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Heinrich Wölfflin


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(b Winterthur, 24 June 1864; d Zurich, 19 July 1945).

Swiss art historian, professor at the universities of Basle (1893–1901), Berlin (1901–12), Munich (1912–24), and Zurich (1924–34). He was one of the most influential art historians of his period, and several of his books are still widely read. They include Die klassische Kunst (Classic Art, 1899), on the art of the High Renaissance; Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe (Principles of Art History, 1915); and a monograph on Dürer (1905). His work concentrated on stylistic analysis, and he tried to show that style—in painting, sculpture, and architecture—follows evolutionary principles. Principles of Art History presents his ideas in the most highly developed form, discussing the transformation from Renaissance to Baroque in terms of contrasting visual schemes—for example the development from linear to painterly (malerisch). Wölfflin's view that style was a force in its own right rather than an intellectual abstraction and his lack of interest in iconography are out of tune with much modern thinking on art history, and his approach is often over-rigid; however, he was a figure of great importance in establishing his subject as an intellectually demanding discipline. Herbert Read wrote: ‘it could be said of him that he found art criticism a subjective chaos and left it a science.’ See also Post-Painterly Abstraction.

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