Heinrich Zimmer

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Heinrich Zimmer
Heinrich Zimmer (1933)
Born6 December 1890
Died20 March 1943 (age 52)
Alma materUniversity of Berlin
Occupation(s)Academic, Indologist, linguist, and Historian of South Asian art
Christiane von Hofmannsthal
(m. 1929)

Heinrich Robert Zimmer (6 December 1890 – 20 March 1943) was a German Indologist and linguist, as well as a historian of South Asian art, most known for his works, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization and Philosophies of India. He was the most important German scholar in Indian Philology after Max Müller (1823-1900).[1]

Early life and education[edit]

He was born in Greifswald, Germany. Zimmer began studying Sanskrit and linguistics at the University of Berlin in 1909. He earned his doctorate in 1914 with a thesis entitled Studien zur Geschichte der Gotras and directed by Heinrich Lüders.

He completed his Ph.D. in philology and comparative linguistics in 1914 at the University of Berlin.[2]


Between 1920 and 1924, he lectured at the University of Greifswald, moving to Heidelberg University to fill the Chair of Indian Philology (1924-1938).[1]

In 1938, he was dismissed by the Nazis based on the fact that his Christian wife was the great-great-granddaughter of a Jewish Austrian, and he emigrated to England where between 1939-40 he taught at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1940 he moved to New Rochelle, New York where he eventually accepted a Visiting Lecturer position in Philosophy at Columbia University. Here, Joseph Campbell, who was then working on his first book, A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944) attended his lectures. The two men became good friends.

Zimmer died unexpectedly of pneumonia in 1943, two years after his arrival in the United States. According to Joseph Campbell, "Zimmer was at the opening of what would have been the most productive period of his career. . . hardly had he begun to find his stride, however, when, suddenly stricken, he passed from full career to his death within seven days."[3] After Zimmer's death, Campbell was given the task of editing and posthumously publishing Zimmer's papers, which he did over the next 12 years, turning Zimmer's lecture notes into four books, in the Bollingen Series: Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, Philosophies of India,[4] The Art of Indian Asia,[5] and The King and the Corpse, which in turn became Zimmer's lasting legacy.[6]


"On all levels there are rituals capable of transforming man. But it is everywhere the tradition and trend to rank the spiritual, sublime practices above the sensual and magical ones, since the general course of cultural development has favored the spiritual element over the material and feminine. This development has taken place under the predominance of the male principle. But with the cult of the Great Goddess in late Hinduism, the archaic heritage of sensual earth-bound rites rises once again overwhelmingly to the zenith."[7]

Zimmer, The Indian World Mother, (1938)

Zimmer's method was to examine religious images using their sacred significance as a key to their psychic transformation. His use of (Indian) philosophy and religious history to interpret art was at odds with traditional scholarship. His vast knowledge of Hindu mythology and philosophy (particularly Puranic and Tantric works) gave him insights into the art, insights that were appreciated by Joseph Campbell among others. Campbell edited many of Zimmer's writings after his death. In the foreword to Zimmer's book, Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India, Campbell makes reference to a memorial to Heinrich Zimmer, which was read at the New York Oriental Club meeting in the spring of 1949: “Dr. Zimmer stood alone, forming a class by himself, not only for the wide range of subjects he was proficient in, but also for his unique genius of interpretation. . . Zimmer strove to understand both Eastern and Western ideas from Universal conceptions lying at the root of spiritual and psychological developments everywhere."[8] The psychiatrist Carl Jung also developed a long-standing relationship with Zimmer, and incidentally edited a volume of Zimmer's entitled Der Weg zum Selbst (The Way to the Self). The two men first met in 1932, after which Zimmer, along with Richard Wilhelm, became one of the few male friends of Jung.

Zimmer is credited by many for the popularizing of South Asian art in the West, as he was the first to identify the radical difference between Western classical and Indian art.[9]

Personal life[edit]

In 1929 he married Christiane von Hofmannsthal (1902–1987), daughter of Austrian novelist Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Gertrud (née Schlesinger) von Hofmannsthal. Her younger brother, Raimund von Hofmannsthal, was twice married, first to American heiress Ava Alice Muriel Astor (whose daughter from a later marriage eventually married Zimmer's son) and Lady Elizabeth Paget (a daughter Charles Paget, 6th Marquess of Anglesey). Together, they were the parents of:

  • Andreas "Andrew" Peter Zimmer (1930–2003), who married Joyce Hylton.[10]
  • Clement Zimmer (c. 1932–1955), who died while a student at Wadham College, Oxford.[11][12]
  • Michael Johannes der Baptist Karl Maximilian Heinrich Hugo Zimmer (1934–2008), who married, and later divorced, Emily Sophia Harding, a daughter of Ava Alice Muriel Astor (the former wife of Christiane's brother, Raimund) and English journalist Philip John Ryves Harding in 1963.[13][14] His longtime companion was Vera Graaf and his second wife was Véronique Sari.[15][16]

Zimmer died of pneumonia in New Rochelle, New York, on March 20, 1943.

Schloss Prielau[edit]

In 1932, his wife's widowed mother, Gerty von Hofmannsthal bought Schloss Prielau in Zell am See and began restoring the castle.[17] To avoid expropriation by the Nazis due to the family's Jewish heritage, she wanted to give the castle away to Christiane and Heinrich Zimmer, who could then have sold the property to Gustav Kapsreiter, a friend of the family, but the sale, which was initially approved, was ultimately prohibited and the family property was expropriated. Kapsreiter's attempts to acquire the property were unsuccessful, instead the sculptor Josef Thorak was able to acquire the property for ℛℳ 60,000, which at the time was described as a "small fifteenth-century residence, beautifully furnished and immaculately maintained".[18] In 1947, however, Schloss Prielau was restituted to the von Hofmannsthal family.[19]

Heinrich Zimmer Chair for Philosophy and Intellectual History[edit]

A chair has been named after Heinrich Zimmer since 2010. The Heinrich Zimmer Chair for Indian Philosophy and Intellectual History is awarded by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in New Delhi and is based both at the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context" and at the South Asia Institute at Heidelberg University. The first holder of this new endowed chair in Indian philosophy and intellectual history was the Indian historian of science Dhruv Raina.[20] Heeraman Tiwari, the second holder of the Heinrich Zimmer Chair,[21] was followed by Prof. Amiya P. Sen.[22]


  • Kunstform und Yoga im Indischen Kultbild (Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India [1926];Translated and edited by Gerald Chapple, James B. Lawson and J. Michael McKnight [1984])
  • Maya: Der Indische Mythos. (1936)
  • Der Weg zum Selbst (The Way to the Self) (1944)
  • Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Edited by Joseph Campbell. (1946)
  • Hindu Medicine.Edited by Ludwig Edelstein.(1948)
  • The King and the Corpse: Tales of the Soul's Conquest of Evil. Edited by Joseph Campbell. (1948)
  • Philosophies of India. Edited by Joseph Campbell. (1953). ISBN 0-691-01758-1.
  • The Art of Indian Asia, its Mythology and Transformations. Completed and edited by Joseph Campbell. (1955)
  • Heinrich Zimmer: Coming Into His Own. Edited by Margaret H Case. (1994)


  1. ^ a b Heinrich Zimmer Chair for Philosophy and Intellectual History Heidelberg University.
  2. ^ Case, Margaret H. (2014-07-14). Heinrich Zimmer: Coming into His Own. ISBN 9781400863761.
  3. ^ Zimmer, Heinrich (1973). Campbell, Joseph (ed.). Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. USA: Princeton University Press. p. v Editor's Foreword. ISBN 9788120807518.
  4. ^ Watts, Alan W. (3 February 1952). "The Aim Is to Know; PHILOSOPHIES OF INDIA. By Heinrich Zimmer. Edited by Joseph Campbell. Illustrated. 687 pp. Bollingen Series XXVI. New York: Pantheon Books. $6". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  5. ^ Read, Sir Herbert (3 July 1955). "Out of the Inner Life; THE ART OF INDIAN ASIA: Its Mythology and Transformations. By Heinrich Zimmer. Completed and edited by Joseph Campbell. With photographs by Eliot Elisofon and others. Vol. I, Text: 465 pp. Vol. II: 614 plates. Bollingen Series. New York: Pantheon Books. $17.50 up to August 15; $22.50 thereafter". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  6. ^ "Heinrich Zimmer". Britannica.com.
  7. ^ Zimmer, Heinrich. The Indian World Mother, [1938] pp. 91–92; from The Mystic Vision: Papers from The Eranos Yearbooks, Bollingen Series XXX, 6. Princeton University Press, 1968, Edited by Joseph Campbell and translated by Ralph Manheim.
  8. ^ Zimmer, Heinrich (1990). Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India (First Princeton paperback printing ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. foreword. ISBN 0691072892.
  9. ^ "Works by Heinrich Zimmer, Completed and Edited by Joseph Campbell". Princeton University Press. Archived from the original on 2010-07-20.
  10. ^ "Andrew Zimmer Obituary". Legacy.com. The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  11. ^ "AMERICAN FOUND DEAD AT OXFORD; Body of New York Student Discovered on the Campus -- Foul Play Is Doubted". The New York Times. 13 March 1955. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  12. ^ "STUDENT'S DEATH MISHAP; British Police Say Freak Fall Killed American Saturday". The New York Times. 15 March 1955. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  13. ^ "Michael Zimmer Becomes Fiance Of Miss Harding; Graduate of Harvard to Wed Descendant of John Jacob Astor". The New York Times. 27 May 1963. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  14. ^ Times, Special to The New York (30 June 1963). "Michael Zimmer Weds Miss Emily S. Harding". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  15. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths ZIMMER, MICHAEL". The New York Times. November 2, 2008. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  16. ^ Cohen, Stefanie (30 November 2008). "SALTWATER DAFFY". NY Post. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  17. ^ Sands, Philippe (20 January 2021). Ruta de escape (in Spanish). Anagrama. p. 27. ISBN 978-84-339-4221-0. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  18. ^ Petropoulos, Jonathan (30 March 2000). The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. Oxford University Press. p. 266. ISBN 978-0-19-802968-7. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  19. ^ "Schloss Prielau". www.histouring.com. Histouring. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  20. ^ Heidelberg, Uni. "Cluster Asia and Europe - Uni Heidelberg: Indiens Botschafter eröffnete Heinrich Zimmer Chair". www.asia-europe.uni-heidelberg.de (in German). Retrieved 2023-07-05.
  21. ^ Heidelberg, Uni. "Cluster Asia and Europe - Uni Heidelberg: Heinrich Zimmer Chair for Heeraman Tiwari". www.asia-europe.uni-heidelberg.de (in German). Retrieved 2023-07-05.
  22. ^ "Heinrich Zimmer Chair for Philosophy and Intellectual History". www.sai.uni-heidelberg.de.

Further reading[edit]

  • Case, Margaret H. (1994). Heinrich Zimmer: coming into his own. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03337-4.

External links[edit]