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Rudolf Wittkower

(1901—1971) art historian


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(1901–71).

German-born architectural historian. Educated in Berlin and Munich, he spent from 1923 to 1933 at the Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome, where he worked with the Director, E. Steinmann, on an annotated bibliography of Michelangelo (1927) and acquired his unrivalled knowledge of Italian art and architecture. As a result of his studies he published (with Heinrich Friedrich Ferdinand Brauer (1899– )) the important catalogue of Bernini's drawings (1931), which was to prepare the ground for his Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1955—with subsequent editions). It was while working on Bernini that he turned his attention to the study of architecture, publishing a learned paper on Michelangelo's dome of St Peter's (1933, 1964), and followed this with a study of the Laurentian Library, Florence (1934, 1978), in which he discussed Mannerism and architecture. A British subject through his British-born father, Henry, he settled in London, where he was (1934–56) a member of staff at the Warburg Institute, and co-edited (1937–56) the Warburg Journal, publishing many papers, and produced a study of Rainaldi (1937), which discussed centralized Roman Baroque church architecture. Further work on Alberti (1941) and Palladio (1944) gathered material that led to his Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (1949), which made an immediate and lasting impact on future studies, not least because it disposed of the purely aesthetic theory of Renaissance architecture, a notion that had crippled previous work. It showed (among other things) the importance of modular systems during the Renaissance, and especially in the works of Palladio. It also examined centrally planned Renaissance churches and their meaning in Christian symbolism, as well as the system known as Harmonic Proportion in architecture. For the Pelican History of Art series he wrote Art and Architecture in Italy (1958, with subsequent editions). He added to knowledge of the Baroque period with Baroque Art: The Jesuit Contribution (1972—which he edited with Irma Blumenthal Jaffé (c. 1920– ) ) and Studies in Italian Baroque (1975). With Friedrich ‘Fritz’ Saxl (1890–1948) he wrote British Art and the Mediterranean, first published by the Warburg Institute (1948), which showed the debt owed to Italy and France by British art and architecture. His Palladio and English Palladianism (1974) was a tantalizing foretaste of what might have been his greatest book, a study of Burlington, which he never finished. He was Professor at Columbia University, NYC (1956–69), where, in the words of Pevsner (some of whose views and associates rankled with him), his regime was exacting but generous.

Architectural Review, cli/899 (Jan. 1972), 63;Fraser, Hibbard, & Lewine (eds.) (1967);Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);Wittkower (1964, 1974, 1974a, 1975, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1998);Wittkower & Brauer (1970);Wittkower & Jaffé (eds.) (1972);Wittkower & Saxl (eds.) (1969)

Subjects: Architecture.



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