Frederick Antal  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Frederick Antal (1887–1954) was a Hungarian art historian, particularly known for his contributions to the social history of art.

"The son of a wealthy Jewish family, Antal completed a law degree then studied art history in Budapest, Freiburg and Paris. In Berlin he was a student of Heinrich Wölfflin and in Vienna under Max Dvorák. He received his doctorate in art history in 1914 under Dvořák and began his career as a volunteer at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest (1914/1915). In 1916 Antal joined the illustrious discussion group the Sonntagskreis, whose members included intellectuals such as the philosopher Georg Lukács (1885-1971), the sociologist Karl Mannheim (1893-1947) and art historians Arnold Hauser (q.v.) and Johannes Wilde. Soon after the creation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic (March 21, 1919), Antal became Vorsitzender des Direktoriums (Chairman of the Board) at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, where he had assisted in socializing the museum’s private collection and organized a successful exhibit with the help of Otto Benesch. As Vorsitzender of the museum, Antal headed efforts to promote artists and protect national monuments. His tenure ended abruptly after the Counterrevolution of Summer 1919, after which he fled to Vienna.

Partially funded by the University of Berlin, Antal traveled extensively in Italy from 1919 to1923, spending most of his time in Florence. From 1923-33 Antal was a resident of Berlin, where he collaborated with Bruno Fürst (1891-1965) as editor (1926-34) of the periodical Kritische Berichte zur kunstgeschichtlichen Literatur, a publication primarily concerned with methodology. In 1932 Antal toured Soviet museums, about which he later lectured (published 1976). He fled the Nazi regime in 1933 and settled in England, where he befriended the art historian Anthony Blunt, wrote his book Florentine Painting and lectured at the Courtauld Institute. Thereafter, Antal’s interests shifted from classical and romantic French painting and its relation to revolution and restoration to the 18th Century artists Hogarth and Füssli. His book manuscripts on these artists were published posthumously.

Antal's Marxist beliefs and reputation as a Communist effectively excluded from the Western academic world as of 1948. At his best, Antal can be seen as blending Aby Warburg's (q.v.) methodology with a more traditional Marxist view of art. As he continued to write, he increasingly applied the concept of Marxist dialectical materialism to art history. He suggested that artistic style is primarily an expression of ideology, political beliefs and social class. This methodology has been criticized as assuming too strong a determination of artistic style by social constructs. Furthermore, Antal was criticized for defining an artist’s identity too narrowly by his patron or benefactor’s social class and thereby neglecting the artist’s subjectivity. The review of Florentine Painting by Millard Meiss in the Art Bulletin (1949) is most illuminating, both of Antal's methodology and of the art establishment's reaction. The critic and art historian John Berger cited Antal as a major influence on Berger's work."


  • Florentine Painting and its Social Background: The Bourgeois Republic before Cosimo de’ Medici’s Advent to Power: XIV and Early XV Centuries (London, 1948), Reprint: Harvard University Press; 1986, ISBN 0674306686
  • Fuseli Studies (London, 1956)
  • Hogarth and his Place in European Art (New York, 1962)
  • Classicism and Romanticism, with Other Studies in Art History (London, 1966) [includes the essay ‘Remarks on the Method of Art History’]

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