Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968), a native of Hannover, Germany, grew up in Berlin where he received a classical education at the Joachimsthalsches Gymnasium. He then studied at the universities of Berlin, Munich and Freiburg/Breslau. After earning a Ph. D. in 1914 from the University of Freiburg, Panofsky spent three years on post-doctoral study in Berlin, and during this period, married fellow student and art historian Dorothea (Dora) Mosse.
Although primarily a scholar of Gothic and Renaissance art, Panofsky had wide interests. Erwin Panofsky was a highly respected and influential scholar who was a much loved, generous, and encouraging teacher of several generations of productive scholars. Many students became his life long friends, and quite a few of them considered Panofsky the greatest teacher they had ever encountered.
He taught at the University of Hamburg from 1920 to1933, and during this period began to develop iconographic approaches to interpreting art through analysis of its subject matter's symbols, themes, and history. His work in this area eventually had international influence in the development of art history as a discipline.
Beginning in 1931, Panofsky taught at New York University, spending alternate semesters at the University of Hamburg until the Nazis dismissed all Jewish officials. He and his family fled Germany and came to the United States in 1933. During the academic year 1934/35, Panofsky held concurrent appointments at both New York University and Princeton University. He joined the faculty of the newly formed Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, in 1935, where he remained until his retirement in 1962. In addition, he continued to teach graduate seminars at New York University and Princeton Universtiy.
He was a prolific writer, and his many books and articles represent some of the 20th century's most important writings in the field of art history, particularly in the realm of iconography. Among his books are: "Idea": Ein Beitrag zur Begriffsgeschichte der älteren Kunstheorie (1924) [translated later as Idea, The History of a Concept], Studies in Iconology (1939), Codex Huygens and Leonardo da Vinci's Art Theory (1940), The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer (1943), Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St. Denis and Its Art Treasures (1946), Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (1951), Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character (1953), Meaning and the Visual Arts (1950), Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (1960), The Iconography of Correggio's Camera di San Paolo (1961), and Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic (1964).
Panofsky wrote on subjects other than art history. He was an authority on Mozart, and also wrote about the history of cinema. His 1934 article "On Movies" (originally published in Princeton University's Bulletin of the Department of Art and Archaeology), remains a highly regarded work on the subject.
The recipient of numerous honorary degrees, Panofsky most prized the first from the University of Utrecht, 1936, as it brought great satisfaction at a time when he was still coping with the trauma of expatriation. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the British Academy, and several other foreign academies. In 1962, Panofsky received the Haskins Medal awarded by The Medieval Academy of America for a distinguished book in medieval history.
His wife Dora Mosse Panofsky died in 1965; in 1966, he married Gerda Soergel, also an art historian. Erwin Panofsky died in Princeton, New Jersey, March 14, 1968.