Hans Belting

2015 Balzan Prize for History of European Art (1300-1700)

For his remarkable contribution to the study of the visible and the function of images in the Western world. For the originality of his approach to interpreting works of art at the junction of cultures and periods. For his commitment to the study of artistic languages and its impact on contemporary artistic creation.

Hans Belting was born in 1935 (1935 – 2023) in Andernach (Germany). He has taught at the universities of Hamburg, Heidelberg and Munich, and at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe, of which he was one of the founders. He has also been invited to teach at, among other institutions, Harvard, Columbia and the Collège de France, where he held the European Chair from 2002 to 2003. He is a member of the “Ordre pour le Mérite” and of a number of other academies, including the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences. In 2013 he received the Mongan Prize from the Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies (Villa I Tatti) in Florence. He is the author of an impressive body of works, marking a turning point in the history of art. His books have been translated into at least ten languages.

Belting has devoted his attention to the function of images in European societies, and to the relationship of the cult image to the development of pictorial art. He has made a considerable contribution to the understanding of figurative culture by forging links between the study of the Middle Ages with modern times, between the Byzantine world and Western Art, and more recently, between theories of vision in the Arab world and the birth of the image in perspective duringthe Renaissance. His field of research ranges from the Byzantine icon and ‘cult images’ to the triumph of the ‘cult of art’ that characterises Western modernity. The appearance of the secular image, and most notably the development of the European portrait, has been one of the main areas of his research.

In one of his recent studies, Florence and Baghdad. Renaissance Art and Arab Science, he masterfully succeeds in identifying the role of the visible in the paradigm shift marked by the Renaissance, circumventing the longstanding theory of perspective as ‘symbolic form’ in favour of perspective as ‘cultural technique’.

In Hans Belting’s studies, the hermeneutics of the image and the analysis and interpretation of written sources are united with great mastery to a profound knowledge of historical contexts and careful, sensitive consideration of means of transmitting knowledge. His work has had a major impact on recent research in art history. A rarity in the context of university studies, his writings have had an equally important influence upon the creations of some leading contemporary artists.

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