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On Heinrich Wölfflin

Author(s): Martin Warnke

Source: Representations, No. 27 (Summer, 1989), pp. 172-187
Published by: University of California Press
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On Heinrich Woifflin

HEINRICH WOLFFLIN is one of those art historianswho stands for

a school. In December 1938 he noted withresignation,"I willneverbe rid of my
reputationas a formalist,"'but then in 1940 he defiantlyaccepted the formalist
label as an "honorarytitle."2
There will alwaysbe a need forthe unequivocal, the dogmatistswho, not of
theirown free will,will be forcedinto extremepositions,since withoutthem the
majorityin the middle simplycannot defineitself.W6lfflin's reputationas a for-
malist and a narrow-mindedaesthete has proved in this sense to be of greater
service to the historicalaccount of artisticforms than any number of socio-
economic analyses. It was onlyby virtueof the counter-movement against W6lf-
flinthat a heightened awareness of the historicaldimension of aestheticforms
came about.3 In any case, this counter-reactionmade more sense than later
detractorswho sought to associate Wdlfflin with"simpleseeing,"despite his own
statementthat "the factthatart historyrelies primarilyupon seeing stilldoesn't
mean thatone has to avoid thinking."4 of a scholarlikeWolfflin
It is characteristic
that his work alwaysprovoked people to take sides, for or against; his workwas
invariablysubjected to a truthtestor was scoured for its epistemologicalstrin-
gency.Even today,one can argue whetherhis theoriesare rightor wrong.Wblf-
flinarouses emotionsas if he had writtenbut yesterday.
But W6lfflin's relevanceonlybecomes clear when one understandshow much
he owed to and sacrificedfor his times,and the extentto which his times laid
claim to his thought.Therefore, I willinvestigatenot whetherWdlfflin was right
his Art
or not,whether Principlesof History were rightor wrong, but instead what
theymeant and what theyachieved in theirday.
The worldwide success of his PrinciplesofArtHistoryis, of course, unques-
tioned. Nonetheless it'sworthtakinga closer look at itsimmediatereception.By
the end of World War I, the book had already gone throughtwo printings,but
the firstscholarlyreactionscame late. Except for WilhelmWaetzoldt'sreviewin
Kunstund Kilnstler,and the somewhathastyreviewby Erwin Panofskyin 1915
(whichwas based upon a PrussianAcademy of Sciences lectureon the principles
of art historybyWolfflinin 1911 ratherthan on his book), the series of essaysby
Oskar Wulffin the Zeitschrift fur Asthetik und allgemeineKunstwissenschaft in 1917
was the firstresponse fromthe field.Wulff'sassessmentof thePrincipleswas par-
ticularlynegative.Rudolf Kautzsch'sreview,also of 1917, was negativeas well; he


argued "againstseveringthetiesbindingtheartistic,historicalprocessto culture."
Ricarda Huch expressed some sympathyin her reviewfortheNeueRundschauin
1916, but she hoped thatthe author would followup his workwithan historical
elaboration of the resultingworld view.The literarycriticOskar Walzl was the
firstto take thePrinciplesreallyseriously;he employedthemin 1917 in the course
of a comparativeanalysisof the arts.5
The firstpositiveappraisal in a professionaljournal appeared onlyafterthe
war,in the Repertorium derKunstwissenschaftof 1919, but here too the praise came
froma philosopher,Erich Rothacker.6Thus it seems thatthe general public was
more advanced than the professionalreadership. By the time the professionals
had heard about theworkin detail,tenthousandcopies had been sold and a third
printingwas on the way.
The hesitantprofessionalreceptionunderscoresthe unarticulatedpurpose
of W6lfflin'sproject; the Principleswere published at a historicalmomentwhen
thosewho populated the scholarlycathedralswere none too sympatheticto subtle
aesthetic,conceptual thought.The outbreakof the war inspiredthe bureaucrats
of German academia to publish a slew of patrioticgushings on behalf of the
emperor and the Vaterlandand against the cultural barbarism of the Franco-
English enemy. Wdlfflin,for his part, was stunned: "Why are all of the oldest
artistsand professorsrallyingto the flag?Apparently,onlythe veryfewfeelcom-
fortablewiththemselves.I can understand it as far as art historiansgo, but it's
the same everywhere!And the speeches thatscholarsmake in favorof the war!
So thisis the unityeveryone'smakingsuch a big deal about-everyone losing his
mind!" (G, 288).7
Wolfflinlaunched his book into the middle of thishystericaleuphoria. In its
preface,he simplybemoans the factthatthestateof war has imposed a limitation
on the number of reproductionsin the text.Beyond that,however,he outlines
the taskof scholarlyart historyas "bringingthe eye intoa firmand clear relation-
In his reviewof 1916, Waetzoldtcomments:"Is it conceivable
ship to visibility."8
thatthe rumblingof world history-thatshakes all of us and all of the peoples of
the world-has only limitedthe extentof the work,but has not also altered its
spirit?"(WW, 471).
In order to address the question of the historicalplace of the PrinciplesofArt
History, it is importantto knowwhetherthe contemporaneityof the date of pub-
lication with the beginning of the war was coincidental-whether both events
occurred as ifindependent of one another-or whetherinsteadtherewas a con-
scious confrontation,one thatlent the book itsemphaticmeaning.


were conceived long before

It is clear thatthe PrinciplesofArtHistory
the war. Wolfflinhad lecturedon the "FundamentalPrinciplesof Art History"in

On HeinrichW6lfflin 173
Berlin during the fall semesterof 1906-7 (G, 224). In 1910 and 1911, he pre-
sented a lectureon the projectat the PrussianAcademyof Sciences, to whichhe
had been accepted as the firstart historian;a year laterhe published the lecture.
He was so comfortablewithhis materialthathe noted in his diaryof 1912 that
he had "experienced in all claritythe 'painterly'in a dream: 'People, sittingin a
corner bythe stove,'and where figureand spatialityare intertwinedintoone" (G,
But before 1914 he never seemed to be able to writehis ideas out withany
regularityor consistency.Thus a diary entry from September 1913: "Upon
reading old notebooks, shocked by the erratic,superficial,disjointed manage-
mentof mylife"(G, 276). And even in 1914, ten yearsafterthe publicationof his
book on Diirer, W6lfflinwrotein his diary,as if in panic: "ten years of nothing.
Indeed, all of the available notes and sketchesto the PrinciplesofArtHistory
from before 1914 suggest an unsettlinguncertaintyand disorientation.Even
today,the verylistof titlesWblfflinconsideredbefore 1914 forthe stillunwritten
book almostmakes one wonder whetheritmightturnout to be a workof classical
art history: 1902: Style:Introductionto RecentArtHistory; 1903: The Conceptsof Art
History; 1904: The Principles ofArtHistory.August Schmarsow's Fundamental Prin-
ciplesofArthad been published in 1905; thus that titlehad been taken for the
time being. In 1909 Wolfflinconsidered DevelopmentalLaws ofRecentArt; a month
later, he noted, "Why not Exercises in the ComparativeConsiderationof Art, or Art-
Historical Analyses?" 1910: Stylein Visual Art.'0 Likewise the title of his address to
the academy in 1911, "Formal Analysesas an Introductionto the ArtisticDevel-
opment of Recent Times," was followed,witha question mark,by"The Problem
of Style?" 1912: The Form ofDevelopmentin RecentArt; 1913: The ProblemofDevel-
opmentin theVisual Arts:A ConsiderationoftheFundamentalPrinciplesofStylein Recent
ArtHistory; 1914, at first,the continuation: The FundamentalPrinciplesofArt: Artas
Expression,Art as Representation[Darstellung],Art as Quality. In March 1915: Fun-
damentalPrinciplesofRecentArtHistory:Developmentsin Art.Then, in 1915, the final
title: Fundamental Art-HistoricalPrinciples: The Problemof theDevelopmentof Stylein
Recent Art."l
Special circumstanceswere required in order to complete the book. "The
book-like militaryservice,"noted Wolfflinin September1913, "The compulsion
to consolidate one's powers, goal-conscious self-discipline"(G, 276). It does
indeed appear thatWolfflinfinishedup his book as a personal versionof military
service, and that he finallywrote it out with incredible concentrationin the
monthsafterthe outbreakof the war.
Is it conceivable thatWolfflintook such an interestin politicaldevelopments
that theyofferedhim a conceptual orientationand, ultimately,a motivationto
complete his manuscript?
Wolfflinexperienced the outbreakof the war consciouslyand withgrowing

unease. Everyafternoonhe wentto the Cafe Prinzregentto read the newspapers.
On 31 July 1914 he was astonished "thatpeople don't view what'scoming with
greaterhorror"(G, 287). Then came the declarationof war on August 1: "Atthe
Marienplatz suddenly a race toward Sendlinger Street (where the newspaper
NeusteNachrichten was headquartered). One hears three short'hurras.'The first
who returncry:'mobilization!''There's a mobilization!'Waitedwiththe crowdfor
a while,untilthe printedtelegramsare handed out. The people are verycalm.-
A father,who carries his littleboy home on his arm, has tears in his eyes. Two
young people: 'Business is ruined!"' (G, 288). Whilehiscolleagues celebratedand
agitated,and as endless rows of new soldiers march off,Wolfflinnoticed mostly
depressed moods, tears,crying;he feltgravesripped open beside him and read
the death announcementsof entirefamiliesin the newspapers.
This afternoon-it's Sunday-we sat in the garden of the rector of the University, Kaffee
society, about fiftyprofessors. Unending optimism. Debates as to how many millions in
war reparations should be demanded. And the general supervising physician of the
Bavarian army is present: he has already been all over, speaks of the matter as of a chess
game. And this tone is sustained despite the fact that many have sons in the fields. The
same song and dance in the Academy of Sciences yesterday.... I find this incomprehen-
sible. It is hardly even possible for me to muster the minimum, the littlebit of composure,
scholarly composure, that one can expect. To talk about the influence of Italians on
German art, when countless Italians with bayonets are advancing at the border. (G, 293)

In practicalterms,Wolfflindonated moneyto the Red Cross and was prepared

to forego half of his salaryto thatend. And in 1916 he gave lecturesin Belgium,
althoughit made him uncomfortable"to appear in Brusselsunder the protection
of German bayonets."In Liege, he was astounded to see the normalization-how
"the sightof ruins has lost its ghastlyquality,and the locals already seem to view
the thingsas objects fora futuretouristindustry"(G, 298). Nonetheless,he still
spoke of "timesof world-decline"in which"we all slowlybleed to death" (G, 295).
This general criticalestimationof the politicalsituation,whichwas of course
not unique but is nonethelessstriking,did not failto leave its markon the Prin-
ciplesofArtHistory.There is a seriesof excerptsfromlettersthatmake itclear that
for Wd1fflin the workof a teacherand art historianwere directlyrelated to con-
Thus he noted the antipathytoward everythingforeign,how "everywhere
the storefrontshingleshave been removedor changed. Schulze's place, knownas
'Modes,' has been razed, and the o in Blousen has been removed, to make it
German. It now seems definitethatlectureswilltake place in the fall [semester].
That's fine with me; at the same time I'll be undertakingfinalrevisionsof my
manuscript.Of course, at this point who knows when it mightbe printed" (G,
289). Another passage froma letterof 24 October 1914 documentssimilarlythat
Wolfflinunconsciouslyrelated his activitiesto the events surroundinghim and
saw himselfforced to "saysomethingwhichwillstand the testof these times"(G,

On HeinrichWolfflin 175
290). "Almosteveryonehas altered his (course) listings.One eitherhas to speak
popularly,about up-to-datematters,or veryponderously,on a fewchosen ones.
I do the latter" (G, 293). We know from a set of lecture notes recentlymade
available by Hans Korner thatWolfflinalso altered his lecturesand lectured on
the "Fundamental Principlesof Art History"in the fall semesterof 1914-15.12
The notes show that Wolfflinstillhad a substantialamount of ground to cover
before the work attained its finalformthe followingsummer; it was typesetin
October and displayedin "theshops" on 16 December 1915. At thatpointa thou-
sand copies had already been reserved; the text ended up being shorterthan
initiallyintended: "War rations,"explained Wolfflin(G, 294). In response to his
student August Grisebach, who was out in the trenches,Wolfflinofferedan
apparentlysarcasticexplanation forwhyhe "had tossed offhis long-announced
book": he anticipated that the war would bring about such a sharpening and
stimulationof the brain and nerves,whichwould in turnbringabout such a pro-
gressionin the evolutionof the organs,thatthereafterhis book would no longer
be capable of being received (G, 294). Afterthe war people would be so trauma-
tized and overexcitedthattheycould no longer comprehend his subtleanalyses.
The PrinciplesofArtHistory are conceivedas a repositoryof sensoryprewarexpe-
rience at a time when W6Afflin noted that the employees at the Munich State
Librarywere undernourishedand thatthe "heavywheezingof these people, who
bring the codices over to me, strikesme as an accusation and a bad omen" (G,
If theoutbreakof war in 1914 constitutesthecontemporaryhistoricalcontext
in which W61fflin's PrinciplesofArtHistoryreveal theirtrue meaning, then that
meaning is not affirmative but critical.In 1914 Woifflinwillinglyrestrictedhim-
self to the boundaries of formalism,and was unwillingto counterbalance aes-
theticformswithnonartisticfactors;thisrepresentsa resistanceto the political
slogans of the time.Everywhereit was common practiceto embed art in cultural
history,to project an association between art and the reigningwill,or reigning
conceptual currents.His predecessorin Berlin,Hermann Grimm,was of course
a virtuosoat presentinga cultural-historical panorama thatwas put at the disposal
of the great Individuals,and even WilhelmDilthey,withwhomWolfflin was more
closelyassociated, had connected culturaltraditionto the conceptual and histor-
ical life of the times. The startingpoint of this method was the "expressive
thought,"the authorityto discern or enter into the qualities of artisticforms,
qualities thatwere shared withotherculturalforcesand powers.Wolfflinhimself
had indulged in thiswidespread and popularized tendencyin his books Renais-
sanceand Baroque(1888) and ClassicalArt(1889), in whichthe transitionfromthe
realism of the Quattrocentoto the idealism of the Cinquecento was interpreted
in termsof the transformationof the bourgeoisieintothe nobility.
Then in 1914 he severed all ties binding formsto historicallife.This is sig-
nificantbecause in the preceding years he had repeatedly pursued historical

explanations in his descriptionsof formal phenomena. In 1902, Wdlfflinhad
anticipateda book in foursections,the firstof whichwould offeran introduction
to Christianiconography; the second would present the "conception,"withthe
"spiritof the times"servingas a backdrop; the thirdchapterwould discuss rep-
resentationalforms,and the fourthwould deal withthe sense of forms(H, 405).
Conceptually,then, the work would aim not for a descriptionbut for an expla-
nation of formal phenomena. Two years later he made a note to himself,
explaining why Velazquez could attain such a pronouncedlypainterly,vibrant
style:"The Spanish: capable of rapid perceptionthroughbull-fights and dance-
theater" (H, 413). In 1910, he imagined a firstsection to be entitled"Style as
Expression" and a thirdsectionthatwould deal withthe "relationbetween rep-
resentationaland expressivestyle"(H, 436). In 1912 he realized thatthe "slantof
the book is shifting"in that "I am tracingall transformations of styleback to a
transformation in the perceptionof things"(H, 446). Shortlythereafterthedevel-
opment of artisticvision appeared to him to be "conditioned through extra-
optical spirit,timeand land"; in March 1913 he commentedon the "Explanation
of Transformation':"Transformationin relationto visibility (objective).Transfor-
mation in a purely subjectivesense: 1. one wantsto representsomethingnew,-
2: The means are transformed"(H, 455). In August he asked himself,"Whydo
formsof appreciationchange: does an alteredworldviewhave a retroactiveeffect
upon taste-is there such a thingas an inner processingmechanism,an internal
psychiccoercion?" (H, 434). And in September 1913, he considered associating
formal phenomena with naturalismand idealism.'3 All this is not particularly
profound,but itdoes showa sharp awarenessof problemsof contingencies.Later
on, he would not need constantlyto pose questionsconcerningunderlyingspir-
itual and cultural-historical factors,since he had already worked throughthem
before embarking upon the manuscript.'4But why then did he completely
abandon those factorsduring the time that he worked on the manuscript,and
whydid he refuseto considerthem,even whenremindedto do so byhisstudents?
One possible explanation for thisasceticismcould be W6lfflin's observation
thata pronounced instrumentalization of the artshad occurred under the guise
of intellectual-historicalor contemporaryaccounts. To the peoples at war,espe-
ciallythe Germans,artand culturewere synonymouswithpoliticaland statewill,
which had to be defended fromattack.Amid a totalappropriationof cultureby
politics,W6Mfflin insistedin the PrinciplesofArtHistory on the autonomyand dis-
crete organizational integrityof optical culture,for whose existence no power
should be able to declare itselfresponsible.If the whole world around him was
prepared to cede all scholarlyand moral normsto the politicalbattlesof the day,
the PrinciplesofArtHistory would not do so. Here the claimsof culturaland intel-
lectual historyare held in abeyance, as are the demands forthe politicalappro-
priationof form.In the PrinciplesofArtHistory the demands of those who would
appropriate art are certainlyaddressed-thus the questions whetherart repre-

On HeinrichWo5fflin 177
sents an "organ of expression of the mood of an epoch" (P, 232; GB, 250) and
whetherstylisticchange has to be initiated"fromoutside" (P, 229; GB, 250, n. 2,
and 247). But no answers are offeredto these questions; instead, the reader is
referredquite generallyto the "taste . . . and interestin the world" (P, 18; GB,
20); to the "relationshipof the individualto the world" (P, 10; GB, 10), which is
subject to change; or the conclusion is offeredthat "fromdifferently oriented
interestsin the world, a new beauty comes to birth(each time)" (P, 27; GB, 31),
thatwith"each new crystalform. .. a new facetof the contentof the world will
come to light"(P, 231; GB, 249); or,more simply,thatindeed everyera perceives
things "with its own eyes" (P, 68; GB, 74). Occasionally,the formal analysis
approaches historicalassociation,such thatthe absence of the termhistorical asso-
ciationseems strangelycontrived:"On principle,the baroque no longer reckons
with a multiplicityof coordinate units,harmoniouslyinterdependent,but with
an absolute unityin which the individual part has lost its individual rights"(P,
157; GB, 169).` W6Mfflin also employsRiegl's conceptsof coordinationand sub-
ordination withoutthe slightestpoliticalresonances. It is hardlycorrectto say
thatW6Mfflin did not have his eye on the historicalcontemporaneityof artworks.
It is far more correctto say that he had his eye fixedon that contemporaneity
withsomethingvergingon panicked fear,in order to ward off(as witha taboo)
all its possible avenues of access to the world of forms.
If in the last analysiswe repeatedlyfind the observation"Seeing in and of
itself[an sich] has a history,"then that signifiesa resistanceto the spiritof the
times,a resistancesuggestedbyhis 1916 conceptionof "a worldthoroughlydeter-
mined by art."'16The PrinciplesofArtHistoryderive their icy pathos from this


This distance fromcontemporaryevents,whichare radicallynegated

by being ignored, does not representa leap out of the historicalcontextbut cor-
responds to a positivecontemporaneityof a completelydifferent sort.I am refer-
ringto the implicitcontemporaneityof thePrinciples ofArtHistory withthe artistic
avant-gardeof the time,whichexplains W6lfflin's statementof 1914: "Arthistory
and art run parallel" (GK, 118). Wolfflin,who enjoyed spending time in artists'
studios,had been familiarwithimpressionismsince hisyearsin Berlin; the move-
ment is also often specificallymentionedin the PrinciplesofArtHistoryas a rein-
carnation of the baroque style.It cannot be ruled out thatWolfflinwas familiar
with furtherdevelopments,especiallyconsideringthe factthat in 1910 he was
thinkingof writinga book on "the opposite of impressionism,"a movementthat
at the time didn't even have a name (H, 469, n. 90). Among the posthumous
papers of his assistantFranz Roh thereis a postcard-one of manysentbyWolf-

flin-dated 7 October 1916 withthe query: "Would you like to have lunch at 1
P.M. tomorrow,Sunday,at myhouse? Afterwardwe could go to the Marc exhibit
together.No response necessary.Best regards,H. W61fflin."' 8 This confirmation
of W6lfflin'scontact with the Blaue Reitergroup, to my knowledge confirmed
nowhere else, suggeststhe value of examiningthe textfor specificevidence of
the oft-notedproximityof the PrinciplesofArtHistoryto the movementtoward
abstractionin the Blaue Reiter.
The dissociationof formfromits denotativefunctionvis-a-visthe object,or
its separation from"imitationalcontent"(P, 13; GB, 14), or from"expressional
value" (P, 16; GB, 17), representeda new motifin W61fflin's writings.The motif
can be found in his earlier books Renaissanceand Baroque'9 and ClassicalArt20
books that otherwiseprepared the Principlesso thoroughly-at most in the Hil-
debrandian sense thatartisticformshould not offera copy but a "conception"of
nature. In the PrinciplesofArtHistoryformis, for the firsttime,explicitlypre-
sented as a carrierof unbound, aesthetic,individualqualities. For example, the
programmaticapproach to Velazquez and impressionismis thatin bothone finds
a "bewilderingalienationof the signfromthe thing"in that"therepresentational
signshave severed themselvescompletelyfromreal form"(P, 21; GB, 24).21 Wolf-
flin'ssense of the "peculiar verveand animation"of Botticelli'slines (P, 2; GB, 2)
could perhaps be understood in termsof turn-of-the-century predilections,but
when he writesthat the eye has finallylearned "to take a design quite alienated
fromthe formforthe formitself"(P, 45; GB, 49), his mode of expressionwould
reallyonly be understandablein the mostexclusiveart studios.
Perhaps the modern notion that in the historyof art somethingis always
being "emancipated" originatedwithWolfflin.He describeshow,in the painted
silhouetteof the seventeenthcentury,the line "has emancipated itselfto a com-
pletelyindependent life"(GB, 213),22 and when he describeshow,in thebaroque,
color "has on principlebeen relievedof theobligationto illuminateand elucidate
the form,"he does so in termsof an "emancipationof colour" (P, 203-4; GB,
218-19). Color also culminatesa "shatteringof the line" (GB, 36)23 and a "disin-
tegrationof the surface"(P, 52; GB, 56). Wolfflinputsthisliberationin thejargon
of the avant-garde:the "reactionariesto line" and the "reactionariesto plane" are
being defeated (P, 105; GB, 112-13). It followsthat "realityis no longer the
colour-surfaceas a positivelyexistingthing; realityis that semblance which is
born of the separate flecks,strokes,and dots of colour" (P, 52; GB, 56); thus a
"form-alienatedtechnique" emerges (P, 52; GB, 56), and color gains a "life
detached fromthe object" (P, 53; GB, 58). Like color,lightand shade also eman-
cipate themselvesin theseventeenthcenturyto become independentphenomena.
Already in Andrea del Sarto it occurs "thatthereis quite a peculiar quiver here
and there in the surfaces of his draperies,"and in Correggio "(there comes a
flickerand dancing) into the shadows and lightsas though of theirown power
theywere strivingtowardseach otherand wishedto emancipatethemselvesfrom

On HeinrichWdlfflin 179
line" (P, 31; GB, 35). In the seventeenthcenturywe eventuallyarriveat the point

the lightingno longer subservesthe distinctnessof the objects,but passes over them: that
is to say,when the shadows no longer adhere to the forms,but,in the conflictbetweenthe
distinctnessof the object and the illumination,the eye more willinglysurrendersto the
play of tones and formsin the picture.(P, 20; GB, 22)

The same thoughtis expressed in more general termsin W61fflin's 1916 speech
for the opening of the museum in Winterthur:"Often the use of completely
unnatural means can arouse an impressionwhichis experienced as truth,as the
essence of the real" (W, 310).
My question is not where these pointsof view were prepared or preformu-
lated, but why theybecame importantto Wolfflinin 1914. Konrad Fiedler had
laid the epistemologicalgroundworkforthem,althoughitwas not yetpractically
useful forart history;Adolf Hildebrand had conceivedof the formof seeing not
as a disembodied sign but as the resultof a process of clarifyingthe object; and
Wilhelm Worringer'sexpressionisticnotion of abstraction(1907) was also still
completelydependent on theobject,sincethetotemistic alienationalwaysimplied
a violentovercoming.24And conversely,in Kandinsky's1911 book Concerning the
Spiritualin Art,abstractformis repeatedlyanchored to content,expression,soul,
and spirit. It is as if someone (and it might well have been Franz Roh) had
informedWolfflinabout thisessayin the sense of a circumspectcharacterization
of its essence,-withoutmentioningits embellishmentand legitimation.In any
case, in Woifflinthe emancipation of formis conceived of as a real separation
fromboth the formof the objectas well as fromanyexpressivefunction.W6Afflin
can even go so faras to relativize(butnot to abandon) a centralaesthetictheorem,
indispensable to art historyto thisday: namely,the unityof formand content.In
Rembrandthe sees "no discordbetweenformand content-that would be a crit-
icism-but the old relation of form and contentis sundered, and in this new
freedom the scene firstwins the breathof lifeforthe baroque age" (P, 200; GB,
216). As late as 1935, W6Mfflinclaims: "Old artis art not because of but despitethe
interestaroused by its content"(G, 447). Had thisattemptto salvage formfrom
contentbeen pursued further,a numberof falseassumptionsinformingart his-
torywould never have materialized.
There is a passage in thePrinciplesofArtHistory thataccordsthe emancipation
of forman almostphylogeneticmission.It reads:

The tracing out of a figure with an evenly clear line has still an element of physical
grasping. The operation which the eye performsresembles the operation of the hand
which feels along the body,and the modeling which repeats realityin the gradation of
light also appeals to the sense of touch. A painterlyrepresentation,on the other hand,
excludes thisanalogy. It has its rootsonly in the eye and appeals only to the eye, and just
as the child ceases to take hold of thingsin order to "grasp"them,so mankindhas ceased

to test the picture for its tactilevalues. A more developed art has learned to surrender
itselfto mere appearance.
Withthat,the whole notionof the pictorialhas shifted.The tactilepicturehas become
the visual picture-the mostdecisive revolutionwhichart historyknows.(P, 21; GB, 23-

This decisive revolutionimplied the sublimationof appropriativeseizure and

consumption to a seeing, distanciating,liberated reflection.Aby Warburg,who
based his thoughtson similarideas expressed in the ethnopsychologyof Her-
mann Usener and WilhelmWundt,was plagued at thetimebyfearthatthe World
War could bringabout a regressionto a stateof unmediated,primitivedevouring
and seizure.25When Wolfflinconsidersthe sublimationof the sense of touch to
the sense of sightto be the mostdecisiverevolutionknownto arthistory, he seems
to have faiththateven the war willnot be able to alterthisdevelopment.
There is, however,a type of natural law to whichWolfflinpays tribute,and
whichis at the same timethe mostprecariousconcessionthathe was ever willing
to offerto the general spiritof thetimes:fortheentiretyof hislife,he maintained
an interestin the "question of a national psychologyof form,"which he saw as
polarized in north and south, Germanic and Roman (GB, 8, 207).26 Thus he
believesin the existenceof a "Germanicimagination"that"neverallowed the part
to attain such independence," which "runs in the veryblood to plough up the
depths" (P, 194, 106; GB, 207, 1 13).26 Whereas of course for the ideologues of the
World War national characteristicswere locked in decisive battle,Wolfflinpro-
claimsa humanisticcredo whichhe would also maintainlater:"Howeverdifferent
national charactersmay be, the general human elementwhichbinds is stronger
than all that separates" (P, 237; GB, 256; GK, 110).
In these three moments-in the asceticismconcerninghistoricalcondition-
ality,in the analysis of the experience of disembodied form,and in the ties
binding stylisticcharacteristics to the Volk-the Principles ofArtHistoryare bound
to the contemporaryhistoricalcontext;it is fromthisbond thatthe workderives
its emphatic meaning,its legitimation,and also itstruth.But removed fromthis
context,separated fromthiscontemporaryhistoricalconnection,thePrinciplesof
ArtHistoryloses itsauthenticity;separated fromthishistoricalcontextitsmeaning
can no longer be justifiedor defended.


Since the meaning of the Principles ofArtHistorywas bound to specific

historicalconditions,afterthe war thatmeaning could no longer be salvaged as
an eternal truthforall times.Thus a crisisseems to have developed forWolfflin,
one whichbroughthim to the vergeof a biographicalcatastrophe.The now pub-
lished excerptsfromdiaries and letterssufficeto clarifywhatlay behind a devel-

On HeinrichWolfflin 181
opment thatremained a mystery to his contemporaries:Woifflin's decisionto give
up his academic chair in Munich in 1924, and his returnto Zurich.
Today it is clear thatit was an erosion in the dimensionof meaning thatulti-
matelyled to the theninexplicableresignation.Wolfflin repeatedlyofferedexpla-
nations forthiserosion,withoutfindinga wayto resolveit.
Toward the end of thewar,in December 1917 he would take "moreand more
of a turn towards a worldlyperspective,like all betterpeople today" (G, 314).
After an illness he imagined "so clearly the agony of a person, lying on his
deathbed, who only then realizes that for his whole life,he has only thoughtof
insignificant thingsand now he no longerhas thepowerto bringhissoul in order"
(G, 316). Afterthe end of the war he accepted possiblemeaningsforit thatwere
brought to his attentionin the course of daily events,withouthowever ever
enteringintoany sustainedpoliticalengagement.On 21 December 1918, Wolfflin
wrote: "It is not incorrectfor many to complain that theyare receivingstones
instead of bread, and that an array of vocational schools stilldoesn't make an
institutionof higherlearning. My seminarrepresentsone of the mostfluid,and
it'son the extremeleft"(G, 319). During the Rate-Republic,in April 1919, he was
"happy to be at his post, come what may" (G, 323); he would happilyblock uni-
versity"Volks-classes" (G, 324). But apparentlya veryfundamentaldoubt arose
again and again in the face of this sort of incidentalengagement,a doubt that
caused the girdersof meaning to crumbleagain. In May 1919 he convincedhim-
self that in contrastto the comfortsof Switzerland,Munich stillofferedhim "at
least the excitementof greateventsthatare in the offing," but "it'strue thatI too
don't knowany more whatelse thereis forme to do as a Professorof ArtHistory.
The idea of 'ArtforAll' has never struckme as somethingreal and possible. But
some time ago I did let myselfbe taken up in the university's'Evening Lecture'
series,whichis intended forworkers"(G, 326). Then he wenton to complain that
the AuditoriumMaximum was indeed fullforthisoccasion, where he intended
to give the workersa "Few Tips on ViewingOld Pictures,"but that"the blouses
in the audience were not worker'sblouses" (G, 327).
The focal pointof these doubts was a limitationof departmentalizedhuman-
isticinquiry,an insightinto "the relativity of all achievementsin the humanities";
it struckWolfflinas unseemlyto spend the restof his liferacingafter"the most
recentconclusionspublishedin the mostrecenteditionof somejournal" (G, 324).
Thus the veryscholar who did the most to make art historyinto a scholarlydis-
cipline, to relieve it of its idealisticand moral obligations,now felthemmed in
and constricted by the disciplinary narrow-mindednessand evacuation of
meaning, and he did not hesitateto admit to himself"thatworksof art are not
'the greatestgood"' (G, 336). Thus thediaryentryof 20 March 1920: "The chron-
ologies by Schauffeleinand the oeuvreof MasterX do not constituteart. There is
stilltime. To have done historyuntilage fifty-six, and now to break throughto
thatwhichis lasting,to thatwhichis" (G, 338). Then in May 1923: "The decisive

considerationfor resigningis: no longer to have to representa department,but
instead just to do what one wants; to become personal; to become young; to
become beautiful,etc."(G, 361). Ultimately, thedecisionto depart is born of these
long-heldself-doubtsand scruples.The Kunstchronik reportsin September 1923:
"Councilor Heinrich Wolfflinhas announced his intentionto vacate his chair in
Munich. The ruminationsof the public regardingthisresignation,and the scho-
lar's motivesin turninghis back upon Germanyin such difficult timeshave not
failed to make an impressionupon Wolfflin.Reports fromMunich suggestthat
he willstillhold his lecturesin the forthcomingfallsemester,such thathis depar-
ture would followat the earliestin March."27On 19 December 1923, Karl Vossler
wroteto Benedetto Croce: "Strangecase. At the heightof his activities,witha full
capacityto work,not yetsixtyyears of age, Wolfflinannounces thatscholarship
no longer interestshim and thatit is timeforhim to leave the profession.... All
of his friendsand I too have triedto change his mind and have encouraged him
to stayand continue his extraordinaryserviceas a professorand scholar,but to
no avail."28Interventionsby the rectorand the minister,the moral pressure of
the studentsdid not preventWolfflinfromresigninghis Munich teachingposi-
tion at sixtyyearsof age.
The professionwas up in arms. Two books were published about Wolfflinin
1924, one by Franz Landsberger and one by August Grisebach.29Friedrich
Winklerreportedin KunstundKiinstler on the resignation,emphasizingthat"the
aristocratic,exclusivemanner of thishumanist"qualifieshim as "one of the best
Germans."30Edwin Scharif minted a medal with Marees' "Hesperides" on the
back side. But all of the honors and all of the attemptsat persuasion remained
fruitless.Before departing,Wolfflintold the students:"I am thoughtof as a for-
malist,as cool. I'm not. I wrotethe PrinciplesofArtHistorynot in order to mech-
anize history,but in order to renderjudgment exact. Arbitrariness,the sheer,
uncontrollable eruption of emotion, has always disgusted me" (G, 368). Since
everythingwas now in a stateof "reorganization,"he wantedto hand his position
"over to someone who had taken part, who is alive"-he was most probably
thinkingof Wilhelm Pinder and not of his actual successorMax Hauttmann (G,
371). He wanted "to close the circle of individual education": "Even if I should
draw back the finalcurtain.Desire to step outside of the boundaries of the disci-
pline, in order to take up the most general questions. Before my conscience I
invoke thisresponsibility. And can justifythisstep" (G, 369).
He had narrowed the discipline,soughtto limitit to exactjudgments and to
professionalizeit, and now he withdrew,in order to turn his attentionsto edu-
cation, to the universal,which he had extirpatedfromthe discipline. He, who
had taught the disciplinehow to work withconcepts,saw his "role in academic,
German art scholarship"as "played out" (G, 376) since he could never produce
"worksof intricatescholarlydetail" (G, 377). He who had shownhow theconcepts
of epochs could become demiurgicalinsofaras he allowed them to perform,to

On HeinrichWoIfflin 183
circulate,to be loved, preferred,dismissed,or hated thoughtthatin Zurich the
people have "solid, positivisticminds; soon they'llspit out my poison" (G, 377).
In a guest semesterin Munich,where in the fallof 1926-27 he lecturedforfour
hours beforea thousand listeners,he soughtto provide"a critiqueof myPrinciples
ofArtHistory"(G, 391). During the course of 1929 he wanted to conclude a few
mattersthat he still had on the back burner,then took a lengthyvacation to
"therewithdefinitively consummatemywithdrawalfromthe disciplineof art his-
tory.One cannot die withthe most recentissue of the yearbookof the Prussian
or the Viennese art collectionsin hand" (G, 406).
Since Wolfflinhardlyfelthimselfto be defensible,one hardlydoes himjustice
by defending him in the name of some "cultureof seeing" or ascribingto him
some role as a forefather.One also hardlydoes himjustice when one confirms,
extends, or disproves his teachings.3'One does him the mostjustice througha
rigorous relativization,perhaps in accordance withone of his favoritemaxims:
"Not everythingis possible at all times."Not even Wolfflin.
-Translated byDavid Levin


This article is the revised versionof a lecturegiven on the occasion of the one-hun-
dredth anniversaryof art historyseminarsat the Universityof Berlin,presentedat a
section on art historians who had taught at the university.It will appear in an
expanded versionin a collectiondevoted to the workof theseart historians.
Some notes on problemsof translationhave been added bythe translator.
1. Joseph Gantner,HeinrichWolffiin, 1864-1945: Autobiographie, und Briefe
(Basel and Stuttgart,1982), 464; hereafterG. Furtherreferencesto thisworkwillbe
incorporatedin the text.
2. Heinrich Wolfflin,GedankenzurKunstgeschichte (1940), 4th ed., (Basel, 1947), 3; here-
afterGK. Furtherreferencesto thisworkwillbe incorporatedin the text.
3. Indeed, this insightseems to account for the gravityof one of the most all-encom-
passing considerationsof Wolfflin:Arnold Hauser, ThePhilosophy ofArtHistory(New
York, 1959), 117-256.
4. Heinrich Wdlfflin, reviewof AloYsRiegl,DieEntstehungderBarockkunst inRom,in Reper-
toriumfiirKunstwissenschaft 31 (1908): 356.
5. WilhelmWaetzoldt,in KunstundKfinstler 14 (1916): 468-71; hereafterWW. Further
referencesto thiswork will be incorporatedin the text.The firstreviewersinclude:
Gerhart Rodenwaldt, "W6lfflin'sGrundbegriffe und die antike Kunst,"Zeitschrift fur
Aesthetikund allgemeineKunstwissenschaft 11 (1915): 432; and Erwin Panofsky,"Das
Problem des Stilsin der bildenden Kunst,"Zeitschrift furAesthetik undallgemeine Kunst-
wissenschaft10 (1915): 460-67. Panofskyexplicitlynotes thathis commentsare based
on the lecture reproduced in Sitzungsberichten der preufiischenAkademieder Wissen-
schaften31 (1912): 572ff.It remainsstrangethathe nonethelessallowed his reviewto
be published unalteredafterpublicationof thebook; onlyin 1925 did he take a stand,

in the article "Uber das Verhaltnis der Kunstgeschichte zur Kunsttheorie," Zeitschrift
und allgemeine
furAesthetik 18 (1923): 129-61.
Other articles of note include: K. Zoege von Manteuffel's somewhat listless
announcement in Die Kunst 18 (1917): 160; and reviews-in-briefby MaxJ. Friedlander,
in Monatsheftefur Kunstwissenschaft9 (1916): 189ff.; Oskar Wulff, "Kritische Erdrte-
rungen zur Prinzipienlehre der Kunstwissenschaft," Zeitschrift fur Aesthetikund allge-
meine Kunstwissenschaft12 (1917), Rudolf Kautzsch, "Der Begriff der Entwicklung in
der Kunstgeschichte: Rede zur Kaiser-Geburtstagsfeier am 27. January 1917," Frank-
7 (1917); this speech is discussed extensively by Fritz Hoeber in
the Repertoriumfur Kunstwissenschaft41 (1919): 186-89; Ricarda Huch, "Kunst und
Weltanschauung: Bemerkungen zu W6lfflin'sKunstgeschichtlichen Grundbegriffen," first
in Neue Rundschau (1916); republished in Huch, GesammelteWerke,ed. W. Emrich, vol.
7 (Cologne and Berlin, 1968), 83-95; Fritz Schumacher, "Randbemerkungen zu
Wo5lfflinsGrundbegriffen," Zeitschriftfur Aesthetik und allgemeineKunstwissenschaft 13
(1918): 397; Oskar Walzel, "W6lfflins Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe,"Internationale
Kunst,und Technik11, no. 6 (1917) 699ff;Walzel,Wechsel-
seitigeErhellungderKfinste:Ein Beitragzur Wfirdigungkunstgeschichtlicher
(Berlin, 1917). An extensive but not complete discussion of the reactions to the Prin-
in derGegen-
ciplescan be found in WalterPassarge,Die Philosophie
wart (Berlin, 1930), 16-36.
6. Erich Rothacker, in Repertoriumfur Kunstwissenschaft 41 (1919): 168-76. The review
and Oskar Wulff,Grund-
also discusses books by H. Tietze, MethodederKunstgeschichte,
linienund kritische zurPrinzipienlehre
Erorterungen Kunst.
7. Written in all likelihood in the summer of 1914 to Lotte Warburg.
8. Heinrich W6lfflin, Principles of Art History,trans. M.D. Hottinger (New York, n.d.);
hereafter P. This quotation (from the preface to the third edition) does not appear in
the English translation (which is based on the seventh German edition of the text);
Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe,3rd ed. (Munich, 1918), x; hereafter GB. Further ref-
erences to this work will be incorporated in the text.
9. Joan Goldhammer Hart, Heinrich Wlfflin: An IntellectualBiography (Ph.D. diss., Uni-
versity of California, Berkeley, 1981), n. 221; hereafter H. Further references to this
work will be incorporated in the text.
10. This was also the title of the lecture held at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1911.
11. This is a literal translation of the German title. The published English title was Prin-
ciples ofArtHistory[-Trans.]. All of the proposed titles can be found in excerpts from
letters and diary entries in Gantner, Wlifflin,and Hart, Wlffin.
12. Hans Korner, "Grundbegriffe der Kunstgeschichte: Heinrich Woifflins Munchner
Vorlesung im Wintersemester 1914-15," in KritischeBerichte16, no. 4 (1988): 65-73.
Cf. Ulrich Christoffel's note in "Heinrich Wolfflin,"Phoebus 1, no. 1 (1946): 38: "Wolff-
lin opened the winter semester of 1914 with the announcement that the outbreak of
the war had delayed publication of his new book and that he would offer lectures on
its contents this one and only time."
13. According to the notes prepared by Korner, "Grundbegriffe," questions of nation and
the spirit of the Volkstill played an important role in the lectures in the fall semester
of 1914-15. Waetzoldt would also see Wolfflin in this light. The last sentence of his
review of the Principles reads: "Slowly, Wolfflin's visage turns to the Germanic world
and his eye rests upon Rembrandt."
14. It is understandable that contemporaries and students like Erwin Panofsky, Ernst
Heidrich, Joseph Gantner, Hans Rose, Josef Strzygowski, or Paul Frankl would want

On HeinrichWolfflin 185
to reserve a fundamental option on the question of contingencies. However, to the
extent that Wdlfflinbecame an historical figure, one has to investigate not the plausi-
bility of his explanations or nonexplanations for a transformation in style but instead
whysomeone gave this reason, another gave that reason, and Wolfflin gave no reason
for a transformation of style.
15. See also P, 185; GB, 199.
16. Heinrich Wdlfflin, "Winterthur," in Kunst und Kfinstler14 (1916): 310; hereafter W.
Further references to this work will be incorporated in the text.
17. I have previously developed the main features of this conception of Wolfflinin Martin
Warnke, Bau und Uberbau (Frankfurt, 1976), 148.
18. The estate is housed at the Archives of the History of Art in The Getty Center for the
History of Art and Humanities, Los Angeles, California. On Wblfflin'sfurther rela-
tionship to contemporary art, see: Joseph Gantner, "Heinrich W6lfflin und die
moderne Kunst," Merkur 13 (1959): 937-45. Interesting in this regard is also the
enthusiastic review of Wblfflin's 1918 book on the BambergApocalypsein Das Kunstblatt
(1919): 380-81 and (1921): 154-55, where the "abstract values" noted by Wdlfflinand
the "obvious parallel to certain developments in modern art" are mentioned.
19. Heinrich Wdlfflin,Renaissance and Baroque, trans. Kathrin Simon (Ithaca, N.Y., 1966).
20. Heinrich Wolfflin,Classic Art: An Introductionto theItalian Renaissance, trans. Peter and
Linda Murray (Oxford, 1952).
21. The latter quotation included in the sentence does not appear in the published
English translation, which is based on the seventh edition of the German text [-
22. The published English translation does not employ the term emancipated(in German,
emanzipiert); the published translation reads: "Line has achieved complete indepen-
dence"; P, 198, emphasis added English translation [-Trans.].
23. The published English translation reads, "break-up of the line"; P, 32 [-Trans.].
24. Konrad Fiedler's influence on Wolfflin has often been claimed, and can be docu-
mented biographically, but has seldom really been defined. See Michael Podro, Konrad
Fiedler's Theoryof the Visual Arts (Ph.D. diss, University of London, 1961), 136ff.; and
Eduard Hiittinger, "Wblfflins Werk-Heute," Zeitschrift fur Aesthetikund allgemeine
Kunstwissenschaft12 (1967): 107ff. Finally, on Fiedler's theory of art, see Gottfried
Boehm, "'Sehen lernen ist alles': Conrad Fiedler und Hans von Marees," in the exhi-
bition catalog Hans von Marges (Munich, 1987), 145-50. In his Classic Art, Wdlfflin
characterizes Hildebrand's Problem der Form as a "refreshing rain"; cf. also his lauda-
tory remarks from 1892 in Wolfflin,Kleine Schriften(Basel, 1946), 84-89, with com-
mentary by Joseph Gantner, Wolfflin,251ff. Although, for the Fundamental Principles,
Hildebrand's criteria could be useful for Renaissance art at best, but by no means for
baroque art. Cf. Meinhold Lurz, Heinrich Wolfflin:Biographie einerKunsttheorie(Worms,
1981), 155ff. First evidence of a reaction to Wilhelm Worringer's Abstraktionund Ein-
fiihlung (Neuwied, 1907) can only be found in 1918 (G, 317; Lurz, Wilfflin, 197),
although Worringer had already made himself noticeable by virtue of his review of
Wolfflin's Diurer book in the Monatsheftefur Kunstgeschichte1 (1908): 1033-35. Lurz
discusses other possible influences in Wolfflin,217ff.
25. Cf. Martin Warnke, "Der Leidschatz der Menschheit wird humaner Besitz," in Werner
Hofman, Georg Syamken, Warnke, Die Menschenrechtedes Auges: Uber Aby Warbung
(Frankfurt, 1980), 147ff.
26. On this subject, see also Korner, "Grundbegriffe," 70. An anonymous report on Wolff-
lin's talk at the Durer celebration of 1928 in Nuirnberg in Der Querschnitt8, no. 5

(1928): 374, demonstratesthatone found thistendencysuspiciousat the timeas well:
"He spoke of the Italian poison that he (Diurer)had luckilysubsequentlyspit out. I
later heard thatthe statementmade the Italian envoyturnpale."
27. Kunstchronik und Kunstmarkt 58, no. 47-48 (7-21 September 1923): 792. Cf. Lurz,
Wblfflin, 194ff.
28. Joseph Gantner,"KlassischeAsthetikund moderneAbstraktion," desMen-
in Schicksale
schenbildes(Bern, 1958), 177.
29. Franz Landsberger,HeinrichWlff6lin (Berlin, 1924); August Grisebach,HeinrichWoif-
flin(Breslau, 1924). Both are first
and foremostbooks commemoratingtheprofessor's
30. FriedrichWinkler,"Heinrich W6lfflin," KunstundKfinstler 22 (1924); 225.
31. This is the basic tendencyin ErnstH. Gomrich,Normand Form(London, 1971), 89ff.;
similarlyin Gombrich,TheSenseofOrder(Oxford, 1979), 201-4; Mainold Lurz, Hein-
richWilifflin:BiographieeinerKunsttheorie(Worms,1981); and Michael Podro, TheCrit-
ical HistoriansofArt(New Haven, 1982), 133ff.

On HeinrichWblfflin 187

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