Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897)

Biographical Sketch

Jacob Burckhardt

* 25.5.1818 in Basel; † 8.8.1897 in Basel Art critic; Editor; Ordinarius for History; Professor of Art History

Burckhardt came from a pastor family and lived all his life in Basel. He only ever left the town temporarily: from 1839 until 1843 (once he had fulfilled his father’s wish and finished his studies in theology) he moved to Berlin, where he studied history with L. v. Ranke. In 1846/47, on F. Kugler's request, Burkhardt assisted him in revising his two handbooks. From 1855 until 1858 he once again left Basel, as he was offered a position as professor of Art History and Archaeology in Switzerland at the Zürich Polytechnic. Burckhardt also enjoyed travelling to Italy.
In his hometown, Basel, Burckhardt was editor of the Basler Zeitung. After 1845 he became professor of History and three years later he taught at the Pädagogium (1848-1853). In 1858 he finally became Ordinarius for History, and from 1874 onwards he additionally accepted a professorship for History of Art. In 1893 Burckhardt retired from teaching at University.

Biographical Links
The Dictionary of Art Historians
Burckhardt Source



J. Burckhardt was formative for the subject of history of art – even though one would not exactly call him ground-breaking. Art historically he derived from Berlin, from the school of F. Kugler , yet this did not shape his methodical standpoint sufficiently. Burckhardt had a broad knowledge of historical monuments and his central idea was aimed at creating an instruction for the aesthetical appreciation of single works of art. Furthermore, he wanted to expand the systematic art history to envelop new tasks, and to grasp the formal and stylistic developments in their own dynamics. Predominantly Burckhardt had the personality of a teacher. This was reflected not only in his lectures at university, but also in more than 170 public lectures and the history lessons he taught twice a week for four hours at the Pädagogium. It was at his suggestion that a professorship for Art History in Basel was considered and finally established by his distinguished pupil H. Wölfflin. Burckhardt published sparingly: in his early years – following C.Schnaase's Niederländische Briefe - he wrote the Kunstwerke der belgischen Städte (1842); the book Die Zeit Constantins des Großen (1853) on Constantine the Great, the Cicerone (1855), a mixture of a travel guide and an art historical handbook, was produced in part due to financial difficulties; followed by the Cultur der Renaissance (1860), which, however, omitted the visual arts. The latter was part of a major project on the Italian Cinquecento that he had planned but never completed. Finally he wrote the Geschichte der Renaissance in Italien (1867), initially as the 4th volume of Kugler’s Geschichte der Baukunst des Abendlandes, which W. Lübke had been continuing after Kugler's death. Shortly after his own death the Erinnerungen an Rubens (1898), Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte von Italien (1898) and the Griechische Kulturgeschichte (1898) from his considerable bequest were published. (S.E. translated by A.B.)

Jacob Burckhardt - article

Burckhardt, Jacob
Ueber die vorgothischen Kirchen am Niederrhein
In: Niederrheinisches Jahrbuch für Geschichte und Kunst, [1].1843, S. 177-192

Burckhardt, Jacob
Venedig am Ende des 15. Jahrhunderts
In: Die Kunst für alle 40 (1924/25), S. 236

Burckhardt, Jacob
Briefe Jacob Burckhardts an seinen Schüler Albert Brenner
In: Der Kunstwart, 44 (1930/31), S. 716-726

Further Reading

Editorial staff

Sources for the History of Art History - digital