Renaissance and Reformation Erwin Panofsky
David Wagner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 April 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0414


Erwin Panofsky (b. 1892–d. 1968) was a German art historian who, after immigrating to the United States in 1933, became one of the most influential figures in 20th-century art history. His method of reading works of art as historical documents and understanding their interpretation as intimately connected to the literary and philosophical currents of their times is called iconology. While his early writings reflect the theoretical problems of art historical analysis, his later writings aim more at applying than at justifying this procedure. Panofsky was born in Hanover. He went to high school in Berlin and subsequently studied art history at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau, where he completed his doctorate in 1913 with a prize thesis on Albrecht Dürer’s art theory. He worked as a Privatdozent from 1920 at the University of Hamburg, where he was appointed to the chair of art history in 1926 after defending his thesis on formal principles in the works of Michelangelo and Raffael. In his Hamburg years two important influences on Panofsky’s thought stand out: On the one hand, the neo-Kantianism of Ernst Cassirer and on the other, Aby Warburg’s iconological project of the afterlife (Nachleben) of Antiquity in Western art. Cassirer’s neo-Kantianism contributed to Panofsky’s project to define principles by which one may evaluate the artwork’s transhistorical aesthetic values. Aby Warburg’s concern for the shifts of meaning caused by the artwork’s relation to historical discontinuities contributed to Panofsky’s insight that a purely stylistic interpretive system, as proposed, for example, by art historian Heinrich Wölfflin would not do. Panofsky’s focus on the complex historical embeddedness of an artwork’s content in relation to its formal aspects, a focus influenced by his 1920 reworking of art historian Alois Riegl’s concept of Kunstwollen, facilitated the success of his iconological method. Panofsky taught in Hamburg as full professor until 1933, when he and his Jewish colleagues were dismissed. The new Nazi law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service excluded non-Aryans from teaching at universities. In 1934 Panofsky immigrated to the United States, where he had already taught at New York University as a visiting professor for alternate terms since 1931. In 1935 he became professor of art history at the newly founded Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. All of his later publications were written in English. Panofsky’s importance for art history rests as much on his groundbreaking work for this academic discipline as on his ability to popularize his research via public lectures and eloquent studies.


A complete bibliography of Panofsky’s works can be found in Panofsky 2014, but more selective bibliographies like this annotated online bibliography or the one to be found in Didi-Huberman, et al. 2001 may be useful for easy reference and to introduce readers to the range of Panofsky’s literary output. Panofsky 1992 contains a list of the publications only up to 1956. Panofsky 2002 contains a more reliable select bibliography than Panofsky 1992, ranging from 1914 to 1970.

  • Didi-Huberman, Georges, Maurizio Ghelardi, Roland Recht, Martin Warnke, and Dieter Wuttke. Relire Panofsky. Lectures delivered at a conference at the Louvre held by the Service culturel, 2001. Paris: Beaux-Arts de Paris, 2001.

    A publication in French on the occasion of a series of lectures by contemporary art historians held at the Louvre from 19 November to 17 December 2001. The small volume contains five lectures by the authors as well as fourteen letters taken from Wuttke’s publication of Panofsky’s correspondence. The volume also contains a selective bibliography prepared by Aude Virey-Vallon, and a tabular curriculum vitae of Panofsky by Fanny Meurisse.

  • Panofsky, Erwin. Aufsätze zu Grundfragen der Kunstwissenschaft. Edited by Hariolf Oberer and Egon Verheyen. Berlin: Wissenschaftsverlag Volker Spiess, 1992.

    A collection of eight essays from Panofsky’s German period. Contains a complete bibliography of Erwin Panofsky’s writings of the period 1914–1956 on pp. 1–16.

  • Panofsky, Erwin. Sinn und Deutung in der bildenden Kunst. Translations from the English texts by Wilhelm Höck. Cologne: DuMont, 2002.

    German edition of the 1955 Meaning in the Visual Arts, a collection of essays. Contains a select bibliography (180 items) of Erwin Panofsky’s writings published between 1914 and 1970 on pp. 477–491.

  • Panofsky, Erwin. Kumulationen: Ergänzungsband zur Erwin-Panofsky-Korrespondenz 1910 bis 1968. Edited by Dieter Wuttke. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2014.

    This supplementary volume to Panofsky’s correspondence contains corrections and additions to the five volumes of letters published between 2001 and 2011, a complete list of reviews, a bio-bibliographical list of Panofsky’s correspondents and an index of names and subjects for all five volumes. This volume also has a complete bibliography of Panofsky’s writings of the period 1914 to 1969–1973.

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