Skip to content

Wind, Edgar

    Full Name: Wind, Edgar

    Other Names:

    • Edgar Wind

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 14 May 1900

    Date Died: 12 September 1971

    Place Born: Berlin, Germany

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): iconography and Renaissance


    Iconologist specializing in the Renaissance era; and interdisciplinary art historian; first professor of art history at Oxford University. Wind was the second son of Maurice Delmar Wind (d. 1914), an Argentinian businessman of Russian Jewish ancestry, and Laura Szilard (d. 1947), a Romanian who, through marriage was related to the art historian Henri Focillon. Wind learned classical languages along with French, English, and his native German at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Schule, a humanistisches Gymnasium in Charlottenburg. He jointly studied philosophy and art history at various German-language universities: three semesters in Berlin under Adolph Goldschmidt, one in Freiburg with Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), and Vienna with Max Dvořák, Julius Alwin von Schlosser, and Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski. In 1920 he moved to the new university in Hamburg (begun in 1919) where he was the first student to write a dissertation under Erwin Panofsky, then a 28-year-old privatdozent; his dissertation was also supervised by the philosopher/art historian Ernst Cassirer. His topic was on art-historical method. To escape the economic depression gripping Germany, Wind traveled to New York in 1924, initially staying with a cousin. He was appointed Graham Kenan Fellow in philosophy at the University of North Carolina, teaching there 1925-1927. Returning to Hamburg, Wind took a job as a research assistant at the Warburg Library, and wrote his habilitation under Cassirer in philosophy, employing the philosophy of Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914), whose work he had read in America. Wind’s initial methodological influence had been that of Cassirer through Panofsky, but his close personal relationship with Aby M. Warburg brought him nearer to the “cultural history” approach of Warburg as well as the work of Pierce. Wind became a privatdozent at Hamburg, 1930-1933. With the advent of Nazism in Germany, Wind, a Jew, played a key role in moving the Warburg library to London along with himself and, with Rudolf Wittkower, founded the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute in 1937. He himself was forced to emingrate because of his religious heritage. Throughout the second World War, Wind taught at universities in the United States, first as a temporary facult at New York University, 1940-1942 and then at the University of Chicago, 1942-1944 under President Robert Manard Hutchins. This was during the time of Huchin’s great reforms at Chicago where schools were formed around “committee” of interdisciplinary pursuit and Wind’s method mirrored Hutchin’s idea. However Wind proved a lightning rod for the president’s model and the art historian left for Smith College 1944 where he remained until 1955. It was during this time that he married Margaret Kellner in 1942. In 1954 Wind was asked to deliver the Chichele Lectures at All Souls College, Oxford, on the topic “Art and Scholarship under Julius II.” These resulted in a 1955 appointment as the first Professorship of art history at Oxford (under the Faculty of Modern History). Wind delivered public lectures (his lecturing style was noted by nearly everyone as enthralling), inspiring among other the artist Ronald B. Kitaj (1932-2007) who was studying at the Ruskin School. In 1960 Wind delivered radio lectures for the BBC, the Reith lectures, which later became his book Art and Anarchy. His Oxford colleagues had difficulty appreciating Wind’s philosophical propensities, his adulation of Cassirer and the post-Hegelians (McConica). At Oxford he garnered the support of the classicist Richard Livingstone (1880-1960) (soon to be president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford) the medievalist Ernest Jacob (1894-1971), Chichele chair for medieval history at All Souls College, and the classicist C. Maurice Bowra (1898-1971) of Wadham College. Among art historians, Wind also enjoyed the friendship of Jean Seznec, who occupied the Marshall Foch Chair for French literature at All Souls College. Wind retired emeritus from Oxford in 1967.

    Though Wind was considered a classicist and Renaissance expert, he staunchly defended modern art, unlike many of his colleagues. Wind’s name is most closely connected with his research in allegory and the use of pagan mythology during the 15th-16th centuries and his book of essays on the topic, Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance. In Art and Anarchy, Wind argued that the height of art’s powers to portray an idea had occurred in the Renaissance. The Romantic era’s distrust that knowledge interfered with imagination had destroyed the acumen in modern viewers. Wind fits no traditional academic classification and is one of the prime examples of the intellectual tradition of Warburg’s blend of mythological/psychological approach to art history. One of his students, William S. Heckscher, referred to Wind as a “magician” for his brilliance as an art historian. His papers are housed at Oxford. Wind’s paper are held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation] ästhetischer und kunstwissenschaftlicher Gegenstand: ein Beitrag zur Methodologie der Kunstgeschichte. Hamburg, 1922. Partially reprinted as: “Zur systematik der künstlerischen Probleme.” Zeitschrift für ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft 18 (1924): 438-86. and 25 (1931): 163-68 [Beilageheft]; [habilitationschrift] Das experiment und die metaphysik; zur auflösung der kosmologischen antinomien. Tübingen: Mohr, 1934; Bellini’s Feast of the Gods: A Stidy in Venetian Humanism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1948; “The Revolution of History Painting.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 2 (1938-9): 116-27; Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance. London: Faber & Faber, 1958; Art and Anarchy. London: 1963; “Michelangelo’s Prophets and Sibyls.” Proceedings of the British Academy 51 (1965): 47-84; Giorgione’s Tempesta with Comments on Giorgione’s Poetic Allegories. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969; Hume and the Heroic Portrait: Studies in Eighteenth-century Imagery. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986; The Religious Symbolism of Michelangelo: the Sistine Ceiling. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.  Papers, “Edgar Wind Papers”  Bodleian Library, University of Oxford


    Eisler, Colin. “Kunstgeschichte American Style: A Study in Migration.” In The Intellectual Migration: Europe and America: 1930-1960. Edited by Donald Fleming and Bernard Bailyn. Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1969, p. 618; 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, pp. 63, 34 n. 72, 45 n. 90, 63 n. 1445; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 78; Gilbert, Creighton.”Edgar Wind as Man and Thinker” New Criterion 3 no. 2 (October 1984): 36-41; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire d l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 227;  Lloyd-Jones, Hugh. “Biographical memoir.” in, The Eloquence of Symbol: Studies in Humanist Art. Rev. ed., Oxford: Clarendon, 1993; James McConica. “Edgar Winds Oxforder Jahre” in Edgar Wind: Kunsthistoriker und Philosoph. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1998, pp. 3-9;  Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 474-477; The Dictionary of Art 33: 242-3; 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. 774-779; Sears, Elizabeth. “Edgar Wind on Michelangelo.” in, Wind, Edgar. The Religious Symbolism of Michelangelo: the Sistine Ceiling. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000; Kitaj, Ronald B. Confessions of an Old Jewish Painter: Autobiography.  Munich: Schirmer Mosel, 2017; Thomas, Ben. “Edgard Wind, a Brief Biography.” 20Thomas 20Edgar 20Wind.pdf;  [obituary:] “Edgar Wind Dies: Art Historian.” New York Times. September 18, 1971, p. 32.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Wind, Edgar." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: