David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

A Victory for Civilization


Civilization has just won a small but rather satisfying victory. Someone opened a safe which had belonged to the pre-war Nazi party but ever since had been neglected in a cellar in Munich. Lo and behold, inside was a 334-page manuscript that the Nazis had confiscated. Experts in the know had long lamented that this work had then been lost for ever, presumed destroyed. The author is Erwin Panofsky, probably the foremost art historian in Germany at a time when he and other scholars, German Jews for the most part, were making an academic discipline of the history of art. Hitler put a stop to that. In 1933 the Nazis forced Panofsky out of his professorship at the university of Hamburg. Emigrating to the States, he became a professor at NYU.

This manuscript evaluates and compares the two great masters, Michaelangelo and Raphael. No doubt written and researched above the level of the ordinary person, it will not be an easy read. I used to attend the lectures of Professor Edgar Wind, Panofsky’s first pupil, also driven out by the Nazis, and I did not understand much of what he was explaining. Iconography was the special study he had learnt from Panofsky, and it’s for scholars. Still, the world’s furniture is the richer for having Panofsky’s missing manuscript. Now and again, the pen really is mightier than the sword.


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