University of Uppsala professor 1965-1977. Zeitler's parents were Eugen Zeitler (1880-1922), an engineer, and Elsa Kühn (Zeitler) (1884-1922). Both parents were killed in a mountaineering accident in Berchtesgaden when Zeitler was ten; he was subsequently raised by his maternal grandfather in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He attended the Cologne and Kaiserslautern high schools (gymnasium) graduating in 1930. The same year he began study of history and art history in Munich, Marburg (under Richard Hamann), and Berlin. Because his mother was a converted Jew, Zeitler was forced to flee Germany after Hitler's rise to power in 1933. He first fled to Czechoslovakia in that year continuing study in Prague. He was granted a Ph.D. in history from Prague in 1936, writing a dissertation on Sophicles and the polis under Victor Ehrenberg (1891-1976). In 1937, pending the annexation of that country to Germany, Zeitler moved to Sweden, teaching in the Gymnasium in Uppsala. Zeitler found a mentor in the Uppsala University art historian Gregor Paulsson, publishing a monograph on Albrecht Dürer in 1946. He married Hannelore Günthert (b. 1919), an historian, the following year. Zeitler published his habilitation, Klassizismus und Utopia, written under Paulsson, in 1954. He taught as a privatdozent until his appointment as professor at the University in 1964. Zeitler used his classical education write on the comparatively neglected area of nineteenth-century Neo-classicism. He edited Figura between 1965 and 1977. In 1966 he and Anders Éman published a ground-breaking volume on nineteenth-century art in the Propyläen Kunstgeschichte series. Unlike many earlier surveys, it treated Neo-classicism as a significant art movement and not simply a dry precursor to Realism and Impressionism. He emphasized artistic theory of the era as a way to understand the art, an approach critized by some was ignoring truly popular taste. Zeitler eschewed the emerging post-war Warburg-school tradition of Erwin Panofsky that used iconographical interpretation. Instead he approached the period as a characteristic, multinational expression of its particular time in history (Éman, NZZ 2005). Zeitler's most important book, Klassizismus und Utopia, emphasized Neo-classicism as the embodiment of significant bourgeois values, including utopian/dystopian views, which formed the basis for modern populist art. His rehabilitation of many neglected masterpieces of the years around 1800 marked an important revisionist approach to art history. His characterizing of the period as a dialectic, "Kontrasterlebnis" was adopted by other scholars of the nineteenth century, notably Werner Hofmann. He personally viewed his work as a continuation of the German-Jewish tradition of scholarship (Éman NZZ 2005).
28 April 1912
[bibliography to 1977] Johannesson, Lena. "Bibliographie Rudolf Zeitlers." in, Aufsätze zur Kunstwissenschaft. Tryck, Sweden: Offset Center, 1977, pp. 157-170; [dissertation:] Sophokles und die Polis. Prague, 1936; [habilitation:] Klassizismus und Utopia: Interpretationen zu Werken von David, Canova, Carstens, Thorwaldsen, Koch. Uppsala, published in Figura 5; edited. Les Pays du Nord et Byzance (Scandinavie et Byzance): actes du colloque nordique et international de byzantinologie tenu à Upsal 20-22 avril 1979. Uppsala: The University of Uppsala, 1981; and Éman, Anders. Die Kunst des 19. Jahrhunderts. Propyläen Kunstgeschichte 11. Berlin: Propyläen Verlag, 1966.
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. 806-809; Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris, 1993, pp. 191, 246; "Till Rudolf Zeitler." Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 56 no1 (1987): 1; [obituaries:] Éman, Anders. "Eine Frage des Ausdrucks: zum Tod des deutsch-jüdisches Kunsthistoriker Rudolf Zeitlers." Neue Zürcher Zeitung no. 41 February 18, 2005, p. 42; Éman, Anders. "Rudolf Zeitler--liv och konsthistoria." Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 74 no. 4 (2005): 194-197.