Erwin Panofsky


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(b Hanover, 30 Mar. 1892; d Princeton, 14 Mar. 1968).

German-American art historian, a professor at Hamburg University 1926–33, until dismissed by the Nazis. In 1934 he settled in the USA, where he had been a visiting professor at New York since 1931, and was then visiting professor at Princeton University, 1934–5, and from 1935 professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. Kenneth Clark described him as ‘unquestionably the greatest art historian of his time’, and he is renowned particularly for his immensely learned contributions to the study of iconography. His books include Studies in Iconology (1939), Albrecht Dürer (1943), Early Netherlandish Painting (1953), and Tomb Sculpture (1964). Panofsky enjoyed teaching and was influential through his work in the classroom and lecture hall as well as through his writings. Many scholars have tried to emulate his way of analysing works of art as part of a broad philosophical, intellectual, and cultural pattern, but few have rivalled his learning or finesse, and some of his followers have been accused of ‘over-interpreting’ pictures in their desire to uncover ‘hidden symbolism’.

Subjects: Art — Philosophy.

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