Death of Hans Belting, an art historian specializing in the status of pictures

Hans Belting, a radical reclusive medieval art historian with an unprecedented anthropology that scrutinized objects and emblems as simulacra, attentive to both the medieval corpse and the culture of modern images, died on January 10 in Berlin. age 87.

Pointing to the strict historicity of art that invalidates its claimed timeless universality, the maverick Hans Belting, never ceasing to examine the status of images, will deploy an illuminating chronology of decisive discontinuities in the course of his works: as soon as a Christian image appears, it competes with a pagan idol; When the image was returned to its original creator, the artist, during the reforms, it is now potentially at the level of a genius with its virtuosity that soon museums, “new sanctuaries”, will glorify. Images of the new score of life being played until today’s media and information technologies are questioned.

Such a course cannot be academic. Although he was born in Andernach, near Koblenz, Germany, on July 7, 1935, it was in Mainz that he studied Byzantine art – receiving his doctorate in 1959 – but he broadened his scholarly horizons by working in Rome. Ernst Kitzinger (1912-2003), a specialist in Byzantine art and archaeology, finds in Dumbarton Oaks (Washington) in the United States. An assistant at the University of Hamburg (1966), Hans Belting worked as an art history chair at the University of Heidelberg in 1970, and then in Munich (1980).

Complete freedom

But he left his job in 1992 to teach art science and media theory at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe, which had just opened and was devoted to studies in art, digital and design. Belting taught there until his retirement in 2002, the same year he took up an annual European chair at the Collège de France, where he began a project. “intentionally interdisciplinary”what questions “Images, Organs and Means” and brings together historians, philosophers, psychoanalysts, and neuroscientists, breaking away from the ontology of the image to question the political, legal, and religious practices they create. For the anthropology of images Published by Gallimard in 2004.

It is not surprising that some perceived in this a radical professional change, so revealing is the total freedom of a thinker who ignores disciplinary tasks and ignores the boundaries that limit the horizon. There is nothing surprising to those who follow Jean-Pierre Vernant’s book-by-book trail of this visionary anthropologist. Because when Belting chose Karlsruhe in 1992, he was already the author of decisive essays fueled by stimulating visual acuity and dizzying erudition.

Dialogue at the heart of his thinking

The image and its audience in the Middle Ages (1981; 1998, ed. Gérard Monfort, for French translation) and Image and worship (1990; ed. du Cerf, 1998), a summary of a millennium of Christian imagery from Byzantium to Rome, from allegories to portraits, from icons to sculpture, that questions the dangerous ubiquity of images and affirms the Renaissance as a time of discontinuity. . It was during this period that the rise of collections and the birth of art history as a literary genre rendered concepts and terms that read traces or traces of the sacred in artistic expression obsolete.

If this is an essay with a provocative title, Is the history of art over? (1983; ed. J. Chambon, 1998, for French translation), which subverts conventions and applies Hans Belting’s subtle insights to the status of images, his thought based on dialogue. blinkers capable of true fertility of the soul. Recently, Dual Perspective. Arabic Science and Renaissance Art (PUL-Les Presses du réel, 2010) and Florence and Baghdad. A history of vision between East and West (Gallimard, 2012) questions the discipline as a canon, a perspective of Western art. This is the signature of a great scientist.

After the disappearance of Klaus Herding (1939-2018) After the disappearance of Martin Warnke
(1937-2019), Belting’s death marked an incredibly productive and brilliant period in the history of German art.

Hans Belting on several dates

July 7, 1935 Born in Andernach (Germany).

1983 “Is the history of art finished? » (1998 for translation)

1990 “Image and Worship” (1998 for translation)

2002 Annual European Chair at the College de France

2004 “For the Anthropology of Images” (Gallimard)

January 10, 2023 Death in Berlin

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