef Strzygowski.” in Gold, Penny Schein, and Sax, Benjamin C., eds. Cultural Visions: Essays on the History of Culture. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000, pp. 151-172; Elsner, Jaś. “The Birth of Late Antiquity: Riegl and Strzygowski in 1901.” Art History 25 no. 3 (2002): 358-79; [obituary:] Diez, Ernst. “Josef Strzygowski, Biographisches.” Felsefi Arkivi (Istanbul) 2 no. 1 (1947): 13-25;  Zäh, Alexander. “Strzygowski, Josef, Kunsthistoriker.” Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon XLI (2020) pp.1239-1246. STRZYGOWSKI, Josef, Kunsthistoriker,

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Strzygowski, Josef Rudolf Thomas." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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