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Jan Białostocki

Jan Białostocki 1988

Jan Białostocki (born August 14, 1921 in Saratov, Russia; died December 25, 1988 in Warsaw) was one of the most famous Polish art historians of the 20th century.

Life and work

During the German Occupation of Poland (1939–45), Białostocki studied at the so-called "Secret University of Warsaw" philosophy and art history under Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz, Tadeusz Kotarbiński and Michał Walicki. From September 1944 to May 1945 he was a prisoner in several German concentration camps. After World War II he worked for about ten years as an assistant at the National Museum, Warsaw and from 1956 on, he directed the museum's art gallery. From 1945 on, he also worked at the University of Warsaw, first as an assistant at the Department of Medieval Art, then as a lecturer. In 1962 he was appointed professor of art history.

Since 1964 Białostocki was a member of the Comité International d'Histoire de l'Art, since 1973 a member of the Institute for Advanced Study of Princeton University. He lectured at numerous academic institutions and museums in many European countries, the USA and Mexico, for instance, at Princeton University (1958), Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut (1965-1966), New York University (1972), the University of Wisconsin (1972), the Pennsylvania State University (1973), the Collège de France (1978) and the University of Cambridge (1984-1985). He also participated in the Twentieth International Congress for the History of Art in New York City. In 1980 he was awarded the first ever Aby Warburg Prize of Hamburg.

Białostocki's research interests were exceptionally broad and included the art of the Renaissance and the Baroque and Rococo, Rembrandt and the Dutch seventeenth century, Romanticism, history painting, the history of art doctrines, and methodological questions of the history of art. According to Józef Grabski, he "tried to instill in his students a need for a broad perspective when looking at a particular work of art. He was, in a way, an intellectual son of Erwin Panofsky. Prof. Białostocki directed the attention of his students to the wide context of every work of art: social, psychological, archival, but also historical, economics, as well as purely artistic. [...] He tried to show us the art historical research not only as pure history of art, but in connection with other humanist disciplines." He has published more than 600 publications in several languages mainly on art from the Renaissance to the 18th century.

Białostocki was elected a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971.

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