In Vienna, the field of art history was institutionalised rather early: in 1847, Rudolf Eitelberger von Edelberg (1817–1885) became a Privatdozent. In 1852 he was awarded associate professorship and in 1863 he became a Full Professor of Art History and Archaeology of Art at the University of Vienna, where he taught until his death in 1885. Vienna was thus one of the first places to provide an academic education for dealing with works and sources in a practical and academic manner. Uniquely, a second Chair in Art History was established already in the 19th century, in 1879. It was first filled by Moritz Thausing (1838–1884), followed by Franz Wickhoff (1853–1909) in 1885 and Joseph Strzygowski (1862–1941) in 1909. Eitelberger's chair was again occupied as late as 1897 by Alois Riegl (1858–1905), who was succeeded by Max Dvořák (1874–1921) in 1909. Julius von Schlosser (1866–1938) then followed in 1922 and Hans Sedlmayr (1896–1984) in 1936.
As one of the most renowned and innovative institutes of art history, the Department of History of Art in Vienna soon enjoyed a good reputation, which was reflected in the historical label “Wiener Schule”, the Vienna School of Art History. Art history in Vienna opened up methodological and especially topic-based perspectives that have remained of interest up to the present. Some of them have even gained topical relevance again. Despite the diversity of approaches and interests, there are several distinctive features:
Vienna School representatives were in general unbiased about their academic discipline, which elsewhere was soon restricted by notions of style, genre, era and art at an early point in time. In this context, the close collaboration with museums and the monuments office played a pivotal role. The Bundesdenkmalamt, the Austrian federal monuments office (founded in 1853 as K.k. Centralkommission zur Erforschung und Erhaltung der Baudenkmale – imperial-royal central commission for the study and maintenance of monuments), which substantially contributed to making the art of Central and Eastern Europe accessible to scholars, was headed by three well-known Viennese chairs (Riegl, Dvořak, Demus), who acted as presidents. Eitelberger was the founding director of the Imperial and Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry (1863, today called the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, or MAK). Thausing was the director of the Albertina museum. Among the later chairs were Günther Heinz, curator at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the museum of fine arts in Vienna, and Hermann Fillitz, director of the same. This symbiotic relationship broadened the thematic horizon beyond the catalogue of canonical works of art. It also led to a special affinity for the objective and material nature of the artwork. Researchers like Wickhoff, Strzygowski and Riegl systematically opened up the discipline for new regions and media (material culture, late antiquity, early book painting, Baroque, Islam, Asia, etc.). They formed the basis of what later became known as “global art history”. The Department was also closely linked to the Institut für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung (institute of Austrian historical research), which was founded in 1854 and educated scholars from Thausing, Wickhoff, Riegl and Dvořak to Rosenauer. From 1874, the three-year course for archivists also included the subject of Art History. This is connected to another defining characteristic of art history in Vienna: the interest in historical source texts. The systematic redaction and analysis of historical documents about works of art and artists are closely associated with the names of Eitelberger and Schlosser.
This methodological pluralism was not always put into practice smoothly. Exacerbated by personal incompatibility, it even led to the physical separation of the two chairs into two rivalling departments headed by Strzygowski and Dvořák; and Schlosser between 1911 and 1933. During that time, a comparative-formalistic approach opposed an intellectual-historical approach based on primary source studies. It was not before 1936 that Sedlmayr took over the, by now, only chair of the “reunited” Department.
The representatives of the Vienna School of Art History also included an important generation of famous researchers who were systematically ostracised or forced into exile in the 1930s. Among them were the art historians Frederik Antal, Ernst Gombrich, Ernst Kris, Otto Kurz, Otto Pächt, Fritz Saxl, Hans Tietze and Johannes Wilde. Hermann Bessemer and Josef Bodonyi were killed in concentration camps. These exiled and murdered scholars are commemorated by a monument in front of the Department. Aside from the personal anguish the victims had to endure, listing the names of these people makes apparent the enormous and irreparable loss of academic significance and academic gravity that Viennese art history suffered even beyond its Department. It is a loss that the University and the entire German-speaking academic world may never fully recover from. Many of those who were able to flee abroad, mostly to Anglo-Saxon countries, found a new home in their host countries. Particularly in Great Britain and the United States of America, their contribution to the development of art history was considerable.
The number of returnees after 1945 was low. The impossibility of turning back the hands of time is illustrated in a letter by Otto Pächt (1902–1981), who had emigrated to England, to his colleague from Heidelberg August Grisebach, who was also persecuted by the Nazis. Written in 1949, it clearly addresses the obstacles of returning home, which particularly included the atmosphere at the time.
In 1946, Karl Maria Swoboda (1889–1977) was appointed chair at the Department. The student of Dvořák had been an associate professor since 1930 and a lecturer at the German part of Charles University in Prague from 1934 to 1945. Pächt eventually returned to Vienna to become Head of Department in 1963. This was an important step towards making Viennese art history once again internationally visible. At the same time, Otto Demus (1902–1990), who had also returned from exile in England, was appointed chair as well: after three decades, the Viennese Department of History of Art, which was now residing at the Neues Institutsgebäude behind the University's Main Building on the Ringstrasse, had a second chair again. Thanks to the focus on the Middle Ages of the “Ottonians” as well as of Gerhard Schmidt (1924–2010), who was appointed Extraordinarius (roughly corresponding to associate professor) in 1964 and chair in 1968, Vienna's medieval research in the 1960s and 1970s gained an international reputation. Hermann Fillitz (successor to Pächt from 1974) largely contributed to this achievement as well.
From the 1970s, the key areas of teaching and research could be systematically differentiated as the Department of History of Art (and the University of Vienna) were growing steadily. In 1971, Renate Wagner-Rieger (1921–1980) was appointed full professor. She was the first woman in the history of the Department to take up this position. With her research interests, she made an important contribution to the research on the Gründerzeit, the period of Historism, and the turn of the century (for instance with her Wiener Ringstrasse project). In 1976, the Baroque expert Günther Heinz (1927–1992) succeeded Demus as chair, resulting in a stronger focus on this epoch in the research of art history. The chair was subsequently filled by Hellmut Lorenz in 1997 and Sebastian Schütze in 2009, ensuring that Baroque research in Vienna can by now pride itself on its strong continuity that includes previously marginal research areas such as Spanish art. With the appointment of Artur Rosenauer in 1982, Renaissance art was actively represented for the first time since Schlosser. Also at this time, Helmut Buschhausen was appointed Extraordinarius for Byzantine Art History. His position was eventually upgraded to a professorship, as was the position of Extraordinarius for Non-European Art History – today the Chair in Asian Art History – that was established in 1996 and filled by Deborah Klimburg-Salter. He was succeeded by Lioba Theis in 2005. Since 1994, Friedrich Teja Bach has firmly established the field of modern art at the Department. It was expanded with a temporary Professorship of Contemporary Art (Julia Gelshorn in 2010, Sebastian Egenhofer in 2012). Since 1998, Michael Viktor Schwarz has represented the Middle Ages and headed the extremely productive area of book painting, which has numerous research projects to show. In 2009, Raphael Rosenberg was appointed Rosenauer's successor. He introduced the new field of cognitive research in art history. The art-geographical expansion of the Department continued in 2012 with a newly established Professorship of Islamic Art History, to which Markus Ritter was appointed. Four associate professors (Monika Dachs-Nickel, Wolfram Pichler, Martina Pippal and Ingeborg Schemper-Sparholz), numerous Dozenten (associate professors), university assistants and lecturers add to the excellent teaching and supervising activities at the Department.
Maximilian Hartmuth, Golo Maurer, Raphael Rosenberg