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Erwin Panofsky and the renascence of the Renaissance.

IT HAS LONG BEEN understood that historians, literary critics, and art historians who write about past cultures use those cultures for present purposes, whether by turning Periclean Athens into an ideal for present-day America or the fall of the Roman empire into an ominous signal for modern empires. German humanists who sought refuge from Nazi Germany had, however, special reasons to use their cultural studies as a strategy of escape. Erich Auerbach in exile in Istanbul and Ernst Robert Curtius in "inner exile" in Bonn provided narratives of European literary history that minimized the contribution of their native culture, and in so reworking the narrative of Western literature, they were able to reshape their own identities. Their reconstructions of past cultures can thus be read as attempts at self-reconstruction.(1) Ultimately, however, the attempt by such scholars to distance themselves from German culture often faltered on the very Germanness of their cultural reconstructions. These constructions meant to symbolize un-German essences -- whether Curtius's Latinity or Auerbach's tradition of Western realism -- were assembled from rather German elements. For those German scholars who emigrated to the United States, such as Erwin Panofsky, another paradox emerged: they found themselves in an academy that was beginning to revere culture in much the same way as the Germans had traditionally done. The mid-century American university witnessed a growing effort to produce an American version of Bildung, and arriving German scholars were welcomed in some quarters specifically for the German style of their cultivation and erudition. It is in this context that the art historian Erwin Panofsky is particularly interesting. For Panofsky playing the part of the model humanist for American academic audiences often meant cultivating rather than escaping his Germanness. Although his vision of the Renaissance initially involved some of the same cultural distancing from Hitler's Germany that Curtius's Latin Middle Ages did, that vision played a more significant role within American cultural politics, essentially cooperating with the American academia's own efforts at cultural self-distancing. Panofsky's American work on the Renaissance is thus not only an example of self-construction but is also woven into the story of an academic ideology that has been faltering under attack for the last two or three decades. The faltering of that academic ideology, its move from the "hackneyed" to the "irrelevant" to its present place as an easy object in the canon wars is part of the post-history of Panofsky's participation. The fact that the ideology to which Panofsky contributed so much has been under such increasing attack makes Panofsky's role in its creation all the more interesting.

For many American historians of art the name Erwin Panofsky represents an important phase not so much in the ideological history of the humanities but in the history of their own discipline. There have been attempts to modernize Panofsky, to link his name to contemporary developments in the humanities, such as Christine Hasenmueller's comparison of Panofsky's iconology to the semiotics of the structural anthropologist Edmund Leach(2) or Michael Ann Holly's comparison at the end of her excellent study of Panofsky's early theoretical essays of Panofsky's work with that of Michel Foucault.(3) Nevertheless, Panofsky's many iconological studies are associated with a specific stage in the history of art history in the United States, and his books have acquired the patina of the "classic." They are venerated and often used in introductory art history classes. But they are venerated and used as the work of a past master, and Panofsky has come to be used as a foil for modern art historians, a symbol of a past to be left behind.(4)

Whatever justification for the present images of Panofsky, we should recognize that his writings from his first two decades in the United States were written in a very specific historical context and with a high degree of self-consciousness about their implications both for the development of art history in the United States and for the development of the humanities as a whole. Indeed, many of his writings, especially Studies in Iconology and Meaning in the Visual Arts, had the air of the manifesto about them.(5) The famous "Introductory" to Studies in Iconology, with its theoretical discussion of the layers of meaning in art and consequently in the study of art, argues that art history should be done with an eye to the "intrinsic meanings" of art.(6) The art historian had to go beyond mere iconography, the identification of the "images, stories and allegories" in the art of the past, and engage in a hermeneutical effort to understand " |symbolical' values," essentially the cultural message of art.(7) Studies in Iconology was indeed a manifesto introducing iconology to the English-speaking art historical world. And in a relatively short period Panofsky succeeded in bringing his version of iconology to the forefront of art historical research in America.(8)

The very nature of Panofsky's highly interdisciplinary methodology suggested that he was less concerned with the interior dialogue of his own discipline as with its place in the larger context of the humanities as a whole. The title of the introductory essay to Meaning in the Visual Arts, "The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline," was meant to suggest the broader context in which art historians should work.(9) And read within the context of the development of the humanities in the United States, Panofsky's methodological program was closely tied to a particular ideal of learning in the humanities. As is evident from the essay's original publication in 1940 in a book edited by T. M. Greene, The Meaning of the Humanities, Panofsky's methodological efforts fed into an ongoing discussion of the nature of the humanities in America. The essay was part of a highly polemical interchange on the importance of the humanities, the nature of learning, and the function of the university in the United States. That interchange, fought within the context of the great books courses at Columbia and Chicago, various proclamations by cultural Cassandras, and worries about the rise of a technological culture, was highly charged. And Panofsky's writings evidenced a self-awareness of the author's deep engagement in the political culture of the American educator.

Much of Panofsky's energies were funneled into another debate, a debate over the meaning of the Renaissance, which in many ways became a figure for the broader discussion over the meaning of the humanities. In the United States debate over the nature of the Renaissance was mostly a mid-century affair, but it drew from the debate on the Renaissance that had opened in Europe with the publication in 1860 of Jacob Burckhardt's Civilization of the Renaissance. As chronicled by Wallace Ferguson, the concept of the Renaissance, popularized at the turn of the century, came under attack by scholars who felt that the Renaissance did not produce all that much that was novel.(10) A number of historians tried to give priority to the several medieval Renaissances, which they claimed did much of the work of the Italian Renaissance. C. H. Haskins, for example, almost single-handedly introduced the "twelfth-century Renaissance" with The Twelfth-Century Renaissance in 1927, while other scholars brought attention to the Carolingian and Ottonian Renaissances.(11) Concurrently, neo-Thomists, led by Etienne Gilson, insisted that the century of their patron saint represented the height of Western culture, a height from which the rest of Western history meant only decline, and consequently, the dawn of the Renaissance was not a dawn at all.

The struggle over the meaning of the Renaissance occupied scholars over a number of decades, but one can identify a particularly self-conscious attempt by American scholars to raise these issues in the 1940s and 1950s. Whole issues of academic periodicals were given over to the debate, such as the "symposium" on the Rennaissance published in The Journal of the History of Ideas in 1943. And other cultural institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sponsored similar symposia or provided a forum for debate. Although some of the American debate focused on the Renaissance contribution to the development of the natural sciences, the old questions about the new spirit ushered in by the Renaissance sustained a great deal of interest. And for American devotees of the Rennaissance, as for participants in the fin-de-siecle cult of the Renaissance, the Italian Quattrocento assumed the aspect of an idealized society. Although for some there were political lessons to learn from the Italian city-states, for others the Renaissance took on symbolic meaning in the discourse on learning and culture; the Renaissance, revered as a model, reflected their ideals.

It was largely within the context of this American reformulation of the debate on the Renaissance that Panofsky published his famous Kenyon Review essay of 1944, "Renaissance and Renascences,"(13) originally intended as a contribution to the Renaissance symposium in the Journal of the History of Ideas.(14) Against this background Panofsky's Kenyon Review essay offered an idealized Renaissance which could stand for certain cultural ideas.

It is important to recognize the close affinity of Panofsky's methodological polemics and his apology for the Renaissance, for ultimately the art historical methodology of the iconologist and the cultural ideals represented by the Renaissance were closely connected in his mind. It was no accident that in the introduction to Studies in Iconology Panofsky placed his methodological discussion and his interpretation of the Renaissance in close succession: the first part of the introduction is devoted to methodology while the second represents an early version of "Renaissance and Renaissance." More explicitly, however, Panofsky began his essay "The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline" with a discussion of the concept of humanitas, with Ficino, and with Pico. The implication that opening was not only that Panofsky's cultural ideals but also his art historical enterprise had its genesis in the Renaissance.

Before delving deeper into Panofsky's bolstering of a growing Italian Renaissance ideology in the United States, it is important to remember his other attachments to the art of the North and the High Gothic. Significantly, he wrote much more on Albrecht Durer than on any other artist, and his largest book remains the massive study of Netherlandish art with its full second volume devoted to plates.(15) If his study of the art of the north was at times oriented toward the south, discussing its interaction with Italian art, Panofsky retained a special interest in the art of the north, an important alliance within the highly charged German polarities of north and south.(16) Possibly, the northern culture Panofsky most admired was seventeenth-century Holland with its unusual tolerance.(17) And arguably, his admiration for Dutch culture fueled his work on Netherlandish art, allowing him to idealize a northern culture without explicitly idealizing the culture from which he was exiled. But Panofsky, unlike many German emigre scholars, did not turn away from German culture as a subject of his study. In his war-time book on Durer, The Life and Art of Albrecht Durer, published a year before the Kenyon Review essay, Panofsky attempted quite explicitly to locate the missing German "voice" in the "fugue" of Western art. The German contribution to the evolution of art, he felt, was to be found not in a fully developed style, such as the Gothic or the baroque, but in the "personal "inventions' " of individual artists.(18) And Durer's achievement was to be understood as just such a contribution from the genius of a German artist. It may seem odd to find Panofsky, an exile from the Third Relch, expressing this desire to locate the German contribution to Western art, but his book should be read as one of those attempts, common among German refugees, to resurrect "the other Germany"--an unsullied Germany with which the exile could still identify. In part, the northern counterpoint to Panofsky's Italian Renaissance studies signify a personally redemptive effort.

During the very period when he wrote the books and essays which most identify him with the Italian Renaissance, that is, his first two decades in America, Panofsky also devoted his attention and his emotions to medieval art. In Hamburg he had written and taught often on medieval art, perhaps following the example of his teacher Adolph Goldschmidt. But if his work of 1924, Die deutsche Plastik des elften bis dreizehnten Jahrhunderts, reflected Goldschmidt's influence, Panofsky's writings of the 1940s and early 1950s on Gothic art show an entirely different spirit.(19) His introduction to Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St.-Denis and Its Art Treasures, for example, depicts a man with whom Panofsky evidently felt a great deal of sympathy.(20) Panofsky may have insisted that Suger, despite his strength as an individual, should not be interpreted as a proto-Renaissance figure. But the distinction Panofsky tried to establish was perhaps too subtle: "The great man of the Renaissance asserted his personality centripetally, so to speak: he swallowed up the world that surrounded him until his whole environment had been absorbed by his own self. Suger asserted his personality centrifugally: he projected his ego into the world that surrounded him until his whole self had been absorbed by his environment."(21) Panofsky's clever schema here, intended to differentiate the medieval Suger from the great personalities of the Italian Renaissance, suggests all the more Suger's proximity to the figures of the Italian Renaissance.

But if Panofsky's Abbot Suger is arguably too close to Renaissance to be truly emblematic of the Gothic, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism remains an unambiguous celebration of an era.(22) Indeed, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism reads as if it were written by a convinced neo-Thomist, and some of Panofsky's assessments seem to have come directly from the Etienne Gilson's Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages,(23) such as Panofsky's description of the century of Thomas as a cultural climax from which one could trace a decline into subjectivism. In a sentence that could easily have been written by Gilson, Panofsky wrote: "Both mysticism and nominalism cut the tie between reason and faith.(24) In his narrative of the Renaissance, however, Panofsky discerned a cultural trough between the period of High Gothic and the beginning of the Renaissance, a concept which ultimately allowed him to praise the High Gothic for its structured thought while idealizing the Italian Renaissance in the pages of the Kenyon Review. Consequently, his Renaissance studies could characterize the fourteenth century much the way Etienne Gilson or David Knowles did in their celebrations of high Scholasticism without having to abandon his devotion to the Italian Quattrocento. And there is an intellectual quality he discerned in the high Gothic that might only complement the cultural values he found in the Renaissance.

Despite Panofsky's praise of high Gothic art, the burden of his Kenyon Review essay of 1944 was to establish a clear break between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Essentially, his strategy was to delegitimize the claims for the earlier Renaissances, primarily the Carolingian and the twelfth-century Renaissances, to have anticipated the Italian Renaissance. For Panofsky the earlier "renascences" differed from the Italian Renaissance not in quantity but in quality. His argument centered on the difference between the earlier revivals of antiquity and that produced by the quattrocento. Panofsky was willing to grant that Carolingian artists and scribes had brought classical materials into their own cultural work and the twelfth-century renaissance had also been responsible for reintroducing classical materials into European culture. He felt, nevertheless, that the medieval renascences were marked by a disjuncture of classical content and classical form. "Wherever," Panofsky wrote, "a sculptor or painter borrows a figure or a group from a classical work of art he almost invariably invests it with a nonclassical, viz., Christian, meaning; conversely, wherever he borrows a theme from classical poetry, mythology or history he almost invariably presents it in a non-classical, viz., contemporary form."(25) This, Panofsky maintained, was the mark of the medieval revival of classical material. But the Italian Renaissance represented an entirely different approach to the classical past: "It was for the Italian Renaissance to reintegrate classical form with classical content, and it was by this reintegration that the classical images -- first salvaged, then split asunder and finally recomposed--were really |reborn'.(26) The Italian Renaissance was able to recombine classical form and classical content because for the first time Europeans were able to look upon the classical past "from a fixed, unalterable distance, quite comparable to the distance between the eye and the object in that most characteristic invention of the same Renaissance, focused perspective."(27) For Panofsky the Italian Renaissance "looked upon classical Antiquity from a historical distance; therefore, for the first time, as upon a totality removed from the present; and therefore, for the first time, as upon an ideal to be longed for instead of a reality to be both utilized and feared."(28) The Italian Renaissance thus represented the true "rinascimento dell' antichiti."

This argument, focusing mainly on the visual arts with a few gestures toward developments in literature, is the basic argument of "Renaissance and Renascences." Panofsky would use a heavily footnoted and more nuanced version of the article for the title essay of Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art in 1960.(29) And the Kenyon Review essay followed upon several other publications in which Panofsky had made essentially the same argument, including the introduction to Studies in Iconology in 1939 and "Classical Mythology in Medieval Art," an essay he wrote jointly with Fritz Saxl for the Metropolitan Museum Studies in 1933.(30)

The essay Panofsky wrote with Saxl is a particularly interesting variation of what would become a familiar theme, since that essay, largely because of Saxl's closer involvement with Aby Warburg, represents an attempt to blend Warburg's discussion of the revival of classical figures in the Schifanoia frescoes with an early version of Panofsky's argument about the reintegration of classical form and classical content in the Renaissance. Part of the interest derives from the fact that the article in the Metropolitan Museum Studies suggests Panofsky's debt to Warburg's famous lecture Of 1912 on the Schifanoia palace in Ferrara.(31) In his lecture Warburg identified the figures in the top panels of the Schifanoia frescoes as the classical gods presiding over the twelve months of the year who had not quite regained their full classical form but had progressed part of the way to that form. For him the frescoes represented a stage in the revival of their original Olympian grandeur. According to Warburg the Greek gods had disguised themselves during the Middle Ages as eastern astrological figures only to return to their full classical presence in the Italian Renaissance.

In Warburg's lecture we can locate much of the argument of Panofsky's "Renaissance and Renascences" in a nascent form. Already in Warburg's discussion of the Schifanoia frescoes one finds the notion that classical figures were retained in medieval culture in non-classical guises and their return was marked by the resumption of classical form. If Warburg's narrative represented only half of Panofsky's narrative of the medieval separation of classical form and content, the notion that the reintegration of form and content represented the rebirth of the classical past was clearly pronounced.

Warburg's lecture on the Schifanoia frescoes was an important part of the prehistory of Panofsky's "Renaissance and Renascences," but Warburg had not ascribed to the Italian Renaissance the "historical perspective" on the classical past so important to Panofsky.(32) For Warburg the classical figures on the walls of the Schifanoia palace had begun to re-emerge in their classical form due to their own dynamism. In their reassumed classicism they experienced an "afterlife" rather than being the objects of historical distance. Although Warburg spoke often of objectivity, the figures in the upper panels of the Schifanoia frescoes seemed to have effected, their own return.

Despite his heavy debt to Warburg, Panofsky was rather un-Warburgian in his attempt to set the Renaissance off so dramatically from the medieval world. The Warburgian effort to trace the "Nachleben der Antike" signified a close following of elements from the antique world as they made their way through the centuries in reworked forms. Warburg's own notes, now in the archives of the War burg Institute in London, are filled with charts following bits and pieces of he culture of antiquity through medieval Europe.(33) And the labyrinthine structure of Warburg's famous library in Hamburg proclaimed the organic nature of human culture and the continuity of cultural history. Thus, although Panofsky became a master of Warburg's method, he was not as convinced of the organic development of culture. Even in Germany, in what might be considered the best example of the Warburgian historical tracing of cultura types, Hercules am Scheidewege, Panofsky already tried to establish a more dramatic divide between the Renaissance and the medieval worlds than one could find in Warburg's work.(34) Warburg had idealized the Renaissance and praised it as a liberating moment in the history of the West, but his work was marked by the careful tracing of the inroads of antiquity into the modern world.

I have argued that by focusing on the relation of the Renaissance to the classical past, Panofsky borrowed heavily from Warburg. However, Panofsky also defined the Renaissance by its own innovation, the development of visual perspective in the arts. That this development was decisive for Panofsky's understanding of the Renaissance is barely mentioned in "Renaissance and Renascences," but it consumes a large portion of the later Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art; and he had established his interest in Renaissance perspective in his well-known essay of 1927, "Die Perspective als |symbolische Form '."(35) But despite the quick analogy he offers in the Kenyon Review essay between Renaissance's visual perspective and the historical perspective on the classical past, Panofsky does not really integrate his discussion of perspective with his analysis of classical form and content. That is most clear in Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art, where a long discussion of Renaissance perspective follows in close succession a version of the Kenyon Review essay. The development of Renaissance visual perspective simply cannot emerge from the reintegration of classical form and content. If Panofsky tried at times to depict Renaissance historical perspective itself as a subset of a more general interest in perspective, it was not perspective but the "rinascimento dell' antichita" that defined the Renaissance for him.

Panofsky's writing was, of course, framed by the American discourse on the importance of the classical heritage. His discussion of Renaissance perspective was useful when he entered the debate about the significance of the Renaissance for the development of the natural sciences. In a talk at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Artist, Scientist, Genius: Notes on the |Renaissance-Dammerung'," he cleverly focused on the importance of Renaissance art to the evolution of the sciences: Leonardo had established the fact that a good anatomist must have a command of draftsmanship and--of course--perspective.(36) Although Panofsky was able to use his work on Renaissance perspective so profitably in the debate on the Renaissance contribution to science, the questions that were more pressing revolved around the nature of the humanities and the place of the classical past.

There were, of course, a range of "classical pasts" to invoke. Warburgians from Aby Warburg and Fritz Saxl to Frances Yates and D. P. Walker have been known for their preoccupation with magic and the occult: astrology, Arab magic, and divination were constants in the publications of the Warburg Institute. Panofsky participated in this interest in the occult, if perhaps his most important engagement was in a book jointly written with Saxl on Durer's Melencolia I. As with so many of the Warburgians, the occult was certainly part of the attraction that Panofsky found in neo-Platonism. Still, the classical past in Panofsky's American writings seemed rather tame by comparison to Warburg and Saxl's antiquity. He was, in fact, more often bound up with what other American scholars meant by the "classical." His American writings thus fed directly into the discourse on the Western tradition and its roots in the Greek and Roman past. It is, in fact, possible to read Panofsky's Studies in Iconology alongside Gilbert Highet's The Classical Tradition with a sense that these two rather different scholars were engaged in a similar project.

Panofsky's American writings, I would argue, form part of the American discourse on the Renaissance, a discourse which idealized the Renaissance for its classical erudition and its celebration of the human. For many American scholars, the two were closely connected, for the classical past--as opposed to medieval Christianity--itself symbolized confidence in human capability. At the same time, the Renaissance was heralded as the fount of the liberal arts. All of these aspects of an idealized Renaissance fit together into a constellation of ideas that were of immense importance to American intellectual life in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. If the spectrum from the pedestrian commencement address in praise of the liberal arts to one of Panofsky's virtuoso performances in Rennaisance erudition seems wide, both participated in a rising cultural ideology that linked the humanities and the classical tradition to a definition of humanity.

When Panofsky began his essay on art history as a humanistic discipline by invoking the Renaissance notion of humanitas, and when he opened the iconological exercises of Studies in Iconology by reidentifying two paintings of Piero di Cosimo's as sequences in a narration of the story of Vulcan--the bringer of fire and technology to humanity--he contributed to the "man-the-measure" vision of the Renaissance, the same vision which made so much of Pico della Mirandola's "Oration on the Dignity of Man." It was, I would argue, no accident that Panofsky's colleague from Hamburg, the philosopher Ernst Cassirer, whose philosophy had always been written in praise of human capability and human creativity, produced a two-part article on Pico for the Journal of the History of Ideas in 1942.(37) And there may be no better example of this agenda than the set of readings edited by Ernst Cassirer, Paul Oskar Kristeller, and John Hermann Randall under the title The Renaissance Philosophy of Man.(38)

In part, there was a political message in this apotheosis of the creative individual envisioned by the American scholars of the Italian Renaissance, for faith in the capability of the individual was the cornerstone of liberalism. The Renaissance individual could be mustered in defense of a liberalism threatened by Hitler, Stalin, and the regimentation of the war. But there was, I would argue, a good deal more involved in the idealization of the Renaissance in mid-century America than this simple political message, for finally the Renaissance was appropriated for cultural-political rather than for strictly political purposes. Ultimately, the apotheosis of Renaissance culture should be understood as part of an effort to apotheosize culture itself.

It was, in an important sense, appropriate that Panofsky's "Renaissance Renascences" was published in the Kenyon Review, the organ of the New Criticism edited by the dean of the New Critics, John Crowe Ransom. New Criticism, with its textual emphasis, programmatically avoided the influence of society and politics on the creation of the great monuments of Western literature.(39) Certainly, the isolation of literary works was distant from the cultural embedding involved in Panofsky's iconology; in its formalism, the New Criticism had more in common with more formalist art historical methodologies. And yet, one of the central implications of the New Criticism was the emphasis on the cultural artifact. One should see the New Critics not merely as a response to other sorts of readings in literary criticism but as part of a development in American culture to isolate and praise culture itself.(40) In an important sense, the New Critics were heir to the American neo-Humanists of the 1920S.(41) My purpose here, however, is not to link Panofsky's name with that of John Crowe Ransom or Allen Tate, or to compare their fascination with the seventeenth-century meta-physical poets with the subjects of his art history. Rather, I would like to link Panofsky's name to a broader phenomenon in American culture of which the New Criticism formed an important part.(42)

At a time when American scholars were being taught the importance of culture by Franz Boas's students from Columbia--anthropologists like Ruth Benedict, Alfred Kroeber, and Margaret Mead -- culture itself assumed a special value. And although the Columbia anthropologists tended to teach a form of cultural relativism, the curriculum began to focus more self-consciously on the texts of Western culture.(43) Not all of the proponents of this new focus on Western culture found in the Renaissance a symbol of their own aspirations. Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, who developed the Great Books course at the University of Chicago, had Thomistic inclinations. And there were those who were influenced by the medievalism of T. S. Eliot's cultural program.44 Still, many American scholars found in the Italian Renaissance an important symbol not only for the role that the Renaissance played in the developing ideal of individual creativity but for its role in the development of the humanities. The promotion of the Renaissance was ultimately a self-legitimizing act for humanists in an increasingly technological land, for they could remain culture-bearers in a realm set aside for culture.(45)

In this context, the interest in Ernst Cassirer's An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture, which appeared in 1944, is quite suggestive.(46) Cassirer's book was an economical summation of his philosophical project in praise of human creativity in its symbol-making capacity. Creativity for Cassirer entered into all human activity, even the exercise of human memory: "Symbolic memory is the process by which man not only repeats his past experience but also reconstructs this experience. Imagination becomes a necessary element of true recollection."(47) Since the humanities be identified as the study and interpretation of human symbols, Cassirer's essay on humans as symbol producers could be read by humanists as a case for the humanities. Even his discussion of myth and religion prefacing his discussion of subjects like art and history had an appeal, for within an increasingly anthropologically--oriented academy the anthropological study of culture was used to legitimize the creations of higher culture. But finally, the creations of culture were self-legitimizing even for Cassirer, despite his work on myth. There was in An Essay on Man--and in Cassirer's work as a whole--a profound reverence for high culture, the traditional preserve of the humanist.

I have mentioned Cassirer's book in part because it became so important, but also because Cassirer, like his former colleague in Hamburg, Erwin Panofsky, was among the German scholars who seemed almost upon their arrival in America to embody the meaning of the humanities and the cultural tradition of the West. The impact of refugee scholars such as Erich Auerbach and Leo Spitzer, Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt, Leo Olschki and Walter Friedlaender, Werner Jaeger and Ernst Kantorowicz, Edgar Wind and Rudolf Wittkower was so immense that a justifiable mythology has emerged about the German emigres who so often became the deans of their disciplines.(48) That German scholars made such an impact was in part due to the advanced development of disciplines such as history, sociology, and art history in Germany. But it was also significant that these immensely erudite scholars arrived on the scene just as the veneration of culture was occurring in the American university. Scholars like Auerbach, Panofsky, Cassirer, and Spitzer, who seemed to command the entire of Western culture and could write on almost any corner of it, not only awed their American students, but they also provided models of culture-bearers in an intellectual environment in which the humanist-as-culture-bearer was becoming increasingly important. The notion of the scholar as culture-bearer was, of course, no novelty to these German academics, for they had learned their trade in the Mandarin culture of the German university, in which culture had its special realm protected from the forces of politics.(49) In essence, the German refugee scholars offered Mandarinism for export. And their Mandarinism seemed to fit well into the new "ivory tower" of the American university. was fitting, therefore, that Erwin Panofsky soon found himself delivering a commencement address "In Defense of the Ivory Tower," which despite its anti-McCarthy warnings did justice to its title.(50)

Panofsky adapted very well to the United States. He took so well to his new American surroundings that elements of American popular culture soon became part of his imaginative vocabulary. In "Renaissance and Renascences" he used a 1928 Lincoln for an analogy, although the same car lost its specificity in Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art.(51) The man of such obvious high culture peppered his writing on esoteric subjects with witty allusions to popular culture, demonstrating simultaneously his playfulness, his love for the artifacts of popular culture, and his comfort in America, much the way the literary critic Leo Spitzer did when he wrote on an advertisement for Sunkist oranges. And Panofsky also learned quickly to write elegantly in English. He was one of those European scholars whose prose style improved when he made the transition from German to English. Panofsky remarked that being forced to write in English made European scholars write more clearly. In mild self-mockery he wrote that "the German language unfortunately permits a fairly trivial thought to declaim from behind a woolen curtain of apparent profundity and, conversely, a multitude of meanings to lurk behind one term.(52) In English "even an art historian must more or less know what he means and mean what he says, and this compulsion was exceedingly wholesome for all of us."(53) These lines come from Panofsky's essay "Three Decades of Art History in the United States: Impressions of a Transplanted European."(54) Faithful to the essay's title, Panofsky's assumed persona was very much that of the "transplanted" German scholar. The purpose of "Three Decades" was to suggest what American education might learn from the German university. The American university, Panofsky felt, was too much concerned with examinations and "teaching loads"--"a disgusting expression which in itself is a telling symptom of the malady I am trying to describe."(55) For Panofsky the American method of producing scholars was ill-suited to create true humanists: "Humanists cannot be |trained'; they must be allowed to mature or, if I may use so homely a simile, to marinate."(56) The implication, of course, was that he and other German scholars had been allowed to "marinate" in the humanities. They had essentially cultivated themselves, which was to suggest that what the American system needed most was a bit of the German tradition of Bildung. In "Three Decades of Art History in the United States" Panofsky, the "transplanted European," offered the youthful American academy the accrued wisdom of the German university. There was a ready market for just such advice. As one can see from the essay, Panofsky felt little need to lose his identity as a German scholar. Ultimately, even his playfulness with American popular culture only highlighted his Germanness, coming as it did in the context of exercises in German erudition.

Panofsky's own displays of erudition could only have been dazzling to American audiences. In Studies in Iconology he devoted chapters to some of the most mundane cultural items, such as "father time" and "blind cupid," and even these everyday figures of our calendars and advertisements could be traced back through a labyrinth of classical texts and medieval depictions. Panofsky would deftly reidentify Renaissance paintings by comparing what would seem minor attributes of classical figures with their representational tradition in art and literature. To establish that a vine-enveloped tree trunk might accompany a representation of Bacchus, Panofsky turned to an early seventeenth-century emblem book for its reference to Catallus's Carmina.(57) And Panofsky would quote Mario Equicola's Di natura d'Amore to establish that the sixteenth century cited Greek and Roman sources to the effect that antiquity "knew nothing of Cupid's blindness."(58) Panofsky's Warburgian preoccupation with detail and intermingling of literary and artistic materials made his work particularly erudite. Perhaps it was another Warburgian predilection, the fascination with the hermetic tradition and the occult, which intensified Panofsky's image as a master of the obscure. If, as I have mentioned, his involvement with hermetic materials, especially during his American years, was less than that of many other Warburgians, there were enough astrological and magical references to add an esoteric side to Panofsky's magisterial prose.

With his Warburgian virtuoso performances and his witty urbanity, Panofsky was particularly well suited to assume the role of the model humanist. If he traced his humanism to the Renaissance itself, his work implied more than the conventional grounding of the liberal arts in Renaissance Italy. Ultimately, Panofsky's definition of the Renaissance--that it was able to view classical antiquity with historical distance--meant that the very essence of the Renaissance he described in "Renaissance and Renascences" was its own historicism. If the growing mythologizing of the Renaissance in the American academy identified the Renaissance with culture and the liberal arts, Panofsky took that mythology one step further by identifying historical vision as the fundamental aspect of Renaissance culture. Panofsky's definition of the Renaissance implied that anyone who was working in the historical fields--which in Panofsky's own neo-Kantian definition meant anyone working in the humanities in general--was not only indebted to the Renaissance but was carrying out the central work of the Renaissance.

Panofsky made the Renaissance historical, but in an important sense he was not fully historical about the Renaissance. In differentiating the Italian Renaissance from the Carolingian and the twelfth-century renascences, Panofsky argued that "the two mediaeval renascences were limited and transitory, the Italian |rinascimento del |antichita' was total and permanent."(59) In a particularly lively passage Panofsky asserted that due to the work of the Quattrocento, antiquity was recovered for good: "From the Renaissance classical Antiquity is constantly with us, whether we like it or not. It lives in our mathematics and natural sciences. It has built our theatres and movie houses as opposed to the mediaeval mystery stage. It haunts the speech of our cab driver as opposed to that of the mediaeval peasant; and it is firmly entrenched behind the thin but thus far unbroken glass walls of history, philology and archaeology."(60) From these sentences and others it is clear that we are still living in the Renaissance. In part, Panofsky is taking the old tripartite division of history into antique, medieval, and modern epochs quite seriously, implying that the Renaissance and the present are both parts of what the Germans called "die Neuzelt." Panofsky undercuts the basic argument of "Renaissance and Renascences" by suggesting that antiquity, which was viewed with historical perspective in the Renaissance, was somehow still alive in the present if an almost unconscious way--in the "speech of our cab driver." All of this makes us ask whether Panofsky's cab driver looked upon the classical past "from a fixed, unalterable distance"? Much more important than this lapse in Panofsky's argument is the challenge it creates: if the Renaissance is Part of the present, then the historian of the Renaissance would be in no position to have historical perspective on it. Taken to its logical conclusion, this suggestion would make Panofsky, as magnificent a historian of Renaissance culture as he was, unable to perform his duties as historian. His Kenyon Review essay, which is largely impelled toward a legitimation of the historical disciplines, seems here to undermine their vocation with regard to the Renaissance.

It is, of course, unlikely that Panofsky meant to undermine his own calling. We are, I think, compelled to interpret this challenge to Panofsky's overriding historicism in another fashion: the lapse in Panofsky's own historical perspective was not intended to diminish the powers of the historian but rather to make the past present. Essentially, Panofsky identified his idealized Renaissance not so much as a world he would like to occupy as a part of the world he does occupy. With a permanent Renaissance he could assume the identity of a Renaissance humanist, the compatriot of Pico or Ficino, whether or not 1928 Lincolns were part of his mental furniture. To appropriate a phrase analyzed by Panofsky in Meaning in the Visual Arts, "Et in Arcadia Ego." It is clear that Panofsky felt "I too am in Arcady."

In Panofsky's modernity the age of his beloved Renaissance was still breathing life. And yet, it was also the age of National Socialism. Panofsky, who had been denied his chair in Hamburg in the spring of 1933 in accordance with the civil service laws of the Third Reich, did more than paint an idealized world in which he could assume the role of insider; at the height of the war, he insisted that the world he idealized was part of the present. One may find it ironic that Panofsky expressed a distance with respect to the Renaissance only in his post-war version of the Kenyon Review essay. In Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art he acknowledged that "a good case might be made for restricting the term |modern' to that |fourth period of history,' essentially distinguished from the Renaissance, which began about 1600 and seems to be drawing to a close right now."(61) That line, delivered in a dispassionate voice, suggested a heightened realism about the Renaissance. But the essay Of 1944 would rather that the past, with all of its artistic and intellectual brilliance, be present.

In a paper delivered in 1985 Renaissance historian Nancy Streuver spoke about the theme of historical distance in Panofsky's "Renaissance and Renascences."(62) She focused on the sense of loss which Panofsky located in the historical perspective of the Renaissance, the disjuncture between the Renaissance and the antique world. Whether or not Panofsky, as Struever suggested, prefigured the post-structuralist preoccupation with disjuncture, at the very least he made absence a category. But Panofsky's work, I would argue, not only identified the historical absence of the past for the Renaissance; it also located the historical past as a presence in the twentieth century. In part, the paradox of Panofsky's position is symbolized by his insistence that the very age which developed a historical perspective on the past represented a true "rinascimento dell' antichith."

Ultimately, with Panofsky's permanent Renaissance not only is the Renaissance still present, but the recovered antiquity is also a living part of our culture. At the very least, it is a vital part of Panofsky's own world. It is in part this aspect of Panofsky, the inveterate historian, that fed into the ahistoricism that marked the growing humanistic mythology of the American university, the ahistoricism best symbolized in the great books courses and New Critical methodology.

I have suggested that the disjuncture between the historian and the past in Panofsky's work is not as complete as his definition of the historical perspective would suggest. But certainly the historical imagination, which Panofsky credited the Renaissance, refused to find disjuncture within past cultures. In their reintegration of classical form and content, Renaissance humanists viewed the classical past as forming a cohesive whole. That holistic view of particular cultures--if not cultural development--was not merely an aspect of Renaissance historicism. It was, for Panofsky, central to the philosophy of Renaissance. In Panofsky's mind, Vasari's provision of his own Gothic frame for a sketch attributed to Cimabue in his Libro was a perfect illustration of Renaissance historicism, for despite his contempt for the Gothic, Vasari felt that the drawing should be given a frame appropriate to its style.(63) The Renaissance did not merely acknowledge the organic cohesion of past cultures; the culture of the Renaissance was itself deliberately organic. By locating the Renaissance artist's contribution to the history of science, Panofsky's "Artist, Scientist, Genius: Notes on the |Renaissance-Dimmerung'" was more than a shrewd response by an art historian to historians of science skeptical of the significance of the Renaissance. It was also a response to the "two cultures" problem that C. P. Snow described in his famous post-war essay. Panofsky's lecture to the Metropolitan Museum glorified the interaction of arts and sciences in the Renaissance. In his mind the Renaissance represented cultural unity, a point made explicitly at the close of the talk: "Yet the fact remains that what had been a unity in the Renaissance is now, again, a complex diversity; and there are those who were not, are not, and will never be satisfied with this state of affairs. There is a type of mind, and not necessarily of an inferior order, which finds it impossible to accept the sum of the parts as a substitute for the whole."(64) The organic ties between Renaissance science with other aspects of Renaissance culture carried significant implications about the present: "The modern scientist can, of course, not think of reverting to Kepler; but he may well be sensitive to the loss entailed by what may be called the |recompartmentalization' of the seventeenth century."(65) By choosing the term "re-compartmentalization," Panofsky suggested that modern culture was reverting to its medieval fragmentation. The twentieth-century isolation of science was analogous to the medieval disassociation of classical form and classical content.

That Panofsky turned to Johannes Kepler to provide a model for the cultural unity of the Renaissance is quite significant, for Kepler represented not a fusion of art and science but an intermingling of the scientific and the pre-scientific. Panofsky states that Kepler "rejected a perfectly plausible astronomical hypothesis because it was inaccurate by eight minutes; but he refused to abandon astrology. He found the three planetary laws which in sheer beauty are rivalled only by Newton's Law of Gravity, but he would have been unhappy had he not found a consonance between the structure of the physical world and the Trinity."(66) It was just that blend of the scientific and the magical which made Kepler an attractive figure for Panofsky, as it did for Aby Warburg who modelled his library's main reading room after Kepler's ellipse. Kepler served as a representative of that special conjunction of science and the occult that was a conscious specialty of the Bibliothek Warburg. And that conjunction of science and the occult dovetailed for the Warburgians with the intricate history of neo-Platonism, a history painstakingly followed by Warburgian scholars--including Erwin Panofsky.

For Panofsky neo-Platonism represented the best of Renaissance thought. In a culture that emphasized harmony and the whole, a culture that stood for "decompartmentalization," neo-Platonism offered a philosophy of harmony and a brief for decompartmentalization. Renaissance neo-Platonism combined the classic and the Christian, as well as the esoteric and the scientific, into a coherent philosophy. And as Panofsky argued in "The Neo-Platonic Movement and Michelangelo," it tried to fuse the vita activa and the vita contemplativa.(67) Much of Panofsky's essay on Michelangelo narrates the artist's movement away from neo-Platonism towards an unalloyed Christian piety and traces Michelangelo's spiritual odyssey through his work: "Thus in Michelangelo's last works the dualism between the Christian and the classical was solved. But it was a solution by way of surrender."(68) The neo-Platonist had surrendered to the Counter-Reformation. The narrative suggested a cultural tragedy. Indeed, Panofsky ended the essay--and his book--on a tragic note. The modern solution to the dualism of Christianity and the classical was "a solution by way of subjective deliverance. But this subjective deliverance naturally tended towards a gradual disintegration both of Christian faith and classical humanity, the results of which are very much in evidence in the world of today."(69) In thus closing a book for publication in 1939, Panofsky ushered the threatening darkness of world events into his essay on Michelangelo, heightening the sense of cultural tragedy which he invoked at the end of his essay. What more powerful brief for neo-Platonism could he have provided than this tale of declension?

Without question, Panofsky had an emotional commitment to Renaissance neo-Platonism, a philosophy which gave priority to harmony, even combining a magical vision with the scientific. Panofsky was, of course, not the only German who had found neo-Platonism so attractive.(70) Many acquired a fascination of neo-Platonism through the intermediary of Goethe, who in turn had learned his neo-Platonism largely through the mediation of Shaftesbury. Many important German cultural elements that are identified with Weimar classicism, including an overriding holism and the shaping of the self, can be traced back to the writings of the Renaissance neo-Platonists. It is likely, then, that Panofsky's devotion to Renaissance neo-Platonism was grounded in his schooling in Weimar classicism. Thus, at the end of "Artist, Scientist, Genius," when Panofsky praises Johannes Kepler, Goethe's name also arises, as it must, although not in the same hagiographical tone: "And we may smile, respectfully, at Goethe, who refused to accept the results of Newton's optical experiments and held that the use of microscopes merely |confuses the mind'."(71) This sentence may not be entirely flattering, but as one reads the last pages of Panofsky's talk, the shadow of Goethe looms large even before his name is mentioned; for a German scholar extolling a holistic science at the expense of a more positivistic science can do so only with Goethe in mind.

Much of what Panofsky found in Renaissance neo-Platonism can be found in aspects of Goethe which had by the turn of the century become codified elements of German culture. Thus, whether or not one interprets Kepler in the Metropolitan Museum talk as a figure for Goethe, one can read Panofsky's preoccupation with neo-Platonism in general as a surrogate for German culture. And one might go further in decoding Panofsky's rich tribute to the Italian Renaissance. If the classical past became the "object of a passionate nostalgia which found its symbolic expression in the re-emergence--after fifteen centuries--of that enchanting vision, Arcady,"(72) the Renaissance past assumed for Panofsky--despite his insistence on the permanence of the Renaissance--a similar object of nostalgia, a similar Arcady. Almost all of those things which Panofsky most prized, with the exception of Thomistic rationality, were embodied by the Renaissance. His very profession, that of historian, was the calling of an entire age. But Panofsky's Arcady was fashioned of rather German elements. And even the centrality he gave to the historical imagination was a fully German occupation. Panofsky's nostalgic enterprise, his glorification of the Quattro-cento, was finally a self-mirroring. Or rather, the idealized world of his Italian Renaissance was largely a projection of his idealized German self. The past, which Panofsky paints with such vibrant colors, with wit and elegance, has as much to say about the world Panofsky lost in 1933 as it has to say about the cultural life of the Italian city-states. And yet, that past, as much as it provided a figure for an idealized German self, was at the same time constructed to play a part in the cultural politics of the American academy. SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA (*) For their help on this essay, the author would like to thank R. Howard Bloch, Joan Hart, Martin jay, and Fred H. Matthews. (1) I have attempted to provide a model for this self-mythologizing through cultural construction in the case of Erich Auerbach. See Landauer. (2) Hasenmueller. (3) Holly, esp. 185-87. (4) See, for example, Alpers, esp. xxiv. (5) Panofsky, 1939 and 1955. (6) panofsky, 1939, esp. 14. (7) Ibid., 14-15. (8) Although he had a good deal of help in this -- whether from his former students Edgar Wind, William Heckscher and H. W. Janson, or from others, such as Rudolf Wittkower and E. H. Gombrich -- iconology would be associated among American historians with the name of Erwin Panofsky. Only recently has Aby Warburg gained full recognition as the founder of iconology, but often his work is read through a familiarity with work of Panofsky, so that the understanding of Warburg's work is colored by Panofsky's. This is ironically also the case in Germany. See, for example, Wuttke. (9) "The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline" was originally published in Greene, 89-118. (10) See the chapter on the "Revolt of the Medievalists" in Ferguson. (11) Haskins. (12) Baron. This symposium began by reprinting a paper by Durand, "Tradition and Innovation in Fifteenth-Century Italy: |Il Primato dell'Italia' in the Field of Science," and a retort by Hans Baron at the 194 i meeting of the American Historical Association. The editor of the Journal of the History of Ideas, John Hermann Randall, then asked several other scholars -- including Paul Oskar Kristeller, Lynn Thorndike, and Ernst Cassirer -- to discuss the interchange between Durand and Baron. The Metropolitan Museum of Art held a symposium on the Renaissance during 1951-52 academic year in which papers were delivered by Wallace Ferguson, Robert Lopez, George Sarton, Roland Bainton, Leicester Bradner, and Erwin Panofsky. The talks have subsequently been published as The Renaissance: A Symposium. (13) Panofsky, 1944, 201-36. (14) See "Author's note" in ibid., 235. (15) Panofsky, 1953. (16) Svetlana Alpers argues that Panofsky "ranked the southern aspirations of Durer over his northern heritage: in Panofsky's account the Durer who depicted the nude and was intrigued with perspective is favored over the descriptive artist of the Great Piece of Turf." Alpers, xxiii-xxiv. (17) In a letter to Booth Tarkington on 11 November 1944, Panofsky expressed his sympathy" with seventeenth-century Holland. Panofsky and Tarkington, 57. (18) Panofsky, 1971, 3. (19) Panofsky, (20) Panofsky, 1946. (21) Panofsky, 1955, 137. (22) Panofsky, 1976. (23) Gilson. (24) Panofsky, 1976, 14. (25) Panofsky, 1944, (26) Ibid., 222. (27) Ibid., 225. (28) Ibid., 228. (29) Panofsky, 1972 (30) Panofsky and Saxl. (31) Warburg. Warburg's lecture was originally given at the International Art Historical Society in Rome in 1912 and published in 1922. (32) Warburg in his lectures had also spoken often, as Panofsky did in "Renaissance and Renascences," of the medieval moralization of classical mythological figures. The key example for Warburg--and Panofsky learned this from Warburg--was the so-called Ovide moralise. And Panofsky also took his discussion of the move from the style alla francese to the style all' antica from Warburg. (33) The papers of Aby M. Warburg, Archive of the Warburg Institute (London). (34) Panofsky, 1930. (35) Panofsky, 1927. (36) Panofsky, 1962. (37) Cassirer, 1942. (38) The book included texts from Petrarch, Valla, Ficino, and of course, Pico's "Oration on the Dignity of Man." (39) Although Wellek in his sixth volume of A History of Modern Criticism rejected the characterizations -- accusations he felt -- that the New Criticism was formalist and ahistorical, it is difficult not to see the New Critical methodology as essentially formalist and ahistorical. Wellek, 144 ff. (40) One of the best expressions of this New Critical commitment can be found in Tate's Hudson Review essay Of 1951, "The Man of Letters in the Modern World," in which he articulated the centrality of high culture: "By these arts, one means the arts without which men can live, but without which they cannot live well, or live as men. Tate, 11. (41) The New Humanists, like Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, were antagonistic to any purely aestheticizing criticism, whether it be that of Walter Pater or that later developed by the New Critics. Despite this, the New Humanists and the New Critics had much in common. For a comparison of the New Critics, see Hoeveler. (42) Although Graff places the New Criticism in the context of the struggle between critics and scholars, and between criticism and history, which might seem to set New Criticism at odds with the sort of close historical work represented by Panofsky's Warburgian scholarship, it is New Criticism's extreme reverence for cultural forms, with poetry as the archetype, that is important in our context. But more than that, Graff points out that R. P. Blackmur, with his sponsorship of the Gauss Lectures at Princeton, was deeply convinced of the special place of the humanities. (43) On the general education movement in the American university, see Graff, 162-79. (44.) T.S. Eliot's other side--his modernism--was championed by still others. Thus, for example, Greenberg's famous essay Of 1939, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," was one expression of a celebration of modernism as high culture. this context, Panofsky's talk, "Artist, Scientist, Genius: Notes on the |Renaissance-Dammerung'," can be read as an argument for the importance of the arts for scientific advancement, feeling no threat from the scientific. For others, the technological dovetailed with the threat of mass culture, so that Tate wrote about the challenge to the man of letters "at our own critical moment, when all languages are being debased by the techniques of mass-control." Tate, 11. (46) Cassirer, 1944. (47) Ibid., (48) One of the greatest tributes to the impact of the refugee scholars in America is the Fleming and Bailyn volume. Especially important in the context of Panofsky is Colin Eisler's contribution to "Kunstgeschichte American Style: A Study in Migration." Eisler's essay provides a rich and colorful analysis of the impact that the refugee art historians--like Erwin Panofsky, Richard Krautheimer, H. W. Janson and Walter Friedlaender--had on the American discipline of art history. (49) See Ringer. (50) Panofsky, 1957. (51) Panofsky, 1944. (52) Panofsky, 1955, 329. (53) Ibid., 330. (54) The epilogue was originally published as an entry in Crawford under the title, "The History of Art." (55) Panofsky, 1955, 341. (56) Ibid. (57) Panofsky, 1939, 60. (58) Ibid., 125. (59) Panofsky, 1944, 223; the same argument appears in Panofsky, 1972, 106. (60) Panofsky, 1944, 225. (61) Panofsky, 1972, 35. (62) Struever. (63) "Das erste Blattaus dem |Libro' Giorgio Vasaris; eine Studie fiber der Beurteilung der Gotik in der italienischen Renaissance mit einem Exkurs uber zwei Fasadenprojekte Domenico Beccafumis," Stadel-Jahrbuch 6 (1930): 25-72; reprinted as "The First Page of Giorgio Vasari's |Libro': A Study on the Gothic Style in the Judgment of the Italian Renaissance" in Panofsky, 1955, 169-235. (64) Panofsky, 1962, 182. (65) Ibid. (66) Ibid., 181. (67) Panofsky, 1939, esp. 208 ff. (68) Ibid., 229. (69) Ibid., 230. (70) In addition to the Warburgians concerned with neo-Platonism, including Klibansky, Cassirer, Warburg, Wittkower, and Panofsky, one can add a long list of other names, including Karl Reinhardt, Paul Oskar Kristeller, and Leo Spitzer. (71) Panofsky, 1962, 181. (72) Panofsky, 1960, 113.


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Author:Landauer, Carl
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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