Heinrich Wölfflin

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Heinrich Wölfflin (Photo by Rudolf Dührkoop )

Heinrich Wölfflin (born June 21, 1864 in Winterthur , † July 19, 1945 in Zurich ) was a Swiss art historian .


Bust in the main building of the LMU , Munich

Heinrich Wölfflin was a son of the classical philologist and professor Eduard Wölfflin and his wife Bertha Born Troll as well as the older brother of Ernst Wölfflin . On April 12, 1880, he moved from the Erlangen college to the second class of the Maximiliansgymnasium in Munich , where he graduated from high school in 1882. He studied philosophy at the University of Basel and at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin , and later also art history in Munich . In 1886 he wrote his dissertation Prolegomena on a psychology of architecture with the archaeologist Heinrich Brunn . A subsequent two-year stay at the German Archaeological Institute in Rome led to his habilitation thesis Renaissance and Baroque . In 1893 he succeeded his teacher Jacob Burckhardt as professor of art history at the University of Basel. There he also taught women such as Adele Stöcklin (1876–1960), who later earned her doctorate in folklore and worked at the Kupferstichkabinett , the painter Maria Lotz (1877–1970), Emmy Elisabeth Koettgen (1868–1948), who graduated from Zurich and then became a teacher in Waldenburg , and Maria Gundrum maintained personal and correspondence contact with Wölfflin.

When Wölfflin left Munich at the end of the winter semester of 1924 and moved to Switzerland, he wanted to give a graduation party. Since Hugo Bruckmann and his wife Elsa did not make their house available for this, Maria Gundrum opened her house for it. The students also met there with Wölfflin during Wölfflin's guest semester in the winter of 1926/27. The core of the participants in the “Gundrum Circle” were art history students from Switzerland.

This was followed by calls to the universities of Berlin in 1901, Munich in 1912 and Zurich in 1924. His students include August Grisebach , Erwin Anton Gutkind , Ernst Gombrich , Kurt Gerstenberg , Carl Einstein , Hermann Beenken , Ernst Gall , Max Sauerlandt , Paul Frankl , Walther Rehm, Erwin Panofsky , Kurt Martin , Justus Bier and Hans Rose , as well as the artist Alf Bayrle .

Wölfflin was awarded the Dr. med. H. c. from the University of Zurich and in 1944 the Dr. H. c. from the University of Berlin. From 1922 he was a corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences .

Heinrich Wölfflin (1864–1945) art historian.  Professor of Art History at the University of Zurich.  Family grave in the Wolfgottesacker cemetery, Basel
Grave in the Wolfgottesacker cemetery

Wöfflin's grave is on the Wolfgottesacker in Basel . He bequeathed his library and photo collection to the University of Zurich.


Wölfflin's approach to art history is considered formalism , as he viewed works of art according to their external form, i.e. their style . He was one of the first art historians to consistently use two slide projectors in his lectures , which allowed him to compare works of art directly with one another. Mainly by comparing works of the Renaissance with works of the Baroque , he developed five conceptual pairs of opposites in his main work Basic Concepts of Art History (1915), which can be used to describe formal differences between works of art from the Renaissance and the Baroque:

Linear Picturesque
surface depth
Closed Open
Multiplicity unit
clarity Ambiguity and agitation

With his system, Wölfflin established the periodicity and transferability of the terms archaic, classic, baroque, etc. Wölfflin himself described his approach as art history without a name, since the focus of his considerations was less on the individual artist than on the development of a style history in which he wanted to discover and name commonalities in the art of certain epochs or countries.

Although his pairs of terms were subject to severe criticism, his work is considered one of the most important foundations of formal art viewing. Above all, his terms linear and painterly are still common categories to describe the artistic style. Fritz Strich transferred his style typology to literary studies in the 1920s and continued to work there. Wölfflin's theory of a regular change between linear and painterly periods is referred to in art and literary history as the wave theory.

A further interpretation of the pair of terms linear / painterly can also be found in Lambert Wiesing's philosophical book Ich für mich. Phenomenology of self-awareness of 2020. Here the basic terms linear and painterly designate ontological basic categories; namely two extreme "styles of existence" in which a person becomes aware of himself and experiences his self-worth, his relationship to his own body and to the material world.


At a time when the humanities had to assert themselves against the competition of the natural sciences, Wölfflin was looking for objective criteria for viewing art, striving for a bridge between sensory physiology and perceptual psychology . His dissertation sought “a fundamental understanding of the conditions that remain inevitable for our perception at all times”.



  • Wilhelm Zils (Hrsg.): Intellectual and artistic Munich in autobiographies. Munich 1913.
  • Gerhard Lüdtke (Ed.): Kürschner's German Scholars Calendar. de Gruyter, Berlin 1931, p. 376.
  • Swiss Contemporary Lexicon , 2nd edition, 1932. - New Swiss Contemporary Lexicon (1938), p. 315.
  • Hermann Degener (Ed.): Who is it? , 10th edition, Leipzig 1935.
  • Hanna Levy : Henri Wölfflin. Theory. Ses prédécesseurs. Dissertation, Univ. Paris, M. Rothschild, Rottweil a. N. 1936.
  • Eduard His (Hrsg.): Basel scholars of the 19th century. Schwabe, Basel 1941 (photography).
  • Richard Zürcher: On the death of Heinrich Wölfflin , in: Architecture and Art , Vol. 32, 1945, pp. 385–388.
  • Biographical Lexicon of Deceased Swiss 2, 1948, p. 499.
  • Andreas Staehelin (Ed.): Professors from the University of Basel from five centuries. Portraits and tributes. Basel 1960, p. 411 (photography).
  • Wolfgang Müller: The basic terms of Heinrich Wölfflin in French . Dissertation, Univ. Tuebingen 1969. Tuebingen 1969, DNB  482602961 .
  • Werner Schuder (Ed.): Kürschner's German Literature Calendar. Nekrolog 1936-1970. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1973.
  • Meinhold Lurz: Heinrich Wölfflin, biography of an art theory (= Heidelberg art-historical treatises, N. F., Volume 14). Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft, Worms 1981, ISBN 3-88462-003-7 .
  • Andreas Eckl: Categories of perception. On the transcendental philosophical meaning of Heinrich Wölfflin's «Art-historical Basic Concepts». Dissertation, Univ. Bonn 1994. Fink, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-7705-3072-1 .
  • Lambert Wiesing: The logic of perspectives. Heinrich Wölfflin (1864–1945) . In: Ders .: The visibility of the image. History and Perspectives of Formal Aesthetics . Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2008, pp. 95–141.
  • Andreas Ay: At night: read Goethe. Heinrich Wölfflin and his Goethe reception . V&R unipress, Göttingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-89971-581-1 .
  • Hans Christian Hönes: Wölfflin's picture body. Ideal and failure of art historical view. Diaphanes, Zurich 2011, ISBN 978-3-03734-167-4 .
  • Matteo Burioni, Burcu Dogramaci and Ulrich Pfisterer (eds.): Art stories 1915. 100 years of Heinrich Wölfflin: Basic concepts of art history. Dietmar Klinger Verlag, Passau 2015, ISBN 978-3-86328-136-6 .
  • Elisabeth Eggimann Gerber: Wölfflin, Heinrich. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . (2015).

Web links

Commons : Heinrich Wölfflin  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Annual report on the K. Maximilians-Gymnasium in Munich for the school year 1881/82.
  2. Dorothea Roth: Wölfflis students. In: Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde, Vol. 96, 1966, p. 156. Retrieved on November 12, 2019 .
  3. Dorothea Roth: Munich Gundrum Circle. In: Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde, Vol. 96, 1966, p. 201. Retrieved on November 12, 2019 .
  4. ^ Heinrich Wölfflin Obituary by Hans Jantzen in the 1946 yearbook of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences (PDF file).
  5. ^ Ernst H. Gombrich: The Art of the Renaissance I. Norm and Form. Reprint from Klett, Stuttgart 1985, p. 119, ISBN 3608761462 .
  6. ^ Tristan Weddigen: Morphology of a Science. Heinrich Wölfflin's «Basic Concepts in Art History» appeared a hundred years ago . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , December 12, 2015, p. 48.
  7. Cf. for example Volker Klotz : Closed and Open Form in Drama. Munich 1960.
  8. ^ Heinrich Wölfflin: Prolegomena to a psychology of architecture . Munich 1886.