Charles de Tolnay

Last updated
Charles de Tolnay
Born27 May 1899  OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
Died17 January 1981  OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg (aged 81)
Alma mater
OccupationArt historian  OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg

Charles de Tolnay, born Károly von Tolnai (May 27, 1899 – January 17, 1981), was a Hungarian art historian and an expert on Michelangelo. According to Erwin Panofsky, he was "one of the most brilliant art historians" of his time. [1] [2] [3]


Life and work

De Tolnay was born in Budapest. He was the son of Arnold von Tolnai, an official of the Hungarian administration. In 1918, he began studying art history and archaeology as Karl Tolnai in Germany, first at the University of Berlin (under Adolph Goldschmidt), then at the University of Frankfurt (under Rudolf Kautzsch). [2]

During these early years he was also a keen traveller. Between 1921 and 1922 he made his first trip to Belgium, visiting Brussels, Antwerp, Leuven, Ghent, Bruges, and Liege. In 1923 he went to Paris, Occitania, Spain, Lisbon, Turin, Milan and Venice. In 1924 he made a hundred-day journey to Italy, visiting Florence and Rome, where he was struck by the art of Michelangelo. [2] [1]

He continued studying art history at the University of Vienna (under Julius von Schlosser and Max Dvořák [2] ), where he wrote a Ph.D. thesis on Hieronymus Bosch (1925). [4]

In 1928 he became lecturer at the University of Hamburg and a friend of the young Erwin Panofsky. There Tolnay wrote his Habilitationsschrift on Michelangelo's late architecture (1929). He then moved to Rome, where he did much research at the Bibliotheca Hertziana. Between 1934 and 1939, he taught art history at the Sorbonne, Paris, where he changed his name to Charles de Tolnay. In 1939, he immigrated to the United States, where he became a citizen in 1945, working at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, for some years. According to Ernest H. Wilkins, "Of the many specialists resident at the Institute for Advanced Study, probably none is a more tireless investigator than Charles de Tolnay, Hungarian-born authority on Renaissance art." [5] In 1953, Tolnay was appointed professor of art history at Columbia University, where he retired in 1965. In the same year, he became Director of the Casa Buonarroti in Florence, which he helped to reorganize. [2] [6]

He wrote fundamental studies on Flemish painting, in particular Bosch, Jan van Eyck and the Master of Flémalle, Hugo van der Goes and Peter Paul Rubens, but also on the painting of Rembrandt and Jan Vermeer. From 1943 on, his attention focused on Michelangelo, which resulted in a 5-volume study on his work, which has been called "the biggest, most learned study of Michelangelo in our generation". [7] Also important are his writings on the court of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary and Croatia, and the works of Bicci di Lorenzo, Masaccio, Filippo Lippi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Tintoretto, Pontormo, Diego Velázquez, Nicolas Poussin, Antoine Watteau, Eugène Delacroix, Paul Cézanne, and others. [1]

Tolnay died on January 17, 1981, in Florence.

According to Erwin Panofsky, Tolnay "excels by a rare combination of constructive scientific imagination and thorough connoisseurship ... Thanks to his extraordinary energy, Dr. v. Tolnay has greatly promoted our knowledge of Bosch, Breughel, and most particularly Michelangelo." [1]

According to Ernest Manheim, "everybody liked Tolnay because he had very interesting opinions. He was looking for a connection between art history, art analysis, and sociology". [8]

Select publications

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michelangelo</span> Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet (1475–1564)

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, known as Michelangelo, was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the High Renaissance. Born in the Republic of Florence, his work was inspired by models from classical antiquity and had a lasting influence on Western art. Michelangelo's creative abilities and mastery in a range of artistic arenas define him as an archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival and elder contemporary, Leonardo da Vinci. Given the sheer volume of surviving correspondence, sketches, and reminiscences, Michelangelo is one of the best-documented artists of the 16th century. He was lauded by contemporary biographers as the most accomplished artist of his era.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hieronymus Bosch</span> Dutch painter (c. 1450 – 1516)

Hieronymus Bosch was a Dutch/Netherlandish painter from Brabant. He is one of the most notable representatives of the Early Netherlandish painting school. His work, generally oil on oak wood, mainly contains fantastic illustrations of religious concepts and narratives. Within his lifetime his work was collected in the Netherlands, Austria, and Spain, and widely copied, especially his macabre and nightmarish depictions of hell.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rogier van der Weyden</span> Early Netherlandish painter (c. 1399 – 1464)

Rogier van der Weyden or Roger de la Pasture was an early Netherlandish painter whose surviving works consist mainly of religious triptychs, altarpieces, and commissioned single and diptych portraits. He was highly successful in his lifetime; his paintings were exported to Italy and Spain, and he received commissions from, amongst others, Philip the Good, Netherlandish nobility, and foreign princes. By the latter half of the 15th century, he had eclipsed Jan van Eyck in popularity. However his fame lasted only until the 17th century, and largely due to changing taste, he was almost totally forgotten by the mid-18th century. His reputation was slowly rebuilt during the following 200 years; today he is known, with Robert Campin and van Eyck, as the third of the three great Early Flemish artists, and widely as the most influential Northern painter of the 15th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Erwin Panofsky</span> German art historian

Erwin Panofsky was a German-Jewish art historian, whose academic career was pursued mostly in the U.S. after the rise of the Nazi regime.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Early Netherlandish painting</span> Work of artists active in the Low Countries during the 15th- and 16th-century Northern Renaissance

Early Netherlandish painting, traditionally known as the Flemish Primitives, refers to the work of artists active in the Burgundian and Habsburg Netherlands during the 15th- and 16th-century Northern Renaissance period. It flourished especially in the cities of Bruges, Ghent, Mechelen, Leuven, Tournai and Brussels, all in present-day Belgium. The period begins approximately with Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck in the 1420s and lasts at least until the death of Gerard David in 1523, although many scholars extend it to the start of the Dutch Revolt in 1566 or 1568–Max J. Friedländer's acclaimed surveys run through Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Early Netherlandish painting coincides with the Early and High Italian Renaissance, but the early period is seen as an independent artistic evolution, separate from the Renaissance humanism that characterised developments in Italy. Beginning in the 1490s, as increasing numbers of Netherlandish and other Northern painters traveled to Italy, Renaissance ideals and painting styles were incorporated into northern painting. As a result, Early Netherlandish painters are often categorised as belonging to both the Northern Renaissance and the Late or International Gothic.

<i>Arnolfini Portrait</i> 1434 painting by Jan van Eyck

The Arnolfini Portrait is a 1434 oil painting on oak panel by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck. It forms a full-length double portrait, believed to depict the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, presumably in their residence at the Flemish city of Bruges.

<i>The Garden of Earthly Delights</i> Medieval triptych painting by Hieronymus Bosch

The Garden of Earthly Delights is the modern title given to a triptych oil painting on oak panel painted by the Early Netherlandish master Hieronymus Bosch, between 1490 and 1510, when Bosch was between 40 and 60 years old. It has been housed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain since 1939.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mérode Altarpiece</span> 15th-century painting by the workshop of Robert Campin

The Mérode Altarpiece is an oil on oak panel triptych, now in The Cloisters, in New York City. It is unsigned and undated, but attributed to Early Netherlandish painter Robert Campin and an assistant. The three panels represent, from left to right, the donors kneeling in prayer in a garden, the moment of the Annunciation to Mary, which is set in a contemporary, domestic setting, and Saint Joseph, a carpenter with the tools of his trade. The many elements of religious symbolism include the lily and fountain, and the Holy Spirit represented by the rays of light coming through from the central panel's left hand window.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Medici Chapel</span> Structures at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence, Italy

The Medici Chapels are two structures at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence, Italy, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, and built as extensions to Brunelleschi's 15th-century church, with the purpose of celebrating the Medici family, patrons of the church and Grand Dukes of Tuscany. The Sagrestia Nuova was designed by Michelangelo. The larger Cappella dei Principi, although proposed in the 16th century, was not begun until the early 17th century, its design being a collaboration between the family and architects.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Filippo Buonarroti</span> Florentine antiquarian

Filippo Buonarroti, the great-grandnephew of Michelangelo Buonarroti, was a Italian official at the court of Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany and an antiquarian, whose Etruscan studies, among the earliest in that field, inspired Antonio Francesco Gori. The Etruscan art and antiquities in the family palazzo-museum of Florence, Casa Buonarroti, are his contribution to the artistic-intellectual memorial to the Buonarroti.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Art of the Low Countries</span> Visual arts created in the Low Countries, as well as Belgium and the Netherlands

The art of the Low Countries consists of painting, sculpture, architecture, printmaking, pottery and other forms of visual art produced in the Low Countries, and since the 19th century in Belgium in the southern Netherlands and the Netherlands in the north.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Casa Buonarroti</span> Museum in Florence, Italy

Casa Buonarroti is a museum in Florence, Italy. The building was a property owned by the sculptor Michelangelo, which he left to his nephew, Leonardo Buonarroti. The house was converted into a museum dedicated to the artist by his great nephew, Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger. Its collections include two of Michelangelo's earliest sculptures, the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs. A ten-thousand book library includes the family's archive and some of Michelangelo's letters and drawings. The Galleria is decorated with paintings commissioned by Buonarroti the Younger and created by Artemisia Gentileschi and other early seventeenth-century Italian artists.

<i>Tomb of Pope Julius II</i> Features sculptures by Michelangelo

The Tomb of Pope Julius II is a sculptural and architectural ensemble by Michelangelo and his assistants, originally commissioned in 1505 but not completed until 1545 on a much reduced scale. Originally intended for St. Peter's Basilica, the structure was instead placed in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli on the Esquiline in Rome after the pope's death. This church was patronized by the Della Rovere family from which Julius came, and he had been titular cardinal there. Julius II, however, is buried next to his uncle Sixtus IV in St. Peter's Basilica, so the final structure does not actually function as a tomb.

<i>Brutus</i> (Michelangelo) Sculpture by Michelangelo

Brutus is a marble bust of Brutus sculpted by Michelangelo around 1539–1540. It is now in the Bargello museum in Florence.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lotte Brand Philip</span> German art historian

Lotte Brand Philip was a German art historian, professor and expert on Netherlandish art, one of the most notable and incisive experts on 14th- and 15th-century art to have studied under Erwin Panofsky. Born a Christian of Jewish descent, she resisted state intimidation to leave Germany, only moving to the United States in 1941. She began her new life as a jewelry designer, before establishing a career as an art historian and writer, and taking professorship at a number of universities, including New York University and Queens College, Flushing. During her long career, Brand wrote highly regarded books and monographs on artists such as Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Dürer and Hieronymus Bosch, and in 1980 became emeritus at Queens. Brand Philip died on May 2, 1986 in New York City.

William S. Heckscher (1904–1999) was a German art historian and professor of fine art and art history at universities in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Mario Salmi was an Italian art historian and art critic who specialized in Romanesque architecture, Tuscan sculpture and the early Italian Renaissance.

The so-called Hamburg School of Art History was a school of art historians primarily teaching at the University of Hamburg, who were closely connected with the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg (KBW) at the Warburg Haus, Hamburg. Its main members were scholars such as Aby Warburg, Erwin Panofsky, Fritz Saxl and Ernst Cassirer, who had been schooled to see images as cultural documents and inculcated in the investigation of pictorial types.

<i>Portrait of Maria Portinari</i> Painting by Hans Memling

Portrait of Maria Portinari is a small c. 1470–72 painting by Hans Memling in tempera and oil on oak panel. It portrays Maria Maddalena Baroncelli, about whom very little is known. She is about 14 years old, and depicted shortly before her wedding to the Italian banker, Tommaso Portinari. Maria is dressed in the height of late fifteenth-century fashion, with a long black hennin with a transparent veil and an elaborate jewel-studded necklace. Her headdress is similar and a necklace identical to those in her depiction in Hugo van der Goes's later Portinari Altarpiece, a painting that may have been partly based on Memling's portrait.

Christ Carrying the Cross refers to Jesus's journey to his crucifixion.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Ulrike Wendland, "Charles de Tolnay". In Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 2, pp. 703-713.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Dictionary of Art Historians Archived 2018-03-31 at the Wayback Machine : Tolnay, Charles de
  3. Gerrit Verstraete, "Research is Drawing Upon" (2013), p. 12.
  4. Hans Sedlmayr, Art in Crisis (New Brunswick, 2007), p. 186, note 2.
  5. Ernest H. Wilkins, "Petrarca, Valla, Ficino, Pico, Pomponazzi, Vives: The Renaissance Philosophy of Man. Edited by Ernst Cassirer; Paul Oskar Kristeller; John Herman Randall, Jr., in collaboration with Hans Nachod; Charles Edward Trinkhaus; Josephine L. Burroughs; Elizabeth L. Forbes; William Henry Hay II; Nancy Lenkeith. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1948". Italica, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Dec. 1949), pp. 298-300.
  6. Casa Buonarroti: Biblioteca
  7. Creighton Gilbert, "Tolnay’s Michelangelo"
  8. Elisabeth Welzig, Die Bewältigung der Mitte: Ernst Manheim, Soziologe und Anthropologe. Vienna, Cologne and Weimar: Böhlau, 1997, p. 53.

Further reading