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Chair for Modern Art HistoryLetters from Passavant

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Johann David Passavant in Paris and Rome. Collected letters


DFG project (2015-2018)


The subject of this scholarly edition are more than 230 letters, written between 1809 and 1824 by the young painter, art critic, and later director of the Städel Art Institute in Frankfurt, Johann David Passavant during his study years in Paris and Rome. The edition project will provide a complex of yet unpublished sources for the European network of artists, art dealers, connoisseurs and intellectuals of the Napoleonic and Restauration era.

Supervision: Bénédicte Savoy




Dr. des. Robert Skwirblies

Jennifer Fischer-Falckenberg, M.A.

Student Assistant:

Elisabeth Rudolph (2015 - 2016)

About the Project

Johann David Passavant was an artist and art theorist, networker and agent in cultural policy and museology – and thus a key figure in the history of art in the 19th century. He laid the foundations of his expertise in his youth, when he trained as a painter in Paris before travelling to Italy. His observations, which he recorded in letters to relatives, friends and, later on, also to business partners at Frankfurt’s Städel, but also in notes concerning the Parisian Musée Napoléon, thus represent a tremendously valuable source of information: Not only did he bear witness to the many developments in European art in the Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic eras. As a representative of his generation, he described aesthetic emotions, artistic demands, epistemological thought processes and economic entwinements of essential significance for our understanding of the European art scene after 1800.

The project basically comprises the transcription and critical edition of the letter manuscripts and catalogue notes, which have never before been published or have only appeared as abridged versions in various publications. Furthermore, the many people, artworks and events mentioned in the texts are identified and prepared for further research using commentaries, explanations and an index. There are also other sources which serve to help us understand, classify and use Passavant’s writings.

The publication is forthcoming (2020).

Passavant berichtet seinem Freund Cornill über die Vorbereitung seiner ersten programmatischen Schrift zur Kunst (Brief aus Florenz, 12.7.1819).


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