Originally published in Cultural Histories of the Material World, edited by Peter N. Miller. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2013. 249–262.

Kugler’s History of World Art

The art historian Franz Kugler had an astonishing career. In 1831, he earned his doctorate at the University of Berlin with the theme of medieval book illuminations; his habilitation followed three years later with writings on the architecture of the Middle Ages, Islam, the Egyptians, and India.1 Kugler had thereby completed his habilitation at the age of twenty-five, but without receiving a professorship; he became a professor at the Kunstakademie (Art Academy) in 1835,2 but taught continuously at the university; the course catalogs from 1833/1834 to 1842/1843, when he took a position as an art expert in the Prussian Ministry of Culture, show a total of nineteen semesters of teaching.3 The emphasis of his re- search and instruction was on the Middle Ages in Europe, but Kugler reached out as far as India as if this were a matter of course.

He made special reference to the Kunstkammer in Andreas Schlüter’s Berliner Schloß (Berlin’s City Palace), which still housed lavish stocks of art and handicrafts, though objects had been transferred out several times, giving birth to Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s first autonomous museum—the Altes Museum—as well as the Berlin University and its collections.4 Kugler expresses his liberal understanding of these works, which do not fall within the category of high art, in his Beschreibung der in der Königl. Kunstkammer zu Berlin vorhandenen Kunst-Sammlung (Description of the art collection present in the Berlin royal art cabinet), published in 1838. It was devoted to the collection’s carvings, enamel, seals, medallions, statuettes, reliefs, drawings, ivory carvings, glass apparatus, goldsmithing, and cabinetmaking—i.e., to the core of the inventory found today in Berlin’s Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Arts and Crafts).5 Of special interest is that, in the foreword to the work on the works of art in the Kunstkammer, Kugler refers to the stocks of the ethnographic collections, whose trea- sures he at least summarily underscores with a view to the art of India, China, Persia, Australia, and Mexico.6

The material in the art cabinet offered Kugler the basis upon which he could construct his universal history of art.7 Published in 1842, this Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte (Handbook of art history) opened to view a history of world art that did not restrict the concept of “art” to Europe, but described it as a possibility of all peoples. The Kunstkammer, with its works of European handicrafts offered the model for opening up the art of all times and all peoples from prehistory to the present, lacking almost any hierarchization. His developmental-historical pattern employed cat- egories that, from the start, pointed beyond Europe: the preliminary phase of non-European and pre-Hellenic art, the classical phase of Greek and Roman antiquity, the Romanesque phase of the Middle Ages and Islam, and the modern phase from the Renaissance to the present.

Among the sources Kugler used in addition to the Kunstkammer of the Berliner Schloß is Alexander von Humboldt’s collection of ancient Mexican sculptures, which made a strong impression on Kugler.8 But Ku- gler’s approach differed markedly from Humboldt’s. Humboldt found the Mexican idols interesting in terms of cultural, not of art, history; for Kugler they possessed a genuine art-historical value. Kugler thereby had his own standards, inasmuch as he compared all the world’s pictorial cul- tures without giving Europe and the Mediterranean world a privileged status. Kugler regarded the Mexican finds as standing higher than the art of Egypt.9

Equally as impressive as the horizontal line of art history’s globalized panorama is the vertical temporal stratification that Kugler undertook. With no mention of the hand axe, Kugler not only begins his history of art in planet-spanning vastness, but also at the origin. The first pictures in the illustrated edition of Kugler’s Handbuch, compiled by Ernst Guhl and Joseph Caspar and published in 1851, show the outlines of the mate- rial; Stonehenge, for example, is relatively clearly recognizable.10 According to Kugler, the mental penetration of material that leads to form has already crystallized in this earliest prehistory: “In the selec- tion of the variously shaped stones as given by nature (as detritus or in the quarry), in the particular manner of their presentation, their arrangement, they were at any rate already able to achieve the more general impressions of sublimity, proportion, and even harmony.”11 With an impressively matter-of-course approach, Kugler begins his art history with intentionally hewn and collected stones, continuing with the monumental testimonies known to his time, like the stones of Carnac and Stonehenge.

The Problem of Prehistoric Art

In a remarkable article in 2007, Ulrich Pfisterer used the lectures from the Warburghaus to reconstruct how, as early as the 1830s, a comprehensive concept of art history was developed that ranged from the first artifacts to the present.12 At the center of his article, however, stands the shock of the discovery of Altamira in 1879 and 1880. After doubts about the authenticity of these paintings were allayed, these objects were soon accepted as part of art history—especially because of their formal proximity to the art of impressionism.

The art history that focused on European post-ancient art was paralleled by an art history focusing on the legacy of prehistory. Pfisterer convincingly shows that its strict lining up of objects in comparisons resembled the forms of comparative analysis employed by the Hamburg School around Aby Warburg. Along with this widening of the gaze, a temporally vertical viewpoint also developed, finding a high point in Herbert Kühn’s book of 1923, Die Kunst der Primitiven (The art of the primitives): “Our age—rich and poor at the same time—stepped out of the narrow confines of European contemplation of art; the view is ex- panding immeasurably; the first steps are taken toward a world history of art … Winckelmann’s and Goethe’s concepts no longer suffice to interpret the art of the primitive or natural peoples. An age for which the pinnacle of art apparently means doing the same thing and solely the Renaissance and for which every stylistic invention seems a decay cannot understand the art of primitive peoples.”13

But then Pfisterer traces the squandering after 1900 of the opportunity to turn art history and its methods into the kind of all-encompassing leading field of study that Kugler had striven for. The idea that the first artifacts are to be seen not as art, but as a kind of pictorial language, and not as objects made for their own sake, but as magical tools, played a decisive role in separating the entire field of prehistory and early history from art history. The art of the so-called Naturvölker (natural peoples) was thereby no longer part of an expanded art history.

Three problems that have been ever more heatedly discussed in recent years show that this separation from art history created an unsolved problem. They all focus on the question of the phase of human development that marks the beginning of what we can genuinely speak of as art. That is, we can add, at what point art history in Kugler’s sense begins.

In 2010, an exhibition in Stuttgart was devoted to the development of art up to the end of the Ice Age. In it, a wealth of stone axes and their further development to blade tips was displayed. The hypothesis that they can be entirely subsumed under their practical function is countered by the no less vehemently argued interpretation that, from the beginning, they were suffused with form-conscious semantics—i.e., that homo faber’s creation of form can be equated with becoming human.14 In this sense, Kugler’s handbook would be a book on the history of man as the form-conscious producer of artifacts.

Gottfried Boehm has long been using the reflection of the stone axe in its character as “image,” producing an “iconic difference.”15 Just over ten years ago, Heinrich Klotz took the excavations of the ruins of Catal Höyük—a Stone Age urban complex in Anatolia—as the occasion to attempt to characterize the human species as homo faber. During the founding phase of the Karlsruhe Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (Center for Art and Media Technology), he presented an interpretation of the stone axe as the primal matter of modernity, as if paralleling the transformation of a prehistoric man’s flying weapon into a space station in the initial sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. He provided a succinctly condensed motto—a bridge between modernity and the art of humanity’s early period. Klotz said what is captivating about the stone axe is “its artificiality, its harmonious regularity, and its symmetry, which indicate the intensity of human shaping. We can even call this form beautiful and ought to see confirmed what was considered a doctrine of modern functionalism: a form that thoroughly serves its utility must also be beautiful.”16

The following proclamation shows the methodological dilemma, but also the possibilities, inasmuch as he defines the art of Homo erectus as more modern than modern art itself: “Even if not all designed shape can be recognized in the functional aesthetic of Modernism and if that aesthetic’s generalization leads to dogmatism, it can nevertheless be applied to the first object created by a human being. The artificiality of the stone axe is also art, and its functionality is also beauty.”17 This statement holds a concentrate of the entire problematic. Modernism sees itself in the art of prehistory, just as categories are taken from the perspective of this prehistoric art to explain modernism.

One could smirk at this anachronism, but the material immediately has its revenge. That people were conscious of an “iconic difference”18 more than 100,000 years ago is shown by collections of fossils that a framing design accentuated as a picture within the picture.19 Stone axes like these have been found in numbers that rule out coincidence. The Stuttgart exhibition showed one such fossil piece from England.20 The finesse with which the fossils were recognized as special, and apparently also prized and centrally emphasized, reveals that these predecessors of the—anatomically—modern human being were such highly sensitive and skillful humanoids that the distinction becomes problematic.

In 2008, the press was full of the photo of a series of shells that are supposed to be among the earliest art forms from the Indian Ocean.21 The individual pieces all have holes in the same spot; they were created by pressure or a blow. Two or three similarly designed objects could have come about by chance, but the number of six shells assures the critical observer that these are the components of a jewelry chain. A fundamental condition for proving that something was conceived as an object to be viewed is the assembly of a sample large enough to rule out coincidental formation, and that is the case here. Based on investigations carried out primarily in South Africa and Morocco, a small, triumphant group of researchers is currently shifting the question of the birth of the individual from the fifteenth century back by about 80,000 years.22

Figures of the Ivory Age

But the real sensation unfolded over the last five years in the Swabian Alb. Widely perceived up to now only in the examples of spectacular individual items, finds in this region have led to a new revolution in our image of the development of humankind.

Sculptures have been found that are 20,000 years older than the pictorial culture of Altamira and the associated sites in France, which are themselves about 20,000 years old. These sculptures cast doubt on the current theory of development because they are shaped completely in the round and their three-dimensionality displays a stupendous mixture of mimesis and abstraction. Thus, the approximately 3-cm mammoth ivory figure found in the cave Vogelherd is an astounding presentation of the contours of this extinct animal, situated somewhere be- tween individual characterization and abstraction. It shows the plastic modeling of the massive body in the swelling surface, under which the shoulder blades and hip structure are both visible. Peculiar rows of x-shaped crosses cover the back and belly.23

Also, humanoid figures have been found in the last years. Up to now, the Venus of Willendorf has been the undisputed star among prehistoric figures, with her emphasized sexual characteristics, her corporeal os-tentation, her enigmatically covered head, and her hand-fitting dimensions.24 But in 2008 in the cave of Hohle Fels, a 6-cm ivory statuette was found; aged about 35,000 to 40,000 years old, it is 5,000 years older than the Venus of Willendorf. This could be the earliest figurative sculpture yet found.25 But what is probably the most impressive figure from thecave in Hohlenstein-Stadel, conspicuous for its height of almost 30 cm, was created about 32,000 years ago. The legs seem to belong to a predator standing on its hind legs, while the arms are those of a human. The head has mutated into a lion’s. Together, the tension in this figure’s body and the body components fused into a chimera have a mysterious effect.26

The Material Iconology

Against the background of the most recent finds, the image of the history of art is changing—both in terms of its objects, and its disciplinary history. The finds on the Swabian Alb turn Kugler’s magnum opus into what it equally declamatorily and futilely claimed to be: a handbook of art history. As in a picture puzzle, this work—with its liberal gaze plunges into the world’s cultures, and its concept of art tracing back to the stone axes—moves from the periphery to the center of the discipline.

This process is not just a vision born from the occasion; rather, it is the product of processes developing from both sides, from art history and from pre and early history. The walls of the Stuttgart exhibition were covered with definitions of art from Pablo Picasso to Marcel Duchamp. They intend to make these artifacts, some of them 40,000 years old, understandable as parts of modern art. People like to speak of objects of modern art as having been created by a type of person who is to be regarded as modern him or herself. The real conceptual problem here is swept under the rug, of course. It is that antiquity lies like a blocking mountain range between the modernism of early history and the modernism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, formally eluding this system of relations.

One way to subvert or integrate this barrier lies in the power of the material. The figure with the lion man seems to develop its own semantics of material, inasmuch as the skill acquired in stone is used for unimagined ways of ensouling matter in the soft, organically produced material of the mammoth tusks. As long as stone was the only material for sculpture, there could be no iconology of the material. Only in the contrast between various working materials are their specific qualities visible as such. Taking everything currently known into account, ivory therefore represents the first condensed field of a material iconology, as it was developed by Gottfried Semper27 and others, up to Monika Wagner in our day.28

Among the first was Kugler, who made a comprehensive claim to understand art history as a universal human history of artifacts. His Handbuch is the implementation of this goal. The material and its iconology lie at the beginning of a development from which art history can be understood as a history of humankind and its disconnection from the animal kingdom.

The epochs of early history are customarily divided in accordance with materials: the Stone Age, the Copper Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. We have seen how ivory and its first known figurative forms force their way into the Stone Age. This is the research result of the last three years that can only be called spectacular. The Ivory Age—the millennia between 40,000 and 30,000 BCE—should be inserted between the other prehistoric epochs named for materials.

This has consequences, because in this material, even more than in the other name-giving materials, we see that, considering the organic softness of the material, art history’s form-specific methods, oriented toward aesthetic appearance, themselves appear as the objects’ desideratum.

Museums and Material Iconology

As Peter N. Miller has shown, the second founding father of this approach is Gustav Friedrich Klemm. His ten-volume Allgemeine Cultur Geschichte der Menschheit, whose first volume came out in 1843, breathes the same spirit as Kugler’s Handbuch from 1842.29 Klemm added a small text on the founding of a museum for all cultures of mankind,30 and his own collection became the core of the Ethnology Museum of Leipzig.31

In a parallel movement, Kugler’s concept was also realized at least approximately embodied as a museum: August Stuler’s Neues Museum in Berlin. Its conceptualization began in 1843—i.e., one year after Kugler’s Handbuch was published.32 This museum, which was reopened after Chipperfield’s removal of war damage in 2010, can be regarded as the vessel of a universal claim to found a general history of art—from the stone axe, through Egyptian objects, to Mexican book illumination— that grasps the entire pictorial inventory of human artifacts as one cosmos in which, from the beginning, form is tied to semantics: in which, in a universal Aristotelianism, the intrinsic connection is emphasized in such a way that the art-historical methods are applied in genuine self- evidence, and not merely in coincidental bridge-building.33

The study of material culture could take a starting point in rethinking Kugler’s and Klemm’s epochal trials to create a universal art and cultural history.

© Bard Graduate Center, Horst Bredekamp.

1.Jörg Trempler, “Franz Kuglers Promotion und Habilitation oder die Zeich- nung als Prüfungsgegenstand,” in In der Mitte Berlins: 200 Jahre Kunstgeschichte an der Humboldt-Universität, ed. Horst Bredekamp and Adam S. Labuda (Ber- lin: Akademie Verlag, 2010), 55–65.

2.Kilian Heck, “Die Bezüglichkeit der Kunst zum Leben: Franz Kugler und das erste akademische Lehrprogramm der Kunstgeschichte,” Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft 32 (2005): 7–15.

3.Horst Bredekamp and Adam Labuda, “Kunstgeschichte, Universität, Museum und die Mitte Berlin 1810–1873,” in In der Mitte Berlin: 200 Jahre Kunstgeschichte an der Humboldt-Universität, 25–54, 33f.

4.Christoph Martin Vogtherr, “Das Königliche Museum zu Berlin: Planung und Konzeption des ersten Berliner Kunstmuseums,” Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 39 (1997); Bredekamp and Labuda, “Kunstgeschichte, Universität, Museum und die Mitte Berlin,” 27–29.

5.Franz Theodor Kugler, Beschreibung der in der Königl. Kunstkammer zu Berlin vorhandenen Kunst-Sammlung (Berlin: Carl Heymann Verlag, 1838).

6.Franz Theodor Kugler, Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte, 2 Bde. (Stuttgart, 1842), ix-xi. See Henrik Karge, Franz Kugler, and Carl Schnaase, “Zwei Projekte zur Etablierung der ‘Allgemeinen Kunstgeschichte,’” in Franz The- odor Kugler: Deutscher Kunsthistoriker und Berliner Dichter, ed. Michel Espagne, Bénédicte Savoy, and Céline Trautmann-Waller (Berlin: Academie Verlag, 2010) 83–104.

7. Franz Theodor Kugler, Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte.

8.Henrik Karge, “Welt-Kunstgeschichte: Franz Kugler and die geographische Fundierung der Kunsthistoriographie in der Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts,” in “Kunsttopographie:” Theorie und Methode in der Kunstwissenschaft und Archäolo- gie seit Winckelmann (Stendal: Stendal Verlag, 2003), 29–31.

9.Franz Theodor Kugler, Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte, 35.

10.Ernst Guhl and Joseph Caspar, eds., Denkmäler der Kunst zur Übersicht ihres Entwicklungs-Ganges von den ersten künstlerischen Versuchen bis zu den Stand- punkten der Gegenwart, vol. 1 (Stuttgart: Ebuer and Seubert, 1851) A., plate 1.

11.“Bei der Auswahl der verschieden geformten Steine, wie sie die Natur (als Gerölle oder im Steinbruche) gab, bei der eigenthümlichen Weise ihrer Aufstellung, ihrer Zusammenordnung konnten immerhin schon die allge- meineren Eindrücke der Erhabenheit, des Maases, selbst der Harmonie erreicht werden.” Franz Theodor Kugler, Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte, 4.

12.Ulrich Pfisterer, “Altamira—oder: Die Anfänge von Kunst und Kunstwissen- schaft,” in Vorträge aus dem Warburg-Haus, vol. 10 (Berlin: Academie Verlag, 2007), 13–80.

13.“Unsere Zeit—arm und reich zugleich—tritt heraus aus dem engen Rah- men europäischer Kunstbetrachtung, ungemessen erweitert sich das Bild, die ersten Schritte werden getan zur Weltgeschichte der Kunst ( …). Die Begriffe Winckelmanns und Goethes reichen nicht mehr zu, die Kunst der Urvölker, der Naturvölker zu deuten. Eine Zeit, die das Griechenland und Renaissance allein als die Höhe der Kunst erscheint und jede stilisierte Richtung als einen Verfall, wird kein Verständnis haben für die Kunst der primitiven Völker.” Herbert Kühn, Die Kunst der Primitiven (München, 1923) 7; cited in Ulrich Pfisterer, “Altamira,” 63.

14.Thomas Wynn, “Archaeology and Cognitive Evolution,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25, no. 3 (2002): 389–402.

15.Gottfried Boehm, “Die Wiederkehr der Bilder,” in Was ist ein Bild? (Munich, 1994), 11–38, 30; Gottfried Boehm, Wie Bilder Sinn erzeugen: Die Macht des Zeigens (Berlin: Berlin University Press, 2007), 34–38.

16.“Wir erkennen an ihm seine Künstlichkeit, seine Ebenmäßigkeit und seine Symmetrie, die auf die menschliche Gestaltungsintensität verweisen. Wir können sogar diese Form als schön bezeichnen und müßten bestätigt sehen, was dem Funktionalismus der Moderne als Lehrsatz gegolten hat: eine Form, die konsequent ihrer Nützlichkeit dient, müsse auch schön sein.” Heinrich Klotz, Die Entdeckung von Catal Höyuk. Der archäologische Jahr- hundertfund (München: C. H. Beck, 1997), 13.

17.“Wenn sich aus der Funktionsästhetik der Moderne auch nicht alle gestalt- ete Form erklären läßt und deren Verallgemeinerung zu Dogmatismus führt, so läßt sie sich doch auf den ersten, vom Menschen geschaffenen Gegenstand anwenden. Die Künstlichkeit des Faustkeils ist auch Kunst und seine Funktionalität ist auch Schönheit.” Heinrich Klotz, Die Entdeckung von Catal Höyuk. Der archäologische Jahrhundertfund, 13.

18.Gottfried Boehm, Was ist ein Bild?, 11–38.

19.Michel Lorblanchet, La Naissance de l’Art. Genèse de l’art préhistorique (Paris: Éditions Errance, 1999), 82, 89ff.

20.K. P. Oakley, “Emergence of higher thought 3.0–.2 Ma B.P.,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B. Biological Sciences 292, no. 1057 (1981): 205–11, fig. 2.

21.Francesco d’Errico, Christopher Henshilwood, Marian Vahaeren, and Karen van Niekerk, “Nassarius kraussianus Shell Beads from Blombos Cave: Evidence for Symbolic Behavior in the Middle Stone Age,” Journal of Human Evolution 48 (2005), 3–24. Ulrich Bahnsen, “Das Geheimnis der Gravuren,” in Die Zeit. Welt- und Kulturgeschichte, vol. 1 (Hamburg: Die Zeit, 2005) 543– 47, 547.

22.C. Henshilwood and Francesco d’Errico, “Being Modern in the Middle Stone Age,” in The Hominid Individual in Context. Archeological investigations of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic landscapes, locales and artefacts, ed. Clive Gamble and Martin Porr (New York: Routledge, 2005), 244–64, 251f, 257f.

23.Reinhard Ziegler, “Nilpferde im Rhein, Affen auf der Alb. Die Säugetiere aus dem Eiszeitalter in Süddeutschland,” in Eiszeit: Kunst und Kultur (Ostfil- dern: Thorbecke Verlag, 2009), 43–50, 43.

24.Nicholas J. Conard, “Die erste Venus,” in Eiszeit: Kunst und Kultur, 268–71.

25.Harald Floss, “Kunst schafft Identität. Das Aurignacien und die Zeit der ersten Kunst,” in Eiszeit: Kunst und Kultur, 248–57, 249.

26.Ulmer Museum, Der Löwenmensch. Geschichte—Magie—Mythos (Ulm, 2005); see Kurt Wehrberger, “Der Löwenmensch von Hohlenstein-Stadel,” in Les chemins de l’Art aurignacien en Europe / Das Aurignacien und die Anfänge der Kunst in Europa, Actes du colloque 2005 d’Aurignac / Tagungsband der gleich- namigen Internationalen Fachtagung, ed. Harald Floss and Nathalie Rouquerol (Aurignac: Éditions Musée—forum Aurignac, 2007), 331–44.

27.Gottfried Semper, Der Stil, 2 vols. (1860/1863).

28. Monika Wagner, Das Material der Kunst: Eine andere Geschichte der Moderne (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2001).

29.Gustav Friedrich Klemm, Allgemeine Cultur-Geschichte der Menschheit, 10 vols., (Leipzig, 1843–1857). See Peter N. Miller, “The Missing Link: ‘Antiquarian- ism,’ ‘Material Culture’ and ‘Cultural Science’ in the Work of G. F. Klemm,” in Cultural Histories of the Material World, ed. Peter N. Miller (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013).

30.Gustav Friedrich Klemm, “Fantasie über ein Museum für die Culturge- schichte der Menschheit,” Supplement vol. of Allgemeinen Cultur-Geschichte der Menschheit (Dresden: B. G. Teubner, 1841); see Peter N. Miller, “The Missing Link.”

31.Peter N. Miller, “The Missing Link.”

32.Elsa van Wezel, “Die Konzeptionen des Alten und Neuen Museums zu Berlin und das sich wandelnde historische Bewußtsein,” Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 43 (2001); Elke Blauert and Astrid Bähr, eds., Neues Museum: Archi- tektur, Sammlung, Geschichte (Berlin: Nicolai, 2009).

33.Horst Bredekamp, “Der lange Atem der Kunstkammer: Das Neue Museum als Avantgarde der Vorvergangenheit,” in Museale Spezialisierung und Nation- alisierung ab 1830: Das Neue Museum in Berlin im internationalen Kontext, ed. Ellinor Bergvelt, Debora Meijers, Lieske Tibbe, and Elsa van Wezel (Berlin: G + H Verlag, 2011) 25–36.