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Waetzoldt, Wilhelm

    Full Name: Waetzoldt, Wilhelm

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1880

    Date Died: 1945

    Place Born: Hamburg, Germany

    Place Died: Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany


    Halle professor of art history and Director General of the State Museums and Secretary in the Prussian Ministry of Culture 1927/1929-1933. Waetzoldt graduated from the Magdeburg “Unser Lieben Frauen” Gymnasium in 1899. He began studying philology, philosophy, literature and history at the universities of Berlin, Magdeburg and Hamburg. In 1903, he was awarded his Ph.D. from Berlin with a dissertation written on the philosphy of the dramatist Friedrich Hebbel (1813-1863), written under Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). In 1901 he began studying art history, first under the medievalist Adolph Goldschmidt and then, more significantly, under Heinrich Wölfflin, whose Berlin art history institute Waetzoldt ran for all the year Wölfflin was in Berlin (1901-1912). Literature, however, was Waeztoldt’s primary publishing interest during these years. During the 1908-1909 year, he worked under a stipend (arranged by Berlin Museums director Wilhelm Bode) as an assistant at the Kunsthistorisches Institute in Florence. Following that, Waetzoldt moved to Hamburg to assist the independent art scholar Aby M. Warburg in running his magnificent library. This experience gave him entre in 1911 as Keeper of the library of the State Museums of Berlin, again called by Bode. In 1912 Waetzoldt was appointed Professor of Modern Art History at the University of Halle, replacing his mentor Goldschmidt. During the First World War, the 34-year-old Waetzoldt served as a reservist in the German army; his missions included the dangerous western front, fighting in the Battle of Soissons, and rising to the rank of lieutenant. Twice wounded, he was awarded the Iron Cross, second class in 1916 and returned to lecturing at Halle. In 1920 Waetzoldt was assigned to the Preußischen Kultusministerium (Prussian Ministry of Culture). He published an important biographical art historiography, Deutsche Kunsthistoriker during this time. In 1927 he was appointed Director General of the State Museums of Berlin. His tenure included the new building of the Pergamon Museum. He was named a Senator of the Preußischen Akademie der Künste (Prussian Academy of Arts) in 1929. The rise to power of the Nazis in 1933 meant trouble for Waetzoldt. He witnessed the mismissal of director of the National Gallery, Ludwig Justi for supporting modern art and the forced retirement of the director Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Max J. Friedländer, for being Jewish. The government accused Waetzoldt of fostering degenerate, i.e., modern art (“Entarteten Kunst”), financial irregularities, and the promotion Jews. Waeztoldt refused to join the NSDAP ( Nazi party), and returned to his Ordinarius professorship at Halle. There he acted as Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy between 1938 and 1940 and appointed honorary professor at the University of Berlin. During his final years, Waetzoldt produced less scholarly and more popular works fitting into the Nazi conception of German art, books on Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein. His vademecum, Du und die Kunst (You and Art) was given a special printing and distributed to the Hitler Youth. He died shortly before the conclusion of the war. Waetzoldt’s son was Stephan Waetzoldt Director of the Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz. His Halle students included Oskar Hagen. As an art historiographer Waetzoldt stood in the tradition of Ernst Heidrich Beiträge zur Geschichte und Methode der Kunstgeschichte (1917) and Julius Alwin von Schlosser Die Kunstliteratur (1924) and “Stilgeschichte” und “Sprachgeschichte” in der bildenden Kunst (1935), whom he dedicated his Deutsche Kunsthistoriker. His predecessors included Hans Hermann Russack Der Begriff des Rhythmus bei den deutschen Kunsthistorikern des XIX. Jahrhunderts (1910); Rudolf Kautzsch Der Begriff der Entwicklung in der Kunstgeschichte (1917); and Johannes Jahn Die Kunstwissenschaft der Gegenwert in Sebstdarstellung (1924).

    Selected Bibliography

    [complete bibliography (to 1940):] Deutschland – Italien: Beiträge zu de Kulturbeziehungen zwischen Norden und Süden: Festschrift für Wilhelm Waetzoldt. Berlin: G. Grote, 1941, pp. xx-xxxvi; [dissertation:] Hebbel und die Philosophie seiner Zeit. Berlin, 1903, issued, Gräfenhainichen: Druck von W. Hecker,1903; Deutsche Kunsthistoriker vom Sandrart bis Justi. 2 vols. Leipzig: E. A. Seeman, 1921-24.


    Wölfflin, Heinrich. Heinrich Wölfflin, 1864-1945: Autobiographie, Tagebücher und Briefe. Joseph Ganter, ed. 2nd ed. Basel: Schwabe & Co., 1984, p. 503; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. 2nd ed. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2007, pp. 472-475.


    "Waetzoldt, Wilhelm." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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