Joseph Koerner

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Joseph Koerner
Born (1958-06-17) June 17, 1958 (age 58)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Education Yale University
Cambridge University
Heidelberg University
University of California, Berkeley
Occupation Art historian
Spouse(s) Margaret Lendia Koster (2003–present)
Children Benjamin Henry Anders, Anna Sigrid Gunhild, Leo Anselm, Lucy Willa

Joseph Leo Koerner (born June 17, 1958 in Pittsburgh) is an American art historian. He is currently the Victor S. Thomas Professor of the History of Art and Architecture and Senior Fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. Specializing in Northern Renaissance and 19th-century art, Koerner is perhaps best known for his work on German art. After teaching at Harvard from 1989 to 1999, he moved to Frankfurt, where he was Professor of Modern Art History at the Goethe University, and to London, where he taught at University College, London and the Courtauld Institute before returning to Harvard in 2007. He also served as Director of Undergraduate Studies in Harvard's History of Art and Architecture department.

Education and career[edit]

Son of the Vienna-born American painter Henry Koerner, Joseph Koerner was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Vienna, Austria. He attended Yale University where he received his B.A. in History, the Arts, and Letters in 1980. His senior thesis, published in 1983 in German titled Die Suche nach dem Labyrinth ("In Quest of the Labyrinth"), treated the myth of Daedalus and Icarus from Ancient Greek art and literature through James Joyce. After a Master of Arts in English at Cambridge University (M.A. 1982) and a year studying philosophy at Heidelberg University (1983), Koerner received his Ph.D. in art history at the University of California, Berkeley in 1988. In articles on topics ranging from early Chinese bronzes through Renaissance painting to Romanticism contemporary art, Koerner focused on problems of meaning and developed a distinctive technique: fine-grained analysis of the effect images have on the beholder combined with historical accounts of this effect. Koerner used this technique most extensively in the opening chapters of his first art history book, Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape (1990, Winner of the 1992 Mitchell Prize)—written while the author was a Junior Fellow at Harvard’s Society of Fellows.[1] Koerner was a member of the research group Poetik und Hermeneutik in Konstanz in its later phase, 1987-1994.

Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape became the third volume of Koerner’s trilogy on German art. The first volume, The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art (1993), studied Albrecht Dürer’s self-portraits and their distortion by Dürer’s disciple, Hans Baldung Grien. The second volume, The Reformation of the Image (2004), focussed on works by Lucas Cranach, and treated Protestant iconoclasm and its aftermath in painting and architecture. While writing the latter book, Koerner collaborated with Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel on the 2002 exhibition Iconoclash at the ZKM in Karlsruhe. He has also curated exhibitions of his father’s work, including a 1997 retrospective at the Austrian National Gallery. In the 1990s, he was a frequent contributor to The New Republic. In Great Britain, Koerner is known for his work as writer and presenter of the three-part Northern Renaissance (2006) and the feature-lengthVienna: City of Dreams (2007), both produced in Scotland by the BBC and broadcast on BBC Four. A popular speaker, Koerner has delivered the Slade Lectures at Cambridge (2003) and Oxford (2013), the Getty Lectures at USC (2005), the Bross Lectures at University of Chicago (2007), the Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery (2008), the Tanner Lectures in Human Values at Cambridge (2012), and the E. H. Gombrich Lectures in the Classical Tradition at the Warburg Institute (2016). Koerner’s most recent publications concern the theme of enmity in the art of Hieronymus Bosch, including the book, based on Koerner's Mellon Lectures in Washington, Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life (2016).

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (since 1995) and the American Philosophical Association (since 2008), Koerner has served on the boards of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Frick Art Reference Library, the Warburg Institute, and Ralston College, a new liberal arts college in Savannah.[2] In 2009, Koerner was one of three recipients of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Distinguished Achievement Award, which funds a current film project on homemaking in Vienna from Otto Wagner to the present day. Based at Harvard, the project is focussed on the documentary film The Burning Child. [3]

Personal life[edit]

In 2003, Koerner married Margaret K. Koerner (born Margaret Lendia Koster), also an art historian; a previous marriage had ended in divorce.[4]



  • Northern Renaissance (2006) Writer/Presenter, 3-part series, 180 minutes. Premier: BBC Four (2006).
  • Vienna: City of Dreams (2007) Writer/Presenter, 88 minutes. Premiere: BBC Four (2007).
  • The Burning Child (2017) Producer/Director (with Christian Bruun)/Writer/Presenter, 120 minutes.


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