Joseph Koerner

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Joseph Koerner
Joseph Koerner.jpg
Born (1958-06-17) June 17, 1958 (age 61)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
EducationYale University
Cambridge University
Heidelberg University
University of California, Berkeley
OccupationArt historian
Notable work
Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape (1990), The Moment of Self-Portraiture (1993), The Reformation of the Image (2004), Bosch and Bruegel (2016)
Spouse(s)Margaret Lendia Koster (2003–present)
AwardsJan Mitchell Prize (1992), Guggenheim Fellowship (2006), Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award (2009)

Joseph Leo Koerner (born June 17, 1958) is an American art historian and filmmaker. He is currently the Victor S. Thomas Professor of the History of Art and Architecture and, since 2008, 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 (as Professor since 1991), he moved to Frankfurt, where he was Professor of Modern Art History at the Goethe University, and to London, where he held professorships at University College London and the Courtauld Institute before returning to Harvard in 2007.

Education and career[edit]

Son of the Vienna-born Jewish-American painter Henry Koerner, Joseph Koerner was raised in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Vienna, Austria. He graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in 1976.[1] 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, with chapters on Ben Jonson, John Milton, and John Keats. After a Master of Arts in English at Cambridge University (M.A. 1982), where supervised by Frank Kermode he wrote on Joyce's Finnegans Wake, and then a year studying philosophy and German literature at Heidelberg University (1983), Koerner received an M.A. (1985) and 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 and 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 how and why this effect was engineered. 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.[2] Koerner was a member of the research group Poetik und Hermeneutik in Konstanz in its later phase, 1987-1994, writing on the themes of festival and contingency, or accident.

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. Among its claims was that, prior to Protestantism, Christian art had iconoclasm built into it, most centrally in the image of the ruined Christ as crossed-out God. 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 A. W. Mellon lectures at the National Gallery (2008), the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Cambridge (2012), and the E. H. Gombrich Lectures in the Classical Tradition at the Warburg Institute (2016). His lectures as the Avenali Chair in the Humanities at U. C. Berkeley (2018) treated Bosch and William Kentridge under the title, borrowed from Kentridge, "Art in a State of Siege." 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 and widely reviewed, Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life (2016).[3] In it, he revisited the dual-artist format of The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art, though with a different trajectory: from an artistry specializing in hatred (Bosch) to one that predicts a modern ethnographic perspective on the human.

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, Ralston College, and the American Academy in Berlin. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2006-7 and served as Guest Professor at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz. In 2009, Koerner was one of three recipients of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Distinguished Achievement Award, which funds an academic and creative project on homemaking (geographic, architectural, and psychic) in Vienna from Otto Wagner to the present day. Based at Harvard, the project has produced the documentary film directed by Koerner, The Burning Child.[4][5]

Personal life[edit]

In 2003, Koerner married Margaret K. Koerner (born Margaret Lendia Koster), also an art historian; a previous marriage ended in divorce.[6]


  • Die Suche nach dem Labyrinth—Der Mythos von Daidalos und Ikarus, 1983 ISBN 978-3-518-03499-6
  • Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape, 1990; 2nd ed. rev. and expanded, 2008 ISBN 978-1-86189-439-7
  • Paul Klee: Legends of the Sign (with Rainer Crone), 1992 ISBN 978-02310-7034-8
  • The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art, 1993 ISBN 978-0-226-44999-9
  • Unheimliche Heimat—Henry Koerner 1915-1991 ISBN 978-1-86189-439-7
  • The Reformation of the Image, 2004 ISBN 978-0-226-44837-4
  • Dürer’s Hands, 2006 ISBN 978-0-912114-35-4
  • Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life, 2016 ISBN 978-0691172286


  • 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 (completed 2018, released 2019) Writer/Presenter/Producer/and Director (with co-director Christian Bruun). 111 minutes.


  1. ^ The Allderdice. Seniors: Joseph Koerner: Taylor Allderdice High School. 1976. p. 52.
  2. ^ Debretts Archived 2012-03-09 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Guardian lead review
  4. ^ IMDb
  5. ^ October Magazine
  6. ^ He has four children. New York Times story

External links[edit]