Volbach, Fritz

Full Name
Volbach, Fritz
Other Names
Fritz Volbach
Date Born
28 August 1892
Date Died
23 December 1988
Place Born
Place Died
Home Country
Subject Area

Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Berlin director, professor and scholar of early Christian art. Volbach's father was Friedrich ("Fritz") Volbach, a professor and orchestra conductor. The younger Volbach attended school in Mainz and Bensheim, receiving his abitur in 1911. After graduation, he volunteered at the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmusem (Roman antiquities museum) in Mainz 1911 and 1915. He further volunteered at the Landesmuseum in Wiesbaden, reinstalling the collection when the director was killed in World War I. During this same period, Volbach studied archaeology, art history and medieval history at the universities of Munich, Berlin (under Adolph Goldschmidt), Tübingen (under Konrad von Lange) and finally Gießen (Giessen) under Christian Rauch. He wrote his dissertation in 1916 under Rauch at Giessen on the topic of the figure of St. George in medieval German art. The Kaiser-Friedrich Museum director Wilhelm Bode hired him for his museum in 1917. With Georg Vitzthum von Eckstädt he authored the Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft volume on Italian medieval art. At the Museum he collaborated with Ernst F. Bange (1893-?) and Theodor Demmler on the catalog for the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. During this time he became a founding member and lecturer at the Volkshochschule in Berlin. Volbach was interested in the contemporary art scene in Berlin and knew many of Die Brücke German Expressionists. He married Maria Luise Adelung (d. 1936) in 1928. The same year he met the Byzantinist Georges Duthuit. In 1929 he was raised to curator (Kustos) and in 1930 head of the Early Christian and medieval Italian collection. He, Duthuit and Georges Salles collaborated on a book on Byzantine art in 1933. He was named professor in 1933 at the Volkshochschule but the same year determined to be "non-Aryan" (Volbach's mother was of Jewish extraction) by the new Nazi government. He and his wife, both practicing Roman Catholics, immigrated to the Vatican City in 1934. There he worked in the Vatican library and as a professor at the Papal Institute for Christian Archaeology. Volbach participated on anti-fascist committees with C. B. Todd and Ludwig Muckermann. He returned to Germany after the War in 1946. In 1948 he married a second time to Australian writer Vivyan Eyles (b. 1910), only recently divorced the writer and art historian Mario Praz. He was appointed the director of the antiquities museum in Mainz. He retired in 1958, mounting a show on Coptic Christian art at the Villa Hügel in Essen in 1963. He collaborated with Jean Hubert and Jean Porcher in the important L'Univers des formes art-history series, L'Europe des invasions in 1967 and and volume three of the Propyläen Kunstgeschichte series.

Selected Bibliography
[dissertation:] Die Darstellung des hl. Georg zu Pferd in der deutschen Kunst des Mittelalters. Giessen, 1916, published, Strassburg, 1917;and Vitzthum, Georg, Graf. Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft Die malerei und plastik des mittelalters in Italien. Wildpark-Potsdam: Akademische verlagsgesellschaft Athenaion, 1924;and Bange, Ernst F., and Demmler, Theodor. Die Bildwerke des deutschen Museums. 4 vols. Berlin: W. De Gruyter, 1923-1930;and Wulff, Oskar. Spätantike und koptische Stoffe aus ägyptischen Grabfunden in den Staatlichen Museen, Kaiser-Friedrich-museum, Àgyptisches Museum, Schliemann-Sammlung. Berlin: E. Wasmuth, 1926;and Duthuit, Georges, and Salles, Georges. Art byzantin; cent planches reproduisant un grand nombre de pièces choisies parmi les plus représentatives des diverses. Paris: A. Lévy, 1933;Elfenbeinarbeiten der Spätantike und des frühen Mittelalters. Mainz: Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum: Mainz, 1952;and Hubert, Jean, and Porcher, Jean. L'Europe des invasions. L'Univers des formes 12. Paris: Gallimard, 1967, English, Europe of the Invasions. New York: G. Braziller, 1969 (British title, Europe in the Dark Ages);Byzanz und der christliche Osten. Propyläen Kunstgeschichte 3. Berlin: Propyläen Verlag, 1968; and Hubert, Jean, and Porcher, Jean. L'Empire carolingien. L'Univers des formes 13. Paris: Gallimard, 1968, English, The Carolingian Renaissance. New York: G. Braziller, 1970;
Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 431-33; 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.716-723.