Art History and Its Institutions: Foundations of a Discipline

By Elizabeth Mansfield | Go to book overview

4

MARBURG, HARVARD, AND PURPOSE-BUILT ARCHITECTURE FOR ART HISTORY, 1927

Kathryn Brush

The year 1927 marked two extraordinary events within the history of art history and its institutions: the opening of two new, purpose-built structures for the study and teaching of art history at Marburg and Harvard Universities (Figures 4.1, 4.2). These large and comprehensive buildings, both of which integrated, under a single roof, classrooms, art museums, research libraries and the technical resources specific to the discipline, were unprecedented at European and American universities.

The Fogg Art Museum at Harvard and the Jubiläums-Kunstinstitut in Marburg opened within about a month of each other in 1927. 1 This contemporaneity, however, was fortuitous. Although the archives show that professors and students at Marburg and Harvard were in routine contact during the 1920s, it appears that these building programs were developed independently. 2 They gave, in short, architectural shape to the particular needs and practices of Kunstwissenschaft, on the one hand, and its developing North American counterpart, on the other.

The simultaneous invention of these specialized working plants for art history in Germany and America during the mid-1920s was significant, for this was the decade when the institutionalization of art history at American universities was accelerating, largely following the disciplinary and academic models developed in the German-speaking countries during the 1880s and 1890s. Viewed together from this perspective, the buildings at Marburg and Harvard can be recognized as landmarks within the international development of art history - ones that documented an early point of intersection, and perhaps even a growing equivalence, between the Old and New World branches of the discipline. But each of these projects of the mid-1920s responded in the first instance to a particular set of local conditions and imperatives. Thus, while the Kunstinstitut and the Fogg Art Museum had a great deal in common, they also displayed a number of unique features. As combined teaching facilities and public museums located within university communities, for example, they were

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