Jacob Burckhardt  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Jacob Burckhardt (May 25, 1818, Basel, SwitzerlandAugust 8, 1897, Basel) was a Swiss historian of art and culture, fields which he helped found. His best known work is The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.

Contents

Praise

Siegfried Giedion, in Space, Time and Architecture called him "The great discoverer of the age of the Renaissance, he first showed how a period should be treated in its entirety, with regard not only for its painting, sculpture and architecture, but for the social institutions of its daily life as well." He is known as one of the major progenitors of cultural history. (albeit in a form very different from how cultural history is conceived and studied in academia today).

On mannerism

Burckhardt generally viewed the periods following the renaissance, such as Mannerism and the Baroque as "raw and deviant" (Der Cicerone, 1855).


Burckhardt And Nietzsche

Nietzsche believed Burckhardt agreed with the thesis of his The Birth of Tragedy, namely that Greek culture was defined by opposing "Apollinian" and "Dyonisian" tendencies. Nietzsche and Burkhardt enjoyed each other's intellectual company, even as Burckhardt kept his distance from Nietzsche's evolving philosophy. Their extensive correspondence over a number of years has been published.

Work

Burkhardt's historical writings did much to establish art history as an academic discipline, and also have literary value in their own right. His innovative approach to historical research emphasized the value of culture and art when analyzing the social and political trends underlying historical events.

In 1838 he made his first journey to Italy, and published his first important articles, Bemerkungen über schweizerische Kathedralen ("Remarks about Swiss Cathedrals"). In 1847 he brought out new editions of Kugler's two great works, Geschichte der Malerei and Kunstgeschichte, and in 1853 published his own work, Die Zeit Constantins des Grossen ("The Age of Constantine the Great"). He spent the greater part of the years 1853–1854 in Italy, collecting materials for his 1855 Der Cicerone: Eine Anleitung zum Genuss der Kunstwerke Italiens (7th German edition, 1899), also dedicated to Kugler. This work, "the finest travel guide that has ever been written" which covered sculpture and architecture, as well as painting, became an indispensable guide to the art traveller in Italy.

About half of the original edition was devoted to the art of the Renaissance. Thus Burckhardt was naturally led to write the two books for which he is best known, his 1860 Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien ("The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy") (English translation, by SGC Middlemore, in 2 vols., London, 1878), and his 1867 Geschichte der Renaissance in Italien ("The History of the Renaissance in Italy"). The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy was the most influential interpretation of the Italian Renaissance in the 19th century and is still widely read. Burckhardt and the German historian George Voigt founded the historical study of the Renaissance. In contrast to Voigt, who confined his studies to early Italian humanism, Burckhardt dealt with all aspects of Renaissance society.

Burkhardt considered the study of ancient history an intellectual necessity and was a highly respected scholar of Greek civilization. "The Greeks and Greek Civilization" sums up of the relevant lectures, "Griechische Kulturgeschichte", which Burckhardt first gave in 1872 and which he repeated until 1885. At his death, he was working on a four-volume survey of Greek civilization.

Friedrich Nietzsche, appointed professor of classical philology at Basel in 1869 at the age of 24, admired Burckhardt and attended some of his lectures. Nietzsche believed Burckhardt agreed with the thesis of his The Birth of Tragedy, namely that Greek culture was defined by opposing "Apollinian" and "Dyonisian" tendencies. Nietzsche and Burkhardt enjoyed each other's intellectual company, even as Burckhardt kept his distance from Nietzsche's evolving philosophy. Their extensive correspondence over a number of years has been published. Burckhardt's student Heinrich Wölfflin succeeded him at the University of Basel at the age of only twenty-eight.

There is an interesting tension in Burkhardt's persona between the wise and worldly student of the Italian Renaissance, and the cautious product of Swiss Calvinism who had studied extensively for the ministry. The Swiss polity in which he spent nearly all of his life was a good deal more democratic and stable than was the norm in 19th century Europe. As a Swiss, Burkhardt was also cool to German nationalism and to German claims of cultural and intellectual superiority. He was also amply aware of the rapid political and economic changes taking place in the Europe of his day, commenting in his lectures and writings on the Industrial Revolution, the European political upheavals of his day, and the growing European nationalism and militarism. Events amply fulfilled his prediction of a cataclysmic 20th century, in which violent demagogues (whom he called "terrible simplifiers") would play central roles. Burckhardt the prophetic pessimist and cautious liberal, the German language counterpart to Tocqueville and Lord Acton, and the author of three volumes reprinted by the Liberty Fund, has some following among contemporary conservative political and moral philosophers. On Burckhardt the political and social thinker, see Sigurdson (2004).

Bibliography

  • Carl Martell (1840)
  • Kunstwerke der belgischen Städte (1842)
  • Conrad von Hochstaden (1843)
  • Die Zeit Constantins des Großen (1853)
  • Der Cicerone (1855)
  • Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien (1860)

Aus dem Nachlass erschienen:

  • Erinnerungen aus Rubens (1898)
  • Griechische Kulturgeschichte (1898–1902)
  • Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen (1905)

Werkausgaben:

  • Jacob Burckhardt-Gesamtausgabe. Schwabe, Basel 1929–1934.
  • Gesammelte Werke. 10 Bände. Schwabe, Basel 1955–1959.
  • Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Hrsg. von der Jacob Burckhardt-Stiftung, Basel. 29 Bände. Schwabe, Basel, und Beck, München, ab 2002 (bisher 16 Bände erschienen; Editionsplan).
  • Briefe. Vollständig und kritisch bearbeitete Ausgabe mit Benützung des handschriftlichen Nachlasses hergestellt von Max Burckhardt. 11 Bände. Schwabe, Basel 1949–1994.




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