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Wind, Edgar [Marcel]

Date born: May 14, 1900

Place born:  Berlin, Germany

Date died:  Septembere 12, 1971

Place died:  London, United Kingdom

Iconologist specializing in the Renaissance era; and interdisciplinary art historian; first professor of art history at Oxford University.  Wind learned classical languages along with French, English, and his native German at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Schule, a humanistisches Gymnasium in Charlottenburg.  He studied jointly philosophy and art history at various Germanic universities: three semesters in Berlin under Adolph Goldschmidt, one in Freiburg with Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), and Vienna with Max Dvořák, Julius von Schlosser, and Josef Strzygowski. In 1920 he moved to the new university in Hamburg (begun in 1919) where he was the first student to write a dissertation under Erwin Panofsky, then a 28-year-old privatdozent, and supervised by the philosopher/art historian Ernst Cassirer.  His topic was on art-historical method.  To escape the economic depression gripping Germany, Wind traveled to New York in 1924, initially staying with a cousin.  He was appointed Graham Kenan Fellow in philosophy at the University of North Carolina, teaching there 1925-1927.  Returning to Hamburg, Wind took a job as a research assistant at the Warburg Library, and wrote his habilitation under Cassirer in philosophy, employing the philosophy of Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914), whose work he had read in America.   Wind's initial methodological influence had been that of Cassirer through Panofsky, but his close personal relationship with Aby Warburg brought him nearer to the "cultural history" approach of Warburg as well as the work of Pierce.  Wind became a privatdozent at Hamburg, 1930-1933.  With the advent of Nazism in Germany, Wind, a Jew, played a key role in moving the Warburg library to London along with himself and, with Rudolf Wittkower, founded the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute in 1937.  Throughout the second World War, Wind taught at universities in the United States, (New York University, 1940-1942 and the University of Chicago, 1942-1944) and eleven years at Smith College, 1944-1955.  In 1954 Wind was asked to deliver the Chichele Lectures at All Souls College, Oxford, on the topic "Art and Scholarship under Julius II." These resulted in a 1955 appointment as the first Professorship of art history at Oxford (under the Faculty of Modern History).  In 1960 Wind delivered radio lectures for the BBC, the Reith lectures, which later became his book Art and Anarchy.  His Oxford colleagues had difficulty appreciating Wind's philosophical propensities, his adulation of Cassierer and the post Hegelians (McConica). At Oxford he garnered the support of the classicist Richard Livingstone (1880-1960) (soon to be president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford) the medievalist Ernest Jacob (1894-1971), Chichele chair for medieval history All Souls College, and the classicist C. Maurice Bowra (1898-1971) of Wadham College. Wind also enjoyed the friendship of Jean Seznec, an art historian occupying the Marshall Foch Chair for french literature at All Souls College. Wind retired emeritus from Oxford in 1967. Though Wind was considered a classicist and Renaissance expert, he staunchly defended modern art, unlike many of his colleagues.

Wind’s name is most closely connected with his research in allegory and the use of pagan mythology during the 15th-16th centuries and his book of essays on the topic, Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance.  In Art and Anarchy, Wind argued that the height of art’s powers to portray an idea had occurred in the Renaissance.  The Romantic era’s distrust that knowledge interfered with imagination had destroyed the acumen in modern viewers.  Wind fits no traditional academic classification and is one of the prime examples of the intellectual tradition of Warburg's blend of mythological/psychological approach to art history.  One of his students, William S. Heckscher, referred to Wind as a "magician" for his brilliance as an art historian. His papers are housed at Oxford. LS

Home Country:  Germany/United States/United Kingdom  

Sources:  Sears, Elizabeth.  “Edgar Wind on Michelangelo.”  in, Wind, Edgar. The Religious Symbolism of Michelangelo: the Sistine Ceiling.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000;  Kleinbauer, W. Eugene.  Research Guide to the History of Western Art.  Chicago:  American Library Association, 1982, p. 78; 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, pp. 63, 34 n. 72, 45 n. 90, 63 n. 1445; Gilbert, Creighton."Edgar Wind as Man and Thinker" New Criterion 3 no. 2 (October 1984): 36-41; Bazin, Germain.  Histoire de l'histoire d l'art; de Vasari à nos jours.  Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 227; Eisler, Colin. "Kunstgeschichte American Style: A Study in Migration." In The Intellectual Migration: Europe and America: 1930-1960. Edited by Donald Fleming and Bernard Bailyn. Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1969, p. 618;  Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 474-477;  James McConica.  "Edgar Winds Oxforder Jahre" in Edgar Wind:  Kunsthistoriker und Philosoph.  Berlin:  Akademie Verlag, 1998, pp. 3-9;  The Dictionary of Art 33:  242-3; 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. 774-779; [obituary:] "Edgar Wind Dies: Art Historian."  New York Times. September 18, 1971, p. 32.

Bibliography: [dissertation] Ästhetischer und kunstwissenschaftlicher Gegenstand: ein Beitrag zur Methodologie der Kunstgeschichte.  Hamburg, 1922. Partially reprinted as: "Zur systematik der künstlerischen Probleme." Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft 18 (1924): 438-86. and 25 (1931): 163-68 [Beilageheft]; [habilitationschrift] Das experiment und die metaphysik; zur auflösung der kosmologischen antinomien. Tübingen: Mohr, 1934; Bellini's Feast of the Gods: A Stidy in Venetian Humanism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1948; "The Revolution of History Painting." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 2 (1938-9): 116-27;  Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance. London: Faber & Faber, 1958; Art and Anarchy. London: 1963; "Michelangelo's Prophets and Sibyls." Proceedings of the British Academy 51 (1965): 47-84; Giorgione's Tempesta with Comments on Giorgione's Poetic Allegories. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969; Hume and the Heroic Portrait: Studies in Eighteenth-century Imagery.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986;  The Religious Symbolism of Michelangelo: the Sistine Ceiling.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Subject's name: Edgar Wind