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Review R20040315e

Contact: Dr. Heinrich C. Kuhn (hck@lrz.uni-muenchen.de)
Document created: 2004-03-15
Last update: 2011-05-02


Item reviewed:

Panofsky, Erwin
Wuttke, Dieter (ed.)

Korrespondenz 1937 bis 1949
Wiesbaden [Harrassowitz] 2003
XXVIII, 1363 p. : Ill.
ISBN: 3-447-04564-7
Series:Korrespondenz 1910 bis 1968 : eine kommentierte Auswahl in fünf Bänden ; 2

Price: EUR 180

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This title was reviewed by: Gabriele Sprigath

Item arrived at GGREN on: 2004-01-07
Review was finished on: 2004-03-15
Nota bene: This review was translated into English by Randy Perry. The German text of this review is available too … . Cf. etiam: the Review of the first volume of Wuttke's edition of the Panofsky correspondence.


The Review

Volume II of Erwin Panofsky’s selected correspondence is now available — two years after the publication of Volume I. This seminal contribution to the systematic study of the history of American and German art historiography, a discipline still in its infancy, includes 762 letters and other documents.

In his introduction, the editor, Dieter Wuttke, provides statistics and a commentary on the issues raised in Panofsky’s correspondence between 1937 and 1949. Only slightly more than four percent of the 1,423 letters and documents assembled in the first two volumes of correspondence have been previously accessible to scholars (p. IX). Once again, Wuttke stresses that the main aim of his selection is "to assist further research by laying a broad base and providing a wide variety of ideas and suggestions. All those with specialized interests in the subject are encouraged to supplement the materials and commentaries themselves in accordance with their own needs (p. XI)." A comprehensive, easy-to-use critical apparatus comprising appendices and indexes is admirably designed to assist them in this endeavor.

Wuttke applies the same principle he enunciated in Volume I: "Editing is interpretation". As a result, he has had to adopt, he says, a position of "sensitive openness" vis-à-vis his own conception of Erwin Panofsky’s personality and circumstances in order "not to abet his own or others’ preconceived opinions on the subject." (p. XI) Wuttke uses the letters, which he has selected on the basis of "a liberal definition of what constitutes a letter" (Volume I, p. XL), and related documents to present a picture — imbedded in the events of 1937 to 1949 — of a polymath whose correspondence has "the character of an independent oeuvre" (Volume II, p. IX).

The existence of some 27,000 letters indicates that Panofsky cultivated letter writing as a means of self-representation. For this very reason, his correspondence documents a unique range of topics, including facets of his personality that were previously unknown. But even those letters in which the scholar discusses art-historical issues with his colleagues do not yet give them the character of an "independent oeuvre". The "oeuvre character" of the correspondence is Wuttke’s creation, derived from his own editorial principles (see above). Volumes I and II read, in fact, like a biographical novel composed by Dieter Wuttke in honor of his hero Erwin Panofsky: unusually enthralling as an overall representation intertwining life’s public and private spheres in a wide variety of ways and reaching into the depths, a representation corresponding to the type of novel that, according to Hermann Broch, is appropriate for today’s "overcomplex world" ;.[1]

Since 1931, Panofsky had become well-acquainted with day-to-day struggle for survival on the American academic market (November 22, 1937: No. 676, p. 83) — a struggle that intensified following his official emigration in 1934 .[2] But from October 1935 — when, at the age of 43, he assumed the professorship created for him at the Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) in Princeton — until 1949, his career soared toward its apogee. In April 1943, Panofsky joined the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia (No. 896). In 1946, he was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Amsterdam and in April 1947 an honorary doctorate at Princeton University. In January 1947, he was appointed to the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship of Poetry, which had been established at Harvard University in 1925 (No. 1,126) — an honor whose previous recipients included artists like the composers Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith and Igor Stravinsky and the writers T.S. Eliot and Thornton Wilder .[3] This was, wrote Dora Panofsky to their son Wolfgang and daughter-in-law Adèle (No. 1,132: February 11, 1947, p. 797), "a great honor, the nearest to a Noble prize in our field in this country" — to which "Pan" added with more modesty that Dora’s claim was "somewhat exaggerated, but it is a nice, and, in a sense, fantastic thing. Norton was the first man to give lectures on art in this country (in a university, that is), intermixed with others on literature" (ibid ).[4] Like his acceptance of the Princeton doctorate (No. 1,128: January 30, 1947), his letter of thanks (No. 1,126: January 25, 1947) includes a favorite expression, the Ciceronian phrase "utinam dignus essem".[5]

In the 13 years covered by the documents in Volume II, the School of Humanistic Studies, established at Princeton at the same time as Panofsky’s professorship, developed into the world’s foremost center for the study of the humanities. In addition to performing his teaching duties, Panofsky published four famous monographs during this period: Studies in Iconology (1939), The Codex Huyghens and Leonardo da Vinci’s Art Theory (1940), Albrecht Dürer (1943) and Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St.-Denis and its Art Treasures (1946). These publications as well as a large number of shorter papers (Appendix C) written during the same years were the fruit of teaching activities at a variety of institutions within the American college system, which is organized along completely different lines than its European counterpart. They represent, consequently, the results of a symbiosis of research and teaching that is typical of the American model. Panofsky considered it part of his mission as an art historian to be generally comprehensible. From time to time, he referred to the difficulties he encountered in this respect (No. 746: January 19, 1939): "[…] to give a good popular lecture is perhaps the most difficult thing in the world." (p. 182)[6]

Panofsky also demonstrated an interest in other aspects of "the popular". For example, in a previously unknown letter to John E. Abbott (the Film Library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York), he reflected on the relationship between music and picturalization and their combination in animated cartoons such as Walt Disney’s "Fantasia", which he had recently seen (No. 811: November 15, 1940 ).[7] The text of the letter is an essay in epistolary form on the new medium of film — Panofsky’s second treatment of the subject, the first having been written in 1937 and a third still to come in 1947 .[8]

The importance of Panofsky’s essay "Renaissance and renascences", published in the "Kenyon Review" in 1944, as a prelude to his book Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art, which appeared in 1960, should be noted .[9] In the fall of 1943, Panofsky addressed a symposium on the topic at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York. The aim of the symposium was to provide the American Historical Association’s "Renaissance session" on "Tradition and Innovation in Fifteenth Century Italy", which had been held in Chicago on December 29, 1941, with a complementary, art historical perspective .[10] In "Renaissance and renascences", Panofsky takes issue with an article published in the "Journal of the History of Ideas" of January 1943 by the historian of science Lynn Thorndike calling into question the very existence of the Renaissance as a distinct historical period (No. 922: December 14, 1943, p. 435 ).[11] Although never expressly referring to this fact, these events were all part of a general debate on the meaning of the terms "Middle Ages" and "Renaissance" which had been rekindled in 1927 by C.H. Haskin’s book The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century. [12]

The material provided in Volume II also casts a strong light on the meaning and function of the term "humanities" as it was used in American universities within the political context existing before and after the Second World War. The contribution made by scholars like Erwin Panofsky and his students, by Paul Oskar Kristeller, by Hans Baron and others who had fled to the U.S. to escape German fascism, still remains to be investigated. Lynn Thorndike’s name crops up again in connection with Hans Baron. Recommending Baron for a job, Panofsky remarks (No. 1,195: March 3, 1948): "As to his scholarship, I can say with the best of consciences that he is one of the best men in the field of Renaissance Studies. I know that certain people, such as Lynn Thorndike, have tried to blacken his name; but this is, in my opinion, due to anti-Semitic and pro-Fascist views for which Mr. T. is well known. Everything that Baron has written shows excellent knowledge of the sources and a keen and constructive mind" (p. 905).

In his "Report on the Activities at the Institute for Advanced Study in the History of Art", written in 1941 (No. 823 B: April 15, 1941, p. 287- 94), Panofsky outlined the position that art history ought to occupy within the humanities: following the Report (I) comes a section on methodical principles (II), drawn from his essay "The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline" (first edition 1938, second edition 1940), and reflections on educational policy (III ).[13] Panofsky defines art works as "documents of human civilization, [which are] all the more so because the basic tendencies of the human mind express themselves more directly and unequivocally in works of art than in textual sources which are either of a purely factual character, or tend to subject those basic experiences to a process or rationalization" (ibid, p. 289). He observes that art historiography "began to suffer from a curious inhomogeneity of approach, to wit: connoisseurship (limiting itself to the ascertaining of condition, date, place, and authorship), iconography, and formal analysis" (ibid, p. 289). He is, he says, one of those whose aim is to combine these three approaches.

Panofsky’s report was to contribute eventually to the formulation of the "Statement on the Place of the History of Art in the Liberal Arts Curriculum" (No. 938: pp. 459-64), which was published in April 1944 by the College Art Association (CAA), the professional organization of American art historians. This previously neglected document was signed by, among others, Millard Meiss, Alfred H. Barr, Walter W.S. Cook, George Kubler, Rensselaer W. Lee, Ulrich Middeldorf and Meyer Schapiro as well as by CAA member Erwin Panofsky. Its contents are surprisingly contemporary. The Statement laments the budget cuts that have been made in the course of the war against Hitler to the detriment of "useless areas", i.e. the humanities, as well as their consequences — "specialization, indifference to ends, disregard of the emotional und imaginative life" (p. 460 ).[14] It urges a revision of cultural policies: "The growth of a democratic culture requires idealism and a sense of values among the young, and these qualities it is the function of the colleges to promote" (ibid). It also addresses some specific aspects of art history as an academic discipline — among other things, the fact that "the visual arts are not as widely understood as literature or music, [and] some colleges have not introduced the study of them in any form whatever" (ibid). The Statement goes on to contrast this situation with the "unprecedented popular interest in the arts", which should be encouraged through appropriate educational measures in order to prevent its abandonment to the influence of the "mass arts": "The value of study of the arts in American colleges assumes today a special poignancy. Without the kind of experience which this study provides, the student is abandoned to the blind deforming influence of the mass arts — advertising, popular magazines, movies, and soon no doubt, television. Largely commercial in intent, cynical, blatant, they exert a pressure to which he would be unable to oppose a critical attitude or any sense of values. They would assume, unchallenged, the role of shaping personality which the colleges refused to accept" (pp. 460-61). Interestingly enough, it is not the mass media which are referred to here but the "mass arts".

The trend derided in the Statement was, however, to prevail. The positive principles that the Statement enunciated remained virtually without effect. Again and again, Panofsky has occasion to remark on the extent to which the humanities are losing ground at Princeton to mathematics and economics in the area of cultural and educational policy. Thus, for example, he writes to Saxl (No. 1,074: March 8, 1946): "The Trustees [...] seem quite decided to let the humanities go to hell in favor of mathematics, for which they have respect on account of incomprehensibility, and economics which they naively presume to be useful. Vacancies are not filled, the age limit rules are rigorously applied" (p. 710 ).[15] In a letter to Erich Auerbach in 1949, he describes the "atmosphere prevailing here" with characteristic dryness. "Literary criticism" is, he notes, "the rainbow-like aura surrounding the hard core of mathematics and physics" (No. 1,304: April 2, 1949, p. 1,065). In a comparable way, the term "orchid subjects" is frequently used in Germany today to gloss over the ephemeral position of the humanities vis-à-vis the natural sciences. In this respect, the diagnosis formulated in the Statement of 1944 is now more relevant than ever. No such far-sighted views were voiced in the reform-friendly 1970s and 1980s nor are any evident in the current publications of the Ulm Verein für Kunst- und Kulturwissenschaften — let alone in those of the Verband der deutscher Kunsthistoriker.

Studies in Iconology, published in 1939, introduced Panofsky’s concept of iconography and iconology — a notion whose effects continue to be felt today. However, a paralyzing confusion has arisen in this connection between the actual influence of Neo-Platonist thought on the pictorial arts from the end of the 15th century to the time of Michelangelo and the impact of Neo-Platonism on the methodology of art historiography. The latter should be investigated in detail with a view to the upcoming methodological debate .[16] Panofsky placed Marsilio Ficino, together with the Neo-Platonic Academy in Florence, at the beginning of the development he described. Although he indicated that he was not talking about an "Academy in the modern sense", but rather "an informal ‘society’ which was a combination of club, research seminar und sect" (p. 130), the myth of the Neo-Platonic Academy in Florence has been purveyed and employed up to the present day, without taking into account the relevant critical literature .[17]

The first hint of an iconography debate in Volume II is contained in a brief exchange of opinions between Erwin Panofsky and Paul Oskar Kristeller, who, as can be inferred from Panofsky’s response (No. 757: May 5, 1939), had offered to review Studies in Iconology. At one point in his overwhelmingly positive article of 1940, Kristeller comments critically: "On the other hand, he almost eliminates the factor of form, perhaps in reaction against the over-emphasis given to it by former historians" (p. 82). [18] Panofsky reacted with incomprehension (No. 806: October 5, 1940). The controversy between the two scholars is worth an investigation of its own.

The attack launched against iconography by the journalist Howard Devree in the New York Times of December 26, 1943 (No. 927B, pp. 444-45) was of another caliber: "[...] One could not but feel that [...] pedantic scholarship has laid particularly heavy mortmain on general and simple direct appreciation of art, imbuing all but the initiate with a sense of ignorance and unworthiness and erecting a wall of erudition between the ordinary citizen and the praetorian guard of Germanic art specialists." Panofsky heard about Devree’s article from a third party .[19] Behind the work of the "second string art writer Devree" (p. 441), he suspected the guiding hand of Francis Henry Taylor, the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1940-54), who, in 1939 as Director of the Worcester Museum of Art, had "initiated a movement to protect the American museums from foreigners" (No. 754, March 9, 1939, p. 195).

In a letter to Panofsky filed under the date January 29, 1944 (No. 929), Taylor explained that he found "the temptations of iconography too unrewarding to be dangled before the eyes of the uneager American student [...]" (p. 448). In his opinion, "American scholarship, however difficult the path, must develop in its own way and not be reduced to the production of footnotes to someone else’s contributions to art history" (ibid). Behind these attacks and the nationalistic and demagogic rhetoric in which they are couched, there stands, however, a historiographically relevant conflict between museums and universities, which, in the second half of the 19th century, was a decisive factor in the development of art historiography in Germany as well .[20]

Finally, a brief, unemotional exchange between Erwin Panofsky and Edmund Schilling documents a third challenge to iconography, this one originating from old Europe .[21] The two scholars had studied together with Goldschmidt in Hamburg. To protect his Jewish wife from persecution, Schilling had immigrated to England in 1937. In 1947, he sent Panofsky a review copy of his essay Dürer und der Illuminist Jacob Elsner and, as can be inferred from Panofsky’s answer (No. 1,183: October 27, 1947), asked for the latter’s opinion on an aspect of his study .[22] Panofsky explained why he did not share Schilling’s views. In reply, Schilling formulated the crux of the dispute in the question: "How far did an artist at the beginning of the 16th century feel bound to an iconographic scheme? Couldn’t artistic reasons have been more important for him than iconographic ones?" (No. 1,185: November 8, 1947, p. 888). Schilling’s final sentence confirms that a profound methodological controversy is here emerging: "Well, we differ therefore in our views, and we have once again reached the limits of the scientific study of art" (p. 889 ).[23]

A month later, Henri van de Waal, an art historian in Leiden in the Netherlands, reported similar problems to Panofsky (No. 1,191: December 31, 1947): "In the meantime I also got aware of the struggle of iconology for a place under the sun and of the lack of understanding existing among many colleagues" (p. 900 ).[24] In acknowledging van de Waal’s work, Panofsky rejoices to have found in him a champion of iconography (No. 1,198: March 10, 1948): "I am happy to see how useful, in fact, indispensable iconographic methods are for the elucidation of works of art, however great and however modern. I think it would be perfectly possible to approach even Cezanne and Picasso in this manner" (p. 909).

In fact, Edmund Schilling had put his finger on a dimension of art works that was missing in Panofsky’s concept of iconography / iconology: the work of the pictorial artist, who, in the course of his activity, often deals with subjects predetermined in texts, but who also provides them with their own objectified design in accordance with the rules of his art — Schillings "artistic reasons" ;.[25] In his systematic concept of art, Panofsky had not taken into consideration the specific activity of the pictorial artist, who works with a system of signs which is indeed influenced by language but is at the same time independent of it .[26] Panofsky’s concept — directed toward "meaning and significance", the "presentation of an essence", the artist’s intention, the idea and the literary subject — is justified in philosophical terms .[27] The fundamental domain encompassing the means the artist uses to produce images as well as that domain’s historical conditionality are ignored just as completely as are the aesthetic effects of the works themselves .[28]

As an art historian, Panofsky based his methodology on philology. In 1937, he canvasses Abraham Flexner, who was commissioned to establish the IAS and who served from 1930 to 1939 as its first director, about the possibility of the Institute’s hiring the classical philologists Rudolf Pfeiffer and Ernst Kapp, who had recently been banned by the Nazis from practicing their profession (No. 640: July 16, 1937): "If there would be a chance with the Institute itself, it would be all the better, because classical philology pure and simple is, after all, the basis of every humanistic endeavor [...]" (p. 41). At the conclusion of a detailed philological exposition on a textual issue, he also characterizes himself to Hanns Swarzenski in a way fully in accord with this view (No. 921: November 23, 1943): "Please excuse me for wasting so much space on a detail which is of little importance in your connection. But, you know, I’m not actually an art historian at all, but rather a would-be philologist [...]" (p. 434 ).[29]

Panofsky’s comments in connection with the writing of his book on Abbot Suger of Saint Denis, which was completed in June 1944 but not published until 1946, likewise provide an insight into his attitude toward philology .[30] In a letter (No. 1,070: January 25, 1946) to Sumner McKnight Crosby, who was also writing a book on St. Denis, he defines the dilemma of working with Suger texts: "That I ventured upon the enterprise at all is due to my perhaps presumptuous belief, that, while most mediaeval archaeologists, including yourself, know infinitely more about art than I do, and while most mediaeval philologists know infinitely more Latin, I happen to belong to a comparatively small group of persons who know a little more Latin than the former, and a little more about art than the latter" (p. 698). In a review published in the "Kunstchronik" in 1948, Otto Lehmann-Brockhaus criticized precisely this aspect of Panofsky’s book: its philological sloppiness in dealing with Suger texts. Panofsky was first informed of the critique in a letter from Ludwig H. Heydenreich, one of his students and the Director of the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, which had been established in Munich in 1947. The passage in which he voices his reaction (No. 1,321: August 1, 1949) begins with the sentence: "Apropos book: Your information regarding the panning of my Suger by Lehmann-Brockhaus confirms my old theory that it’s not our enemies who cause most of life’s difficulties but our friends [...]" (pp. 1,086-87 ).[31]

The relation between text and image, whereby the focus is on the priority of the word, occupies the center of Panofsky’s art-historiographical methodology. The contradiction to the statement in his Report of 1941 (No. 823 B), "the basic tendencies of the human mind express themselves more directly and unequivocally in works of art than in textual sources" (p. 289), is obvious. The report of a dream that he sent to Harry Bober while on vacation (No. 1,033: September 18, 1945) reveals how profoundly Panofsky had internalized the priority of language: "Otherwise there is little to report except that the other night, after an afternoon in the presence of my granddaughter, I dreamt the following epitaph on myself: ‘He hated babies, gardening, and birds,/ But loved a few adults, all dogs, and words’" (p. 624). Panofsky’s preference for philology is part of a two-thousand-year-old European cultural tradition that assumes the primacy of linguistic media over manually produced pictorial media. Precisely this relationship of priority is responsible for the fact "that the visual arts are not as widely understood as literature or music" (Statement of 1944: p. 460, quoted on p. 4 above).

That Panofsky held this view of himself as an art historian is likewise confirmed in a letter to Gerhard Müller (No. 1,215: May 17, 1948). At the end of the war, his old classmate had written from Frankfurt, where he had a job in a bank. The two men were linked by shared memories of their experiences together in secondary school in Berlin. This time, Panofsky is writing to a person with no professional connection to the academic world in which he himself has made his home. The recipient’s distance obviously encourages Panofsky to adopt a particular tone — one that gives the letter a special place in his correspondence. Looking back in his 57th year, Panofsky describes his life on the new continent to Müller, who is living in old Europe, from the point of view of someone who, owing to his residence in the U.S., has escaped the catastrophic consequences of the Second World War and has been able to lead a life fulfilled in every respect. After briefly mentioning his public distinctions, Panofsky adds a remark that is of relevance in the present context: "I say this not only out of vanity (everyone is vain, and professors are especially so) but also for another reason (one which I have not previously communicated to anyone else): if I have been able to attain a certain reputation in my discipline, I owe this above all to the old Joachimsthal [the gymnasium in Berlin] since it taught me considerably more Greek and, especially, Latin than most other art historians. I have always been able to feed on this, so to speak, and, by studying the old textual sources, could deal with many questions that are inaccessible to those who are less philologically inclined [...]" (p. 936).

In any event, the picture of Erwin Panofsky that emerges from his correspondence makes it abundantly clear that the scholar was by no means a recluse in an ivory tower. What Volume I demonstrates for the first, "European" phase of his life is reinforced in Volume II: Panofsky was a man actively engaged in all areas of life and was, in this extended sense, a political animal. He was able to distinguish between what he owed to certain friends and prominent individuals in the U.S. and what he owed to the general political situation. Not least of all, his letters document the contradictory potential of the country in which he lived — for example, opportunities for promoting scholarly inquiry completely different from those available in Europe, on the one hand, and social anti-Semitism, on the other (p. 933). Describing his difficulties in finding vacation accommodation for the summer, Panofsky summarizes this irritating situation sarcastically in a letter to Bruno Snell in Hamburg (No. 1,213: May 13, 1948): "In the winter, you can be Norton Professor or honorary doctor everywhere, but in the summer it’s hard to find a hotel. Such is life" (p. 933).

Although his Princeton appointment ensured that he would be able to support his family, fears for his existence crop up repeatedly and in a variety of forms in many of the letters written in his first years in America. The process of naturalization, which he finally achieved after considerable difficulties in 1940, was a burden on his family .[32] There were also money problems, not only those of his own — connected above all with Dora Panofsky’s risky but unavoidable operation in 1946 — but also those of colleagues who had fled to the U.S. to escape German fascism. In 1939, he reported to Franz Saxl that he was receiving two or three SOS letters a day from scholars (No. 745: January 11, 1939): "In a couple of cases, I have been able to help because I could involve well-off personal friends of the individual concerned, but in general everything has stopped. The ‘Raft of the Medusa’, on which I too find myself, is already dangerously overcrowded. But who am I telling this to?" (p. 180 ).[33] In the early years, Panofsky repeatedly expressed a fear that fascism could also spread to America in 1941 .[34]

The Second World War is reflected in the correspondence in two main ways: in Panofsky’s sporadically expressed wish to take part, as a U.S. citizen, in the campaign again German fascism by serving, for example, as a translator in Africa or Syria (e.g. No. 892: March 5, 1943 to Fritz Saxl) and his opposition, extending into the post-war period, to U.S. nuclear policies. Through discussions with his son, the physicist Wolfgang Panofsky, who had observed the explosion of the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico on July 16, 1945 from a specially commissioned airplane, he made himself an expert on those policies .[35] In political discussions with the writer Booth Tarkington and in contacts with, among others, Albert Einstein, who was teaching at Princeton University, Panofsky opposed the U.S. policy of secrecy with regard to nuclear research and called for publication of its results (e.g. No. 1,043: October 3, 1945 to Booth Tarkington and No. 1,043 B ).[36]

The four years following the Second World War were overshadowed by an economic slump, disinflation and unemployment in the United States .[37] Panofsky’s weariness in the face of university policies neglectful of the humanities is evident (No. 1,122: January 9, 1947): "Given the waterproof and idea-proof isolation of all departments from one another that is the norm here, the only other people I know are art historians, and I often only know them to look away from" (p. 785). In a letter to Wolfgang Stechow (No. 1,137: February 24, 1947), he characterizes the normal procedures for making appointments in art history as "art-historical empire building" (p. 803). Against the backdrop of a post-war geopolitical situation characterized by polarization between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Cold War tensions are already explicit in a letter to his former teacher Wilhelm Vöge (No. 1,282: January 26, 1949): "We don’t agree with this total split between East and West (not only what concerns Germany) and, as a result, are practically considered communists here. Nobody can say how all this will turn out" (p. 1,034).

Starting in 1946, contacts with Europe and, particularly, with Germany move into the foreground. In April 1946, the City of Hamburg, at the instigation of its university’s philosophy department, invites Erwin Panofsky "with great satisfaction" to reassume his previous professorship in art history. But he declines .[38] In August 1947, the archeologist Bernhard Schweitzer informs Panofsky of an immanent appointment to the chair of art history at Leipzig, the world’s oldest professorship in the field. Again, he declines .[39] In June 1948, following Fritz Saxl’s death on March 22, 1948, Panofsky is offered the directorship of the Warburg Institute, which has been annexed in the meantime to London University. But he declines this invitation as well .[40]

The letters reestablishing the relationships with friends, relatives and colleagues in Germany that had been interrupted by the war make the correspondence an important source for contemporary history and the history of the human psyche. The letters from Bertel Ziegenhagen, the loyal housekeeper in Hamburg ("coals are diamonds"), and from Martha Mosse, Dora’s sister who had survived Theresienstadt, are prime examples. They describe the harrowing conditions in the ruined cities of Hamburg and Berlin. Whenever they could, the Panofskys assisted not only friends and relatives but also colleagues in those years of hunger and cold with CARE packages and other shipments of food.

Panofsky’s correspondence with Hermann Giesau records the demoralization following the collapse of the Third Reich, the inability of the survivors to comprehend what had happened to them and the misunderstandings that arose between emigrants and those who had remained at home. But other attitudes are also in evidence — for example, the unbroken will of Dora Panofsky’s sister Martha Mosse, with whom Dora seeks to overcome the effects of oppression, humiliation and deprivation, and the letters of the elderly Wilhelm Vöge, who, living in the Soviet zone, still clings to his convictions (No. 1,334: October 20, 1949): "The right to enjoy the light of science and culture is a human right [...]" (p. 1,108). In his letters, which reflect many aspects of the post-war situation, the young archeologist Peter Heinrich von Blanckenhagen reports, among other things, that, after the liberation from fascism, the archeologist Ernst Buschor, a convinced Nazi, has not failed to address his own guilt (No. 1,171: August 2, 1947). There is also much specialist discussion regarding the re-launch of art historiography in post-war West Germany.

The charismatic side of Panofsky’s personality shines through in the two volumes of correspondence that have now been published. His personal charm was a decisive factor in his professional career, as the laudation accompanying his honorary doctorate at Princeton University confirms: "An historian of Art who lives easily in all ages, his profound scholarship, comprehensive curiosity, sympathetic wit, and elasticity of spirit have made him an admired and delightful interpreter of those other humanists, the artists of the Renaissance, who also discovered pleasure, beauty and enlightenment in the creations of the past" (p. 794). In this respect, too, there are needs and interests of Panofsky’s that remain to be investigated in detail. The study of his work, which continues to influence the development of art historiography in both the United States and Europe in decisive ways, is not an exercise in either the preservation or the destruction of an historical monument but rather an attempt to make a historically objectivized assessment. The publication of Panofsky’s correspondence makes a fundamental contribution to this effort. It presents a nuanced, multi-faceted picture of the scholar — one which is pleasantly different from the icon presented for veneration at the IAS’s symposium in Princeton to celebrate Erwin Panofsky’s 100th birthday in 1992 .[41]

A final note: Following the completion of Volume II and the introductory section to Volume III, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft discontinued its support for the project, which was planned to encompass the publication of five volumes of correspondence. "All we can do now is ‘not lose heart at the sound of the crashing timbers" and await the intervention of providence," says Dieter Wuttke (p. XXVIII). We, too, can only hope that he will succeed in bringing this valuable project to a successful conclusion.


[1] Broch, Hermann: Die Schuldlosen. Entstehungsbericht.
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[2] On February 19, 1945 (No. 978, p. 527, to Meyer Schapiro) Panofsky speaks, for example, of the "Guggenheim Inferno"; also Note 5: "The reference is to the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and its scholarship committee […]." Regarding the convention of the CAA (the professional organization of U.S. art historians), Panofsky asks Stechow on November 12, 1946: "Are you coming to New York for the slave market in January?" (No. 1,109, p. 764)
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[3] Volume II, p. 790, Note 2.
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[4] Some letters testify to Panofsky’s "mixed feelings" about this honor. See, for example, No. 1,144: March 24, 1947, p. 813. Panofsky’s Norton Lectures were devoted to the "origins and character of early Flemish painting" (No. 1,178: October 7, 1947). The ten lectures, which Panofsky calls "horse races" in a letter to his former teacher Vöge (No. 1,188: December 12, 1947, p. 893), were to provide the basis for Early Netherlandish Painting, published in 1953.
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[5] E.g. also No. 628: April 6, 1937 to Elisabeth Gundolf; No. 1,121: December 24, 1946 to Elizabeth Morgan; Quote: Cicero. Epistulae ad Atticum. 11.9.3. ed. Bailey, Vol. 5. 1966, p. 28.
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[6] See also Saxl to Panofsky No. 894: April 13, 1943: "It is so difficult to present our way of thought to a wide public." (p. 396)
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[7] For other previously unknown statements by Panofsky, see the index (Film)
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[8] Style and Medium in the Moving Pictures. In: Transition. 26.1937. pp. 121-133; Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures. In: Critique (New York). I.3.1947. pp. 5-28.
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[9] Positive reactions, e.g. from H.A. Rademacher No. 943: June 14, 1944 and Th.E. Mommsen No. 945: July 4, 1944.
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[10] p. 436, note 3. On the Chicago conference, see: Schiller, K.: Gelehrte Gegenwelten. Über humanistische Leitbilder im 20. Jahrhundert. Frankfurt 2000. pp. 128-136.
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[11] Renaissance or Prerenaissance? In: JHI. January 4, 1943. pp. 65-74. The other contributions to the conference are printed in the same issue; No. 1000: May 1, 1945 to Bing. Jaeger, S.: Pessimism in the Twelfth-Century "Renaissance". In: Speculum 78. 2003. pp. 1151 - 1183; epec. the biblography concerning the debate on the term "Renaissance" p. 1151 note 1.
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[12] Ferguson, W.K.: The Renaissance in Historical Thought. Five Centuries of Interpretation. Cambridge 1948.
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[13] For Panofsky’s little-known views on education see also, for example, No. 1,055: November 22, 1945.
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[14] As early as 1943 (No. 903: June 23, 1943), Panofsky refers, in connection with his efforts to secure a position for the classical philologist Ernst Kapp, to the "well-known and much-lamented decline of interest in humanistic studies in general and classical scholarship in particular — a condition, by the way, which will thoroughly change if Western civilization should survive this war — and the almost total eclipse of these studies in war time." (p. 408)
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[15] The same fear, formulated in German, is expressed already in No. 1,024: August 6, 1945. p. 604.
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[16] Bredekamp, H.: Götterdämmerung des Neuplatonismus. In: Die Lesbarkeit der Kunst. Von der Geistes-Gegenwart der Ikonologie. Ed. Andreas Beyer. Berlin 1992. pp. 75-83.
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[17] Hankins, J.: The Myth of the Platonic Academy of Florence. In: JWCI. 53. 1990. pp. 144-62 and Renaissance Quarterly. 44. 1991. pp. 429-75, and Fields, A.: The platonic Academy of Florence. In: Marsilio Ficino: His theology, his philosophy, and his legacy. Ed. Michael. J.B. Allen. Leiden-Cologne 2002. pp. 359-76.
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[18] In: The Review of Religion. 5. 1940/41. pp. 81-86.
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[19] This emerges from his letters to Hanns Swarzenski (No. 926) and Walter Friedlaender (No. 927).
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[20] For Panofsky’s conception of the tasks of the museum: No. 1,012: June 22, 1945, especially pp. 582-84. In his review of F.H. Taylor’s book Babel’s Tower. The Dilemma of the Modern Museum. New York 1945 (The Art Bulletin. 27.1945. pp. 272-74), Meyer Schapiro speaks of "extravagances of polemic rhetoric, but coming from the director of the largest museum in the United States as a part of his programmatic view on the museum and the teaching of art, they are serious enough to warrant a careful examination" (p. 272). On the conflict between the museum and the university, see also the letters on the Walter W.S. Cook affair, beginning with No. 1,258: November 22, 1948.
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[21] The four letters: No. 1,183: October 27, 1947, No. 1,185: November 8, 1947, No. 1,214: May 15, 1948 and No. 1,225: June 9, 1948.
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[22] In: Phoebus 1. 1946. pp. 135-44; and the relevant notes p. 887.
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[23] It remains to be investigated whether this difference of opinion already existed and can be documented before the two men emigrated.
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[24] On van de Waals iconographic works, see No. 1,113: November 20, 1946 and No. 1,198: March 10, 1948.
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[25] They are not to be confused with the term "künstlerische Probleme" that Fritz Saxl and Erwin Panofsky employ in their contribution to the Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft. Vol. 18, 1925.
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[26] Heidt, R.: Erwin Panofsky. Kunsttheorie und Einzelwerk. Cologne-Vienna 1977.
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[27] Holly, M.A.: Panofsky and the Foundations of Art History. Ithaca-London 1984.
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[28] In a letter to Richard Krautheimer (No. 1,149: April 17, 1947), Panofsky addresses in passing the ignorance of the art historian in the area of "techniques" (p. 820).
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[29] For other passages, see under Panofsky und Philologie in the index.
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[30] See under Suger in the index.
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[31] Refutation of Panofsky’s thesis regarding the influence of Dionysios Areopagita on Suger: Kidson, P.: Panofsky, Suger and St. Denis. In: JWCI. 50. 1987. pp. 1-17. On the status of Suger research and, among other things, Panofsky’s Suger book and the research on cathedral architecture conducted under the sign of Neo-Platonism, see: Abt Suger von Saint-Denis. Ausgewählte Schriften. Ordinatio De consecratione De administratione. Eds. Andreas Speer and Günther Binding. Darmstadt 2000; especially pp. 13- 18.
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[32] No. 793: February 28, 1949 to his son Wolfgang: "We passed the examination two days ago after a considerable amount of excitement, but it’ll be another 90 before we’re officially citizens" (p. 248).
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[33] The numerous letters that chronicle Panofsky’s activities and those of his American colleagues and friends like Walter W.S. Cook (No. 1,267: December 29, 1948), whether in cooperation with the Committee in Aid of Displaced European Scholars or other initiatives to support emigrants, form an important group of documents for research on emigration.
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[34] E.g. No. 751: February 28, 1939. p. 190.
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[35] No. 1,025: August 8, 1945, and No. 1,026: August 14, 1945; for further information on this comprehensive complex, see under Panofsky, Wolfgang Kurt Hermann, militärische Forschung in the index.
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[36] No. 976, No. 990 and No. 995 are not included in Dr. Panofsky and Mr. Tarkington. An Exchange of Letters 1938 — 1946. Ed. Richard M. Ludwig. Princeton 1974.
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[37] No. 1,288: February 21, 1949 to Paul Frankl in Basel.
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[38] No. 1,083: April 28, 1946, and No. 1,087: May 16, 1946.
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[39] No. 1,174: August 15, 1947, and No. 1,176: September 19, 1947.
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[40] No. 1,222: June 7, 1948, No. 1,223: June 8, 1948, and No. 1,228: June 17, 1948.
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[41] Lavin, I.: Panofsky’s History of Art. In: Meaning in the Visual Arts: Views from the Outside. A Centennial commemoration of Erwin Panofsky (1892- 1968). Ed. Irving Lavin. Princeton 1995, especially p. 6: "It was this elevating, intellectual approach — not to mention, of course, the brilliance, perspicuity, and charm with which he pursued it — that put Panofsky justly in the company of Einstein, Gödel, and those other miracle workers who performed their tricks in the citadel of higher intellect and imagination that this strange new institution was intended to provide. And that is how art history at the Institute was born."
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Biblographic data formatted for downloading


Author1:               Panofsky, Erwin
Author2:               Wuttke, Dieter (ed.)
Author3:               
Author4:               
Author5:               
Author5:               
main Title:            Korrespondenz 1937 bis 1949
subtitle:              
edition:               
series:                Korrespondenz 1910 bis 1968 : eine kommentierte Auswahl in fünf Bänden ; 2
place of publ.:        Wiesbaden
publisher:             Harrassowitz
year:                  2003
no of pages etc.:      XXVIII, 1363 p. : Ill.
ISBN:                  3-447-04564-7
currency:              EUR
price:                 180