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Waagen, Gustav Friedrich

    Full Name: Waagen, Gustav Friedrich

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1797

    Date Died: 1868

    Place Born: Hamburg, Germany

    Place Died: Copenhagen, Hovedstaden, Denmark

    Home Country/ies: Germany


    Director of the Berlin Gemäldegalerie1830, and first professor of art history in Berlin; leader of the so-called Berlin School of art history. Waagen’s father was the painter Christian Friedrich Waagen (b. 1750) and mother was Johanna Luise Alberti (Waagen) (d.1807). The young Waagen was taken taken to art galleries as early as Dresden in 1801. His uncle was the romantic novelist Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853). Waagen attended the Gymnasium in Hirschberg, (Silesia) Germany. He spent a lengthy period in Rome with the German artists community living in there, including Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Joseph Anton Koch and J. F. Overbeck before his formal schooling. He volunteered in the Prussian army in 1813 to fight Napoleon and at his defeat in 1815, spent time in the Musée Napoléon, studying treasures before their repatriation. He began academic study at the university of Breslau (modern Poland) studying history, philosophy and philology in 1815 under the historian and Friedrich von Raumer (1781-1873). In 1818 he moved to Heidelberg where he studied the art collection of the brothers Sulpiz Boisserée and Melchior Boisserée. At Heidelberg he studied under the historians Friedrich Christoph Schlosser and the philologist Georg Friedrich Creuzer. He graduated with a degree in History in 1819 from Breslau. Throughout his career, the assistance of his friend and mentor Karl Friedrich von Rumohr introduced through his uncle, would be essential. Waagen visited Cologne, Aachen and the Netherlands after graduation (also in 1819), collecting material for a book on the van Eyck brothers. The work, über Hubrecht und Johann Van Eyck, 1822, was the first catalogue raisonné of painters. It also reevaluated the painting of the northern renaissance, which had been relegated to second-rate status through most of the eighteenth century. Waagen settled Munich 1820-23 before returning to Berlin to assist with the plans for comprehensive art museum akin to Paris, Munich and Dresden. In 1821 he assisted the purchase, together with Hirt and Rumohr, of the spectacular Edward Solly Collection (677 works). In 1824 he and the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel visited Rome to study museums. A commission, headed by Wilhelm von Humbold and comprising Aloys Hirt and Rumohr among others was set up. When Humbold relinquished his duties as head of the committee, Rumohr nominated Waagen to head it. Waagen took charge of the Königliche Gemäldegalerie (Royal Paintings gallery) in 1830. He set about immediately issuing the first catalog of the collections. He married Blandine von Seehausen (1811-1880) in 1831. In 1833 he published his essays on Rubens, staunchly defending the baroque era and comparing Rubens to Beethoven. The book appeared in an English translation edited by Anna Jameson. In 1836 published his Kunstwerke und Künstler in England and Paris, the first attempt at survey of English art by any art historian. Always the exponent for the northern renaissance, Waagen published his second art-historical milestone, Handbuch der deutschen und niederländische Malerschulen which was translated into English and French. Waagen’s acquisitions for the Gemäldegalerie, many done with the likely advice of Rumohr, were spectacular. Waagen was a voracious traveler, in part through a discontent with the Prussian administration. He compiled large surveys of art of many European countries. In 1839 Waagen was the object of a public quarrel with the acting General Director of the Prussian Museums, Ignaz von Olfers (1793-1872). A work of Andrea del Sarto had been disastrously cleaned during one of Waagen’s many absences. The matter was only resolved in the Prussian senate. Waagen acquired a further 104 paintings acquired for the museum in Italy 1842. In 1844 Waagen was named “Professor of Modern Art History” at the University of Berlin, the first time art history was formally acknowledged as a university discipline. Waagen retained a particularly strong connection with England. He contributed, with G. B. Cavalcaselle and Johann David Passavant, to the catalog for the city of Liverpool Gallery, commissioned by Charles Lock Eastlake in 1850. In 1853, he examined the Berlin (later Darmstadt) version of Hans Holbein’s Burgomeister Meyer Madonna, now known to be the original. His opinion came to be part of the body of critical opinion considered in the so-called “Holbein convention” held in 1871. In 1854 he cataloged Prince Albert’s collection recently acquired from Prince Ludwig-Kraft-Ernst von Oetingen Wallerstein. He was reputedly considered the Prince’s choice to lead the National Gallery and was on personal terms with Eastlake, now its director, and Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake, who translated his book Treasures of Art in Great Britain (1854-57). He died suddenly while visiting Copenhagen and is buried in the Assistenz-Friedhof there. Julius Meyer succeeded him as director of the Gemäldegalerie. Waagen’s pre-eminence for art history lies in his conviction of the discipline. His book on the van Eyck was both the first monograph on either brother as well as the first catalogue raisonné of an individual painter. Unlike previous writers on art history, Waagen worked for a serious factual account of his artists. He was eager to disprove the legends surrounding the van Eycks, beginning with Vasari’s assertion that the invention of oil painting began with them. His catalogue raisonné arose from the need to establish a chronology of their work for future art historians to use (or modify) and to place them their work within the context of their contemporaries. Waagen also included spurious works in the catalog, envisioning the usefulness for collectors. He had a profound appreciation for the advances in connoisseurship that the Storia Pittorica of Luigi Antonio Lanzi had brought. His Kunstwerke und Künstler in England und Paris was greatly influenced by Passavant’s Kunstreise (1833). His personal tastes were of the time: he deplored Caravaggio as “low” and some contemporary work such as Turner and Fuseli. Together with Rumohr, he is seen as an early exponent of contextualizing art history of Renaissance artists. Waagen (preceded only by Franz Kugler, two years earlier) was among the first to use both the terms “Carolingian” and Ottonian for the unique style of Romanesque art first observed by Johann Dominico Fiorillo. Waagen’s “Ottonian art” concept emphasized its revival of antique modes following the Carolingian renaissance.

    Selected Bibliography

    über Hubert und Johann Van Eyck. Breslau: J. Max, 1822; Kunstwerke und Künstler in England and Paris. Berlin: 1837, English, [first two volumes only] Works of Art and Artists in England. London: J. Murray, 1838; Kunstwerke und Künstler in Deutschland. 2 vols. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1843-1845; Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Illuminated Mss., &c., &c. 3 vols and index. London: J. Murray, 1854; Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of More than Forty Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Mss., &c. &c. Visited in 1854 and 1856, and Now for the First Time Described. London: J. Murray, 1857; Verzeichniss der Gemälde-Sammlung des am 18. Januar 1861 zu Berlin verstorbenen königlichen schwedischen und norwesgishcen Konsuls J. H. W. Wagener, welche durch letztwillige Bestimmung in den Besitz seiner Majestät des Königs übergegangen ist. Berlin: R. Decker, 1861; Handbuch der deutschen und niederländsichen Malerschulen. Stuttgart: Ebner & Seubert, 1862; edited new edition, with Crowe, Joseph Archer. Kugler, Franz. Handbook of Painting: the German, Flemish and Dutch Schools: Based on the Handbook of Kugler. London: J. Murray 1874; and Woltmann, Alfred. Kleine Schriften: Mit einer biographischen Skizze und dem Bildniss des Verfassers. Stuttgart: Ebner & Seubert, 1875.


    Waagen, Gustav. Kleine Schriften: Mit einer biographischen Skizze und dem Bildniss des Verfassers. Stuttgart: Ebner & Seubert, 1875; Waetzoldt, Wilhelm. Deutsche Kunsthistoriker vom Sandrart bis Justi. 2 vols in 1. Berlin: Bruno Hessling, 1965, pp. (2) 29-45; Salerno, Luigi. “Historiography.” Encyclopedia of World Art. 7: 523, mentioned; Lightbown, Ronald W. “An Introduction to the 1970 Edition.” in, Waagen, Gustav. Works of Art and Artists in England. [facsimile reprint.] 3 vols. London: Cornmarket Press, 1970: unpaginated, 1 [i-ix]; Bickendorf, Gabriele. Der Beginn der Kunstgeschichtsschreibung unter dem Paradigma “Geschichte” : Gustav Friedrich Waagens Frühschrift “Ueber Hubert und Johann van Eyck”. Worms, Germany: Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1985; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 131, 528; Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris, 1993, p. 145; Schwarzer, Mitchell. “Origins of the Art History Survey Text.” Art Journal 54 (Fall 1995): 24-5; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 436-9.


    "Waagen, Gustav Friedrich." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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