(b Freiburg im Breisgau, 30 June 1854; d Athens, 10 Oct 1907).
German archaeologist. His pioneering work transformed the study of Greek art from dependence on literary sources into a discipline based on a comprehensive knowledge of artefacts. Furtwängler was descended from a Black Forest family of peasants, wood-carvers and clockmakers; he attended Freiburg school, where his father was headmaster, studied Classics at Freiburg and Leipzig, and Classical archaeology under Heinrich Brunn (1822–94), the first professor of the subject at Munich. At the newly established Deutsches Archäologisches Institut at Rome (1877–8), he acquired mastery of the vast quantity of Greco-Roman sculpture in Italian collections. In Greece (1878–9) he studied original Greek artefacts, plentifully unearthed in recent excavations. He and Georg Loeschke (1852–1915) classified and published the pottery excavated by Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae. Furtwängler's work on 14,150 small bronzes from Olympia culminated in his authoritative fourth volume of the German excavation reports (1890). As museum assistant in Berlin (1880–94), he visited every European museum and handled innumerable Greek artefacts. His catalogue of the Berlin vases (1885) laid the foundations of the history of Greek vase painting. His influential Meisterwerke der griechischen Plastik (1893; Eng. trans., 1895) followed the hypothesis—now challenged—that the multifarious sculptures of the Roman period were copies of Classical Greek masterpieces, lost but attested in literature. His work on ancient gems (1900), based on examination of over 50,000 dispersed items, clarified a previously intractable subject. Succeeding Brunn as professor in Munich (1894), he also ran three museums there, including the Glyptothek, where he recognized the erroneousness of Bertel Thorvaldsen's reconstruction (1830) of the pedimental sculpture from the Temple of Aphaia on Aigina (Munich, Glyp.): Furtwängler's excavations on Aigina (1901–7) enabled him to reconstruct the pediments correctly. He died of dysentery contracted on Aigina. The conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886–1954) was his son.
From The Grove Encyclopedia of Classical Art and Architecture in Oxford Reference.