Hans Belting  

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Hans Belting (1935 – 2023) was a German art historian and theorist of medieval and Renaissance art, as well as contemporary art and image theory.



Belting was born in Andernach, Rhine Province on 7 July 1935. He studied at the universities of Mainz and Rome, and took his doctorate in art history at the University of Mainz. Belting taught as a professor of arthistory at the University of Hamburg in 1966, then at the University of Heidelberg, and from 1980 to 1992 at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität at Munich.

From 1992 until his retirement in 2002, Belting was professor at the Institute for Art History and Media Theory at the State College of Design in Karlsruhe. From October 2004 until the end of September 2007, Belting served as Director of the Internationalen Forschungszentrums Kulturwissenschaften (International Research Centre for Cultural Studies) in Vienna.

Belting published his first monograph in 1962 (Die Basilica dei Ss. Martiri in Cimitile) and later authored more than thirty books, some of them translated into various languages. His essay The End of Art History? attracted considerable attention and Belting expanded it in successive editions.

Belting died in Berlin on 10 January 2023, at the age of 87.


Belting was known for his contributions to the field of Bildwissenschaft ("image-science"). His account of Bildwissenschaft sought to develop an anthropological theory of the image in order to examines its universal functions that span cultural distinctions, and considered the relationship between the image and the body. Belting examined images used in religious contexts in order to identify the original non-artistic functions of images today considered art objects, and argued that "art" was a unit of analysis had emerged in the 16th century that obstructed corporeal engagements with images.

In Likeness and Presence (1990), Belting argued for the necessity of understanding the ways images give meaning to their contexts, rather than gaining meaning from their contexts, in order to understand images as actors with their own agency. Belting argued that art history as a disciplinary formation was outmoded and potentially obsolete, and that a Bildwissenschaft capable of apprehending all kinds of images, the exact scope and methods of which remain uncertain, should be sought.

Pioneering the development of a global perspective on art studies and museum practice was the research project GAM - Global Art and the Museum, which Belting initiated in 2006 with Peter Weibel and Andrea Buddensieg at the ZKM | Center or Art and Media Karlsruhe. The project, which ran until 2016, took a look at new museum practices and the worldwide development of art biennials that have emerged beyond "Euramerica" (John Clark) since the end of the 1980s. The project included the exhibition and publication The Global Contemporary: Art Worlds after 1989 (2011-2012) at ZKM | Center or Art and Media Karlsruhe.

Fellowships and honours

Belting was a member of scientific academies in Germany and the U.S., including the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin, and honorary member of the Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin (since 2006). He was a member of the Order pour le Mérite of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2005. He held a fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks (Harvard University), Washington, D.C.

In 2016 Belting donated his private library in three parts to the libraries of the institutes of art history at Free University of Berlin, at Danube University Krems (Austria) as well as the Department of Art History of the Faculty of Arts of Masaryk University. Hence the latter named the new library after him.

Linking in at time of death

Adoration of the Shepherds (der Goes), Aleksey Lidov, Alexander Polzin, Andernach, Arthur Danto, Bilderstreit, Bildwissenschaft, Bust (sculpture), Camera obscura, Christian art, Christopher Wood (art historian), Contemporary African art, Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych, Doula Mouriki, Early Christian art and architecture, Eric Andersen (artist), Ernst Kitzinger, Friedrich Kittler, Gothic sculpture, Gottfried Boehm, Hamilton Psalter, Heide Hatry, Horst Bredekamp, International Research Institute for Cultural Technologies and Media Philosophy, Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, Katz Editores, Maria Advocata (Madonna del Rosario), Mass of Saint Gregory, Media art history, Peter Paul Rubens, Proto-Surrealism, Sistine Madonna, St Mark's Basilica, The Garden of Earthly Delights, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Virgin Annunciate (Antonello da Messina, Palermo), Visual culture, World art studies

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