Aloys Hirt

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Aloys Hirt

Aloys Hirt[1] (1759, Behla near Donauschingen, Bavaria - 1837, Berlin) was a German art historian and archaeologist of Greek and Roman architecture. He was responsible for the King of Prussia's antiquities collection from 1798, and became was the University of Berlin's first professor of art theory and art history in 1810.



Hirt came from a wealthy rural family, and so was able to attend secondary school at the Donauschingen Gymnasium after being educated by Benedictine monks. After the death of his childhood sweetheart, he entered a monastery for a while, before studying philosophy at Nancy university. Intending to get a degree in jurisprudence and government, he briefly studied it at Freiburg soon afterwards. However, in 1779, he switched university to Vienna and subject to classics, staying 3 years. From 1782-96 he lived in Italy, visiting Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Sicily. Hirt became increasingly interested in art, after reading Johann Winckelmann's works and being exposed to wide variety of art available for study in Italy. Working as an archaeologist and (from 1785) as an established and knowledgeable tour guide (his clients included Goethe, Frederick William von Erdmannsdorff, Luise von Brandenburg-Schwedt, Herder, Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and the countess Wilhelmine von Lichtenau), Hirt also assimilated with the German expatriate community in Rome. Also in Rome, in 1791, he published a treatise on the Pantheon, Osservazioni istorico-architettoniche sopra il Panteon.

It led among other things Friedrich Wilhelm of Erdmannsdorff and the duke Luise of support the sow, Goethe, Herder, duke Anna Amalia of Saxon-Weimar-Eisenach and the countess Lichtenau. It recovered 1794 the title of a princely Weimarischen advice.

Return to Berlin[edit]

His time in Italy ended with the onset of the Napoleonic Wars in 1796, when he was called to the Akademie der Wissenschaft und Künste in Berlin to teach the "theory of art", and to be arts advisor to the King of Prussia, with the patronage of the countess von Lichtenau. In 1797, he made a public lecture outlining plans for a public museum in Berlin to contain the finest Prussian art treasures arranged by artistic 'school' for the edification of the art lover and public. The proposal were green-lighted by King Friederich Wilhelm II and given royal patronage, which continued with Friedrich's successor. Hirt settled on a site 'Unter den Linden' (where today stands Schinkel's Arsenal) and produced an initial design, revolutionary in its use of shutters to control light. This, however, was never built, with the start of construction being delayed by Napoleon's conquest of Europe and shelved indefinitely by his decisive victory over the Prussians in 1806 and the punitive Treaty of Tilsit.


With the museum postponed, Hirt published his seminal "Die Baukunst nach den Grundsätzen der Alten" in 1809, arguing for neo-classicism in modern architecture and becoming one of the movements dominant texts. In 1810, Christian von Mechel (who had reorganized what artworks were left in the Sanssouci palace after the French had plundered it) reminded Friederich Wilhelm III of the project to create an art museum in Berlin. 1810 also marked the foundation of the University of Berlin, with Hirt asked to be its first professor of art history and of archaeology. His students there and at the Bauakademie he had founded included a whole generation of German classicizing architects - Christian Daniel, Karl Friedrich Schinkel (who he knew from his time at the Akademie der Wissenschaft und Künste), Heinrich Gentz (1764–1832) and Friedrich Weinbrenner (1766–1826). Weinbrenner went on to evangelize Hirt's architectural classicism at his own new architecture school at Karlsruhe.

Under attack[edit]

In 1815 the Prussian works appropriated by Napoleon to create a museum in Paris telling a comprehensive history of art were returned and put on public display at the Akademie der Wissenschaft, seen by Friederich Wilhelm himself. Impressed by Napoleon's short-lived universalist notion, Friederich set about forming one in Berlin. Hirt was a member on the committee ordered by Friedrich for this purpose, but suffered criticism from young art history students like Karl Ruhmohr and Gustav Waagen.

From the 1820s Hirt'ss views and methods had increasingly become seen as too subjective and unscientific, though he retained influence at court. Waagen had studied the stolen works of Prussia in Paris and come to the conclusion that an art museum's prime focus was not national prestige or education, as Hirt argued, but the pleasure of viewing art. Waagen's 1828 pamphlet gave a detailed account of this competition, and asserted that quality (i.e. only the better or more representative artworks of each era) not quantity (i.e. all the state's works) should be displayed. Disagreeing, Hirt in the end left the committee.

Hirt's architectural stance on neo-classicism was also under attack, principally by Heinrich Hübsch (1795–1863), a student of in Weinbrenner's from Karlsruhe, who laid the foundations in his 1828 book "In welchem Style sollen Wir bauen?" (In What Style Should We Build?) for new revivals of post-classical styles.

Later life[edit]

In 1830, he examined the Berlin (later Darmstadt) version of Hans Holbein the younger's "Bürgermeister Meyer Madonna", now known to be the original. His opinion came to be part of the body of critical opinion considered in the so-called "Holbein convention" held in 1871. With his health failing, in the 1830s he withdrew increasingly out of the public life.


Hirt was one of the first to hang paintings in historical order, an idea he may have drawn from the installation at the Imperial Gallery in Vienna. His "Geschichte der Baukunst bei der Alten" was instrumental for the classical revival in Germany and Europe. Goethe featured Hirt in his 1799 novella "Der Sammler und die Seinigen".

Despite ignominiously departing from the Museum committee, the 1823–30 building designed by his student Schinkel, known as the Altes Museum, was as much the product of Hirt's efforts as of Waagen's.


  • Die Geschichte der Baukunst bei der Alten. 3 vols. Berlin: G. Reimer, 1821–1827
  • Die Geschichte der bildenden Künste bei den Alten. Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 18331833
  • Bilderbuch für Mythologie, Archäologie und Kunst. 2 vols. Berlin: In Commission bey I. D. Sander, 1805–1816
  • Der Tempel der Diana zu Ephesus. Berlin: J. F. Weiss, 1809
  • Die Baukunst nach den Grundsätzen der Alten. Berlin: In der Realschulbuchhandlung, 1809
  • Osservazioni istorico-architettoniche sopra il Panteon. Rome: Pagliarini, 1791
  • Kunstbemerkungne auf einer reise über Wittenberg und Meissen nach Dresden und Prag. Berlin: Verlag von Duncker & Humblot, 1830
  • Die Lehre der Gebäude bei den Griechen und Römern. Berlin: Reimer, 1827
  • Von den ägyptischen Pyramiden überhaupt, und von ihrem Baue insbesondere. Berlin: G. C. Nauck, 1815
  • Heinrich Hübsch über griechische Baukunst, dargestellt. Berlin: s.n., 1823
  • "Ueber die Baue Herodes des Grossen überhaupt, und über seinen Tempelbau zu Jerusalem ins besondere." Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin. Historisch-philologische Klasse. (1816–17): 1-24
  • "Ueber die Bildung des Nackten bei den Alten." Abhandlungen der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin 7 (1820–21): 289-304
  • "Ueber die Gegenstände der Kunst bei den Aegyptern." Abhandlungen der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin 7 (1820–21):115-174.


  1. ^ The frequently-used form Aloys Ludwig Hirt is demonstrably incorrect.

Further reading[edit]

  • Archäologenbildnisse: Porträts und Kurzbiographien von Klassichen Archäologen deutscher Sprache. Reinhard Lullies, ed. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1988: 12-13
  • Sheehan, James J. Museums in the German Art World: From the End of the Old Regime to the Rise of Modernism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 54–55, 79-80
  • Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris, 1993, p. 145
  • Sedlarz, Claudia, and Johannsen, Rolf Hermann. Aloys Hirt: Archäologe, Historiker, Kunstkenner. Hannover-Laatzen: Wehrhahn, 2004.

External links[edit]