DICTIONARY OF ART HISTORIANS
A Biographical Dictionary of Historic Scholars, Museum Professionals and Academic Historians of Art
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Argan, Giulio Carlo
January 1, 1909
January 1, 1992
Marxist art historian, professor at University of Rome 1959-1976; specialist in Italian art. Argan's father, Valerio Argan, was an administrator of a women's mental hospital and his mother, Libera Roncaroli, a primary school teacher. An uncle's subscription to the journal La Critica, founded by Benedetto Croce, introduced the ideas of that art philosopher to Argan at a young age. He attended the Liceo Classico Cavour in Turin where the classes of the young Giusta Nicco Fasola (1901-1960) instilled a passion for art. He painted skillfully enough to win local art competitions. Argan entered the University of Turin in 1927 to study law. The lectures of Lionello Venturi on Impressionism convinced him to give up painting as a past time for art history, particularly architectural history. An initial article, on Palladio's architecture, appeared in Venturi's journal L'arte in 1930. Argan received a Laurea degree in art history at Turin, writing his dissertation under Venturi in 1930 on Sebastiano Serlio's treatise on architecture. In 1931 he secured a fellowship to work as an Assistant at the University of Rome's school of art history under Pietro Toesca. In 1933 he began his career in various capacities of the fine arts administration, principally in Rome. These included director of the Pinacoteca Estense in Modena and Inspector of Museums and Art Galleries, 1933-1935, and then Minister of Fine Arts. From 1936, he was associated with the group of intellectual who wrote for Casabella, marrying its editor, Anna Maria Mazzucchelli, in 1939. Working closely with Bottai, the minister of Culture, he endowed a government institute for restoration, seating his friend, Cesare Brandi as first director in 1938. During World War II, Argan applied his Crocean anti-fascist beliefs to work against the German usurping Italian cultural property during the occupation. Following the war he worked on a committee with Roberto Longhi to restore stolen Italian artworks. Argan's reading took on a decidedly Marxist direction, studying the works of Gramshi, Husserl, Adorno and Marcuse, which had been unknown in Italy during fascism. As Inspector for the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage he quarreled with (and likely fired) Federico Zeri in 1952 accusing Zeri of a conflict of interest with Zeri's private consultation. Argan taught at the University of Palermo 1954-58 and then succeeded his mentor, Venturi as chair of modern art at the University of Rome in 1959. During this time, he authored his three-volume Storia dell'arte italiana, in 1968, and the volume on modern European art for the prestigious German-language art history, Propyläen Kunstgeschichte in 1977. In 1976 he relinquished his professorship when he was elected Mayor of Rome (through 1979) as a Communist and later, in the same party, as a senator, 1981-1992. In 1987 he co-founded the magazine Storia dell'Arte, co-edited with Luigi Salerno.
Sources: Hüttinger, Eduard. "Aspekt der modernen italiensichen Kunsthistoriographie: Zum Werk von Giulio Carlo Argan." in Chroscicki, Juliusz A. Ars auro prior : studia Ioanni Bialostocki sexagenario dicata. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawn. Nauk., 1981, pp. 39-42; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, pp. 138-139; Studi in onore di Giulio Carlo Argan. (Il pensiero critico di Giulio Carlo Argan). Roma: Multigrafica, 1984-1985; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l'histoire de l'art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 438; The Dictionary of Art 2: 391-2; [manuscript] Argan, Giulio Carlo, Passerini, Luisa, interviewer. L’entrata dell’arte nella vita quotidiana/Bringing art into everyday life: Giulio Carlo Argan. Los Angeles: Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles, and the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1993 [biographical dates vary between translated sections], pp. 1-6]; Buonazia, Irene, and Perelman, Marc. Giulio Carlo Argan : 1909-1992. Historien de l'art et maire de Rome. Paris: Passion, 1999; [obituary:] New York Times November 14, 1992, p. 27.
Bibliography: [dissertation:] Trattato d'architecture d' Sebastiano Serlio. Turin, 1930; L'architettura protocristiana preromanica e romanica. Florence: Novissima enciclopedia monographica illustrata 1936; Marcel Breuer: disegno industriale e architettura. Milan: Görlich, 1957; Umberto Boccioni. Rome: De Luca, 1953; Fra Angelico: Biographical and Critical Study. Translated from the Italian by James Emmons. Geneva: Skira, 1955; "The Renaissance." [chapter in] Jaffé, Hans Ludwig C., and Kahane, P. P., eds. 20,000 years of World Painting. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1967; Storia dell'arte italiana. 3 vols. Florence: Sansoni, 1968-69; Studi e note dal Bramante al Canova. Biblioteca di storia dell'arte (Bulzoni editore) vol. 1. Rome: M. Bulzoni, 1970; and Bossaglia, Rossana. Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, 1880-1940. Propyläen Kunstgeschichte 12. Berlin: Propyläen-Verlag, 1977.