The discipline of art history first made its appearance in Germany, in the middle of the 18th century, but it was more than a hundred years before the lowering of the barriers that had excluded Jews from academic careers enabled them to enter this field. The Jewish inclination toward research and scholarship combined with a latent interest in the visual arts produced in Germany a large number of Jewish art historians, many of whom succeeded in continuing their work in other countries, especially in the United States, Britain, and Israel.
Jews were prominent as directors and founders of some of Germany's leading museums. Julius Friedlaender (1813–1884) and Julius Lessing (1843–1908) were both curators of the State Numismatic Museum in Berlin. Friedrich Lippmann (1838–1903) made the print department of the Berlin State Museum internationally important. One of his successors, Jacob Rosenberg (1893–1980), an authority on the work of Rembrandt and other Dutch artists, became professor of fine arts at Harvard University. Rosenberg's predecessor at Harvard, Paul Sachs (1878–1965), an American-born connoisseur and generous collector, was largely responsible for the university's collection of graphics. Two other art historians who made significant contributions to the history of the graphic arts were Max Lehrs (1855–1939), working in Dresden, Germany, and Franz Kristeller (1863–1931), who worked in Bologna, Italy. Their contribution to scholarship lay in the analytical description of works of art and the development of systems of organization and authentication. In the work of
the study and criticism of Italian art delved into the life and achievements of masters scarcely recognized before. Similar research into Dutch painting was undertaken by Max I. Friedlaender (1867–1958), director of the Berlin painting gallery until the advent of the Nazis. In the field of classical studies, the Anglo-American archaeologist Sir Charles Walston (formerly Waldstein; 1856–1927) supervised important excavations and wrote works on ancient Greek art. During the same period the French archaeologist Solomon
was combining his work on antiquity with a study of art generally. His Apollo, a collection of the lectures he delivered at the Ecole du Louvre in 1902–03, came to be for millions of readers the "manual of the history of art through the ages."
The Israel archaeologist
Leo Aryeh *Mayer
published works on Islamic architecture and archaeology. The art of Islam is also the field of research and teaching of Richard Ettinghausen (1906–1979), who was director of the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., and later connected with the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University. Alfred Salmony (1890–1958),
formerly in Cologne, taught the history of Chinese art. A scholar in the same field, William Cohn (1880–1961), went from Berlin to Oxford, England. A great contribution to art history in general and to English architectural history in particular was made by
Sir Nikolaus *Pevsner
. Another noteworthy Anglo-German architectural writer was Helen Rosenau (c. 1910– ). A scholar who concentrated on religious architecture was Richard Krautheimer (1897– ), one of whose first books dealt with medieval German synagogues. He later wrote a standard work in many volumes on the early churches of Rome as well as a study of the Renaissance sculptor Ghiberti. Paul Frankl (1877–1962) was a thoughtful interpreter of Gothic architecture and Paul Zucker (1890– ) related his experience as a Berlin architect to works – the later ones published after his emigration to the U.S. – on such varied subjects as the history of city planning, bridge architecture, and aesthetics. Important contributions to the history of painting and sculpture were made by Jewish scholars, who studied the problems of particular periods and styles. Walter Friedlaender (1873–1966), first in Freiburg, Germany, later in New York, helped to clarify 16th-century mannerism, while Werner Weisbach (1873–1953) enriched the concept of baroque art by relating it to the politico-theological problems of the following century. Many art historians have been influenced by the scholarship and teaching of Adolf Goldschmidt (1863–1944), who occupied the important chair of art history at Berlin University. He was a careful researcher, an exceptionally learned author, and a devoted teacher whose publications encompass many subjects, including medieval ivories, manuscripts, and bronze doors. Another German Jew who devoted himself to the medieval arts was George Swarzenski (1876–1957), whose connoisseurship and administrative skill were of considerable value to the museums of Frankfurt.
The Warburg Institute has had an intense impact on the ideas of art historians who went to the United States from Germany. Founded in Hamburg by
(1866–1929), it moved to London in 1933. Under the direction of Warburg himself and of Fritz Saxl (1890–1948), the library became a center of humanistic studies and of publications in the field of "Kulturwissenschaft."
, who became a member of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, transmuted iconography from an amalgam of auxiliary information into the science of iconology. In Panofsky the study of humanism underlying the philosophy of the Warburg Institute found its rich fulfillment. There were three other men with equally wide horizons of scholarship. One was the Russian-born Meyer Schapiro (1904– ), whose analysis and interpretation of artists and their works stretches from the classical to the contemporary scene. In 1965 he became professor of art history at Columbia University. The others were Otto Kurz (1908– ) and Rudolf Wittkower (1901– ), a German by birth, who also held a chair at Columbia, specializing in Italian art of the baroque period. E.H. Gombrich (1909– ), director of the Warburg Institute, was interested in the relationship between art and psychology. His Story of Art is a popular art history.
The following Italians should be mentioned: Igino Supino (b. 1858), an authority on restoration work; Ettore Modigliani (1873–1947), superintendent of ancient and modern work in Milan and founder of the Scala Theater Museum; and
(1878–1964), who wrote on Renaissance and modern art.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel and the founding of its Universities, all of the four major institutions have departments of art history, and many regional colleges have instituted instruction in art history as well. Israel's most prominent scholar of art history was
, who specialized in the Renaissance period.
Historians of Jewish Art
When the various fields of Jewish studies were defined by the scholars of the 19th century German movement
*Wissenschaft des Judentums
, Jewish art was not one of them. The prevalent notion in this period was that this aspect of Jewish life was not worthy of serious research since Judaism banned images and one should even question whether Jewish art ever existed. Actually, the first to deal with visual aspects of Jewish culture were Christian scholars, such as the French archeologist Louis-Félicien de Saulcy (1807–1880), who served as the consul of France in Jerusalem, and in 1858 published a book dealing with artistic creativity in biblical times (Histoire de l'art judaïque). The first Jewish scholar in the field was the
Hungarian David *Kaufmann
(1852–1899), who was actually interested in a vast spectrum of Jewish disciplines, including Jewish art and archeology. Kaufmann's seminal articles deal with the problem of art in rabbinical literature, synagogue interior decoration, ancient floor mosaics that were excavated during his lifetime, and Hebrew manuscript illumination. In 1898, Kaufmann collaborated with other scholars on the publication of the first monograph in the field, namely on the 14th-century Sephardi Sarajevo Haggadah (Die Haggadah von Sarajevo: Eine spanisch-judische Bilderhandschrift des Mittelalters, Vienna, 1898).
Toward the end of the 19th century scholarly attention was drawn for the first time to the study of Jewish ceremonial artistic objects. It was at this time that collections of ceremonial art were first established (e.g., that of Isaac Strauss in Paris), exhibited to the public (e.g., the Anglo-Jewish exhibition in London, 1887), and the first Jewish museums opened in some European-Jewish capitals (e.g., Vienna, 1897; Frankfurt, 1901). While some publications accompanied these events, the real impetus to scientific study of Jewish ceremonial art was given by yet another Christian scholar, the German Heinrich Frauberger (1845–1920). Frauberger served as the director of the Industrial and Crafts Museum (Kunstgewerbemuseum) in Duesseldorf, and his curiosity to investigate this topic was aroused when a local architect sought his advice on the design of a Jewish tombstone. In 1901 Frauberger established in Frankfurt the Gesellschaft zur Erforschung jueduscher kunstdenkmaeler, which engaged a number of Jewish scholars (mainly Rudolf Halo and Erich Toeplitz), and issued an illustrated
periodical, edited and largely written by Frauberger himself.
The scholarly interest in Jewish art increased in German-speaking lands in the 1920s and 1930s. Some of the more prominent names include the curator of the Berlin Jewish Museum, Karl Schwarz (1885–1962), who was later invited by Meir Dizengoff to head the new Tel Aviv Museum. His most important work, Die Juden in der Kunst, which appeared in Berlin in 1928, dealt more with what he defined as "art of the Jews" rather than "Jewish art." A year later there appeared another important work, that of the German-Jewish art historian,
(1882–1941), Die judische Kunst: Ihre Geschichte von den Anfangen bis zur Gegenwart (Berlin, 1929) – a serious attempt to systematically describe the development of Jewish art as it was known in those years.
While these scholars worked in relative isolation and did not endeavor to advance further research in the field, three other writers were more successful in promoting scholarly interest, as they published many more books and articles on many aspects of Jewish art, including ceremonial objects. The first of the three is the German-Jewish art historian Franz Landsberger (1883–1964), who turned to Jewish art only when the Nazis did not allow him to continue his work in general art at Breslau University. From 1935, when his first work on Jewish art appeared, until his death, he published numerous studies. In 1938 he fled Germany to England, and subsequently he was invited to lecture on Jewish art at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and later also to serve as the director of the school's museum of Judaica. His essays and books, now published in English, include topics such as the mezuzah and its case, ancient Torah curtains, illuminated ketubbot, ritual implements for the Sabbath, Hanukkah lamps (a representative selection is presented in J. Gutmann (ed.), Beauty in Holiness: Studies in Jewish Customs and Ceremonial Art, Ktav, 1970).
The second scholar is Rachel Wischnitzer (1885–1989), who was born in Russia, educated in Heidelberg and Paris, established herself in Berlin, and then moved to the U.S., where she worked for many years and taught Jewish art (Stern College). Trained as an architect, Wischnitzer published two major books in English on synagogue architecture – one on American synagogues (1955), and the other on European synagogues (1964). Her third English book deals with the messianic symbolism in the paintings of the newly discovered third century
synagogue (1948). While she was still in Berlin, Wischnitzer co-edited Rimon (1922–24), a richly and beautifully illustrated periodical dedicated to the arts in Jewish life which appeared in both Hebrew and Yiddish (under the title Milgroim). In Berlin she also issued her first book, dealing with the meaning of Jewish symbols (Symbole and Gestalten der juedishen Kunst, 1934), a subject which underlined many of her studies. Her prolific writings in the field are still the basis for research on central issues of Jewish art, though her interpretations are not always accepted.
(1897–1957), the last of the three, was actually the first scholar who worked in the Land of Israel and published most of his work in Hebrew. Following his immigration from Poland to Israel in 1920, he served as the chief assistant to
, the founder of the
School of Art in Jerusalem (1906). In 1925 Narkiss was appointed as the director of the newly established Bezalel Museum (later the Israel Museum). In this role Narkiss systematically acquired Judaic objects and Hebrew illuminated manuscripts (including the noted Birds Head Haggadah, and gradually devoted more and more time to research on Judaic objects. His education in a yeshivah, sound knowledge of the decorative arts, and mastery of several European languages undoubtedly provided him with the tools required for proper research in the field. Narkiss determined to write on Jewish art in a scientific manner differing from the "amateurish" writing of other scholars whose work he severely criticized in the several book reviews he published. His most important work is undoubtedly the monograph he dedicated to the history of the Hanukkah lamp (Jerusalem, 1939). This innovative work presented for the first time a thorough analysis of a single Jewish object, from its inception in the talmudic period until the modern period, and throughout the Jewish Diaspora. Living in Ereẓ Israel, Narkiss interacted with immigrant Jewish groups from different parts of the Jewish world, which led him to consider the visual heritage of the Jews from the lands of Islam – a subject almost entirely neglected by the scholars who preceded him. Notable in this respect is his short, pioneering book on the handicrafts of Yemenite Jews (Jerusalem, 1941), which paved the way and established the methodology for future studies on the material culture of the communities under Islamic rule.
In 1957, the year of Narkiss' untimely death, there appeared another major contribution, namely the book Jewish Art, edited by
(1899–1970) and Zusia Efron (1916–2002). The first edition included 18 articles by various experts, who systematically discussed the development of Jewish art from biblical times to modern Israel. The book was first published in Hebrew, then translated into several languages, expanded, and given a set of new images (first English edition, 1961). Though a historian by training, Roth, whose name appeared on all the subsequent editions of the book, was attracted to Jewish art and published many articles on the subject but never made it his main field of research. However, unlike other historians of Judaism, he often drew attention to the visual world in his historical studies. Despite its many shortcomings, Jewish Art continues to be the standard textbook on the subject to this day.
In the 1950s and 1960s several other scholars joined the field, and made it their primary subject of research. The first is the American (non-Jewish) scholar
Erwin Ramsdell *Goodenough
(1893–1965), who devoted many years to the interpretation of visual symbols in the talmudic period. His massive 13-volume Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period (1953–65) exhibits nearly every Judaic object and work of art known at the time. While his methodology and conclusions have been generally rejected by scholars, his comprehensive volumes continue to be a major resource, and he is credited
for drawing attention to the importance of visual culture in the talmudic period. Another American scholar,
(1923– ), dealt with nearly every aspect of Jewish art, including manuscript illumination, ceremonial objects and customs, and ancient synagogues as well as theoretical questions pertaining to the field. Gutmann's many books and articles have demonstrated the contribution of art to Jewish history and its interrelationships with Christian culture. In Europe, on the other hand, the leading scholars in the field have devoted their efforts mainly to book illumination (e.g., Thérèse and Mendel Metzger of Strasbourg, Gabrielle Sed-Rajana of Paris, and Luisa Mortara-Ottolenghi of Milan).
In Israel, Mordechai Narkiss' son,
(1926– ), continued the work of his father. His publications centered on Hebrew book illumination, pointing to their visual sources in the art of the Christian and Islamic societies that hosted the Jewish communities. In 1974, Narkiss started the publication of the annual Journal of Jewish Art (from 1986/87 called Jewish Art), and in 1979 established the Center for Jewish Art. The center is chiefly active in documenting Jewish works of art, illuminated Hebrew manuscripts, ritual objects, synagogues, and cemeteries throughout the world. In addition, the center issues various publications in the field, and sponsors international conferences. Another institution is the Society for Jewish Art, which promotes the field in Israel and publishes Rimonim, the only periodical in Hebrew devoted to the subject. Recent volumes of Rimonim (edited by Shalom Sabar) have been devoted to art and objects connected to life cycle events.
The pioneering work of the above scholars showed the way and is being continued by a number of institutions and younger scholars in Israel, the United States, and Europe. At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem classes in Jewish art and material culture are offered by the departments of Art History and Jewish and Comparative Folklore, and both programs allow students to obtain the three academic degrees in the field. Other institutions include partial programs, such as Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. Some of the scholars teaching in these and other schools include Vivian Mann (ceremonial art); Evelyn Cohen (Hebrew manuscript illumination), Bracha Yaniv (the Torah case and its appurtenances), and Shalom Sabar (ketubbot, Jewish folk art and rituals, magic and amulets, postcards, holy sites).
Important contributions to documentation and research of Judaica are also made by the curators of the Jewish museums around the world. The results of the fieldwork conducted by museum staffs culminate not only in a temporary exhibition but are best preserved in the accompanying catalog, often containing a number of pertinent essays. Some of the major exhibitions which pointed to new source materials and directions of research in the field include first and foremost the publications of the ethnography department at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and in particular the pioneering catalogs dealing with the arts and daily life of the Jews of Morocco (ed. Aviva Mueller-Lancet, 1973), Kurdistan (ed. Ora Schwartz-Be'eri, 1981), the Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire (ed. Esther Juhasz, 1990), India (ed. Orpah Slapak, 1995), Afghanistan (ed. No'am Bar'am-Ben Yossef, 1998), Yemen (Esther Muchawsky-Schnapper, 2000), and the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan (ed. Leah Mikdash-Shmailov, 2001). Some of the Jewish museums in Europe and the United States embarked on similar projects. Noteworthy in this respect are the exhibition catalogs co-edited by Vivian B. Mann of the Jewish Museum, New York (for example, A Tale of Two Cities: Jewish Life in Frankfurt and Istanbul 1750–1870 (1982) and Gardens and Ghettos: The Art of Jewish Life in Italy (1989)). In Europe we are witnessing a revival as well, and the leading Jewish museums sponsored major catalogs as well (for example, Orphan Objects: Facets of the Textiles Collection – The Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, 1997; Textiles Catalogue – Jewish Museum, Prague, 2003).
Despite the significant development of research in Jewish art during the last decades, the tasks facing scholars are still major and require many more of years of groundwork before the foundations of the field are firm and solid. The investigation of art and material culture of the Jews differs from that of other nations and presents problems that are particular to the development of Judaism and Jewish history. Sincere and serious research should take into account the special circumstances in which the objects were created, the Jewish ideas and customs underlying their production and usage, and the influences of the host culture.
Historians of Modern Jewish Art
The bourgeoning field of artistic expression by Jews in the 20th century opened new avenues of research. Among notable scholars of contemporary Jewish Art are Avram Kampf (1919– ), who was connected with the Jewish Museum in New York. He analyzed the renaissance of Jewish religious art in the United States in his Contemporary Synagogue Art and From Chagall to Kitaj, Jewish Experience in Twentieth Century Art. Other prominent scholars include
(1939– ), winner of the Israel Prize in 2004 for her ground-breaking scholarship on Holocaust art, as in Depiction and Interpretation – the Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts, Monica Bohm-Duchen in England and Milly Heyd (1945– ) of the Hebrew University, who together with Matthew Baigell (1933– ) of Rutgers University, published Complex identities: Jewish Consciousness and Modern Art.
Jewish Art Critics
The influence on the appreciation of artists and art of Jewish critics writing in the daily press, in journals, and in magazines has grown appreciably since the beginning of the 20th century. Foremost among them were the German writers Max Osborn, from 1914 to 1933, art critic of the Vossische Zeitung, Lothar Brieger (1879–1949), and Carl Einstein (1885–1940), an authority on postimpressionism; and the Americans Harold Rosenberg (1906–1978), Clement Greenberg (1906–1994),
Hilton Kramer (1928– ), art critic for the New York Times between 1965 and 1982, and Jed Perl (1951– ), art critic for the New Republic. In Israel, the veteran artist and art critic Meir Ronnen wrote for the Jerusalem Post and Smadar Sheffi for Haaretz.