(b Winterthur, June 24, 1864; d Zurich, July 19, 1945).
Swiss art historian . Starting as a student of philosophy he turned to art history under the influence of Jakob Burckhardt’s teaching at Basle. However, unlike Burckhardt, he was concerned not with detailed historical inquiry but with discovering general principles for interpreting the visual character of works. What he saw as requiring interpretation was, first, how the subject-matter of painting and sculpture took its particular forms in works of art and how building materials and structures took on meaningful forms in architecture, and, second, the way such modes or formulation changed through history. He wrote almost exclusively on Renaissance and Baroque art.
Wölfflin’s doctoral dissertation (1886) was on the psychological basis of our response to architectural forms. It sets out to account for the way in which what he conceives as literally present, the material of the building, can take on human significance or expressive force, employing a theory of empathy. He expanded on this approach in ...