Photo courtesy of the Tietze Galleries for Prints and Drawings Catalogue.
Hans Tietze was born in Prague and formally educated in Vienna. At the University of Vienna, he studied under Franz Wickhoff, a founding member of the “Vienna School” of art history. Members of this school sought to expand the traditional fields of study and eliminate the emphasis placed on linear periods within the discipline. The Vienna School incorporated archaeology, philosophy, and connoisseurship into the study of art history. Tietze published his first book in 1913, Die Methode der Kunstgeschichte, a critique of art historical methods influenced largely by the Vienna School.
In 1906, Tietze was named executive secretary for the Commission for the Preservation of Austria’s Monuments of Art. While working for the commission, he produced thirteen volumes of writings documenting the artistic works of Austria. Within the Oesterreichische Kunsttopograpie, Tietze laid the foundations for our basic knowledge of Austrian Baroque and Gothic art, periods that had been largely ignored by scholars in the past. During World War I, he was called to duty and served in the army at the front lines. Among his duties was the protection of artworks. Following the war and the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy in Austria, Tietze proposed a reorganization plan for the national museums (a plan that was also used in the years following World War II). His practical yet creative initiative led to the creation of the Belvedere Museums and the Baroque Museum, as well as earning him a position in the Ministry of Fine Arts. From 1918 to 1925 Tietze worked in the department in pursuit of safeguarding the national treasures. Through organizing select sales and purchases, he managed to largely prevent the dispersal of the world class Austrian collection. His work as a preservationist aided in establishing a national identity during the crucial early years of the Republic of Austria. In addition to protecting the nation’s cultural heritage, Tietze also supported contemporary Austrian artists by encouraging museums and dealers to purchase modern works. In 1920 he became the first president of the Vienna Society for the Advancement of Contemporary Art. Oskar Kokoschka’s painting of Hans and his wife Erica hangs today in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and may be seen at left.
Tietze accepted a teaching position at the Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Vienna in 1926. Without the burden of administrative duties, he was free to devote his time to scholarly work. He began writing on Albrecht Dürer, and published three volumes on the German Renaissance artist between 1927 and 1938. In the following years, Tietze wrote extensive monographs on Titian (1935) and Tintoretto (1948) and wrote Corpus of Venetian Drawings in 1944, all in partnership with his wife, art historian Erica Tietze-Conrat. Throughout his career as a writer, Tietze was often criticized for challenging traditional attributions. While always guided by historical scholarship, he felt that paintings should be examined and judged free from the “vanity of collectors and credulity of experts.” Tietze argued “to identify connoisseurship with art history would be like confusing detection with jurisprudence.”
After the fall of Austria to the Nazis in 1939, Tietze escaped the country and joined his wife in Italy where she was researching. The couple immigrated to the United States in 1939. He spent one year as a Carnegie Professor at the Toledo Museum of Art, then the Tietzes settled in New York. Aside from brief assignments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., Hans was for the most part unemployed. His distress led him to retire to a life of study – most of his time was spent researching in the Frick Library. In 1950, the year of his 70th birthday, the Gazette des Beaux-Arts published a bibliography of his work. The list included nearly 600 and books. In addition, fifty essays were written in his honor, and half of them were published in the journal. In 1954, Tietze secured a position at Columbia University teaching a course on Venetian Art. He was not able to finish the semester due to his failing health, and his wife Erica taught in his place. Hans Tietze died later that year in New York.