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Wilde, Johannes [né Janós]

Date born: 1891

Place born: Budapest, Hungary

Date died: 1970

Place died: Dulwich, United Kingdom

Michelangelo scholar and Deputy Director of the Courtauld Institute, professor 1950-58. Wilde was raised in Hungary. His parents were Richard Wilde (1840-1912) and Rosalie Somjágy (Wilde) (1854-1928). He attended the State Gymnasium in Budapest before the University of Budapest, 1909-1913 where he studied art, archaeology and philosophy, then one semester at the University of Freiburg before settling at the University of Vienna, 1915-1917. In Vienna he studied under Vienna-school scholar Max Dvořák, with whom he wrote his doctorate in 1918 on early Italian etching. Since 1914 he had been a volunteer at the department of prints at the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. In 1918 he was promoted to Assistant Curator at the Museum. There he was a member of the so-called Budapest Sunday Circle (Budapester Sonntagskreis) whose members included Fredrick Antal, Arnold Hauser and Charles de Tolnay. In 1922 he moved permanently to Vienna where he was an assistant at the Gemäldegalerie of the Kunsthistorischen Museums, under the direction of the talented Gustav Glück. In Vienna he collaborated with Karl Maria Swoboda in editing the collected works of Dvořák. In 1923 he became Assistant Keeper, then Keeper of the Gemäldegalerie, where he was an early exponent of the use of x-rays for painting conservation. He became an Austrian citizen in 1928. In 1930 Wilde married the art historian Julia Gyárfás (d. 1970). Although Wilde was Roman Catholic, his Jewish wife was in jeopardy when the Nazis rose to power in 1933. The couple left for Holland in 1939 and then, as guests of Sir Kenneth Clark went to Aberystwyth, Wales, to consult for his former student, Count Antoine Seilern und Aspang on his collection. Wilde also assisted in cataloging the pictures of the National Gallery, where the London paintings were stored for safekeeping. Wilde was asked by the Keeper of Prints and Drawings Arthur E. Popham of the British Museum to write a catalog of old master drawings at Windsor Castle in 1939. When World War II broke out, the Wilde’s were interned and deported to an alien camp in Canada for the years 1940-1941, erroneously charged with signaling enemy submarines. They returned to England in 1941 where Wilde resumed his work on the Windsor Castle catalog. At the same time he began lecturing at the Courtauld Institute. He became a Reader in the History of Art there in 1947. The following year he advanced to Deputy Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art which he held until 1958. He was professor of History of Art beginning in 1950. He became emeritus in 1958. His students included John Shearman and Eve Borsook.

Wilde published comparatively little and never allowed his lectures to be printed in his lifetime (his Michelangelo lectures appeared in 1978). Early on he was influenced by the work of the philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), especially evident in Wilde’s empirical approach to studying the object (Shearman). Wilde’s scholarship on Michelangelo is some of his finest, his Windsor Castle collection catalog dispelled many myths about the artist. Wilde was an equal authority on Venetian art, a reputation he had already built during his years at the Gemäldegalerie in Vienna.

Home Country: United Kingdom

Sources: Clark, Kenneth. “Johannes Wilde.” Burlington Magazine 103 (June 1961): 205; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 87 cited; Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 2, pp. 767-773; [obituaries:] “Johannes Wilde Art Historian and Teacher.” The Times (London) September 15, 1970; p. 12; Hirst, Michael. Burlington Magazine 113 (March 1971): 155-7; Blunt, Anthony. Master Drawings 9 no. 2 (Summer 1971): 173-4; Shearman, John. “Johannes Wilde (1891-1970).” Akten des XXV. Internationalen Kongresses für Kunstgeschichte, Wien, 1983. Vienna: Böhlau, 1984, pp. 91-98.

Bibliography: [dissertation:] Die Anfange der italienischen Radierung. University of Vienna, 1918; "The Hall of the Great Council of Florence." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 7 (1944): 65-81; Kunstgeschichte als Geistesgeschichte: Studien zur abendländischen Kunstentwicklung. Munich: R. Piper, 1924; Geschichte der italienischen Kunst im zeitalter der Renaissance; Akademische Vorlesungen von Max Dvorák. Munich: R. Piper, 1926-27; edited, with Karl M. Swoboda, [works of Max Dvorák:] Das Rätsel der Kunst der Brüder van Eyck. Munich: R. Piper, 1925, and Popham, A. E. The Italian Drawings of the XV and XVI Centuries in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle. London: Phaidon Press, 1949; Michelangelo's "Victory". New York: Oxford University Press, 1954; Venetian Art from Bellini to Titian. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974; Michelangelo: Six Lectures. Oxford Studies in the History of Art and Architecture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Subject's name: Johannes Wilde