August L. Mayer

August Liebmann Mayer ( Griesheim , 1885 – Auschwitz , 1944) was an historian of German art and Hispanist , a specialist in Spanish painting of the Golden Age . Disciple of Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945), prominent representative of the formalist current , Mayer was the first to apply a modern methodology to the study of the history of Spanish art. 1 Of Jewish origin, he died in the concentration camp of Auschwitz 12 of March of 1944, five days after being deported from Drancy .


Professional career

Born in a well-to-do family of Jewish merchants based in Darmstadt , capital of Hesse , in 1904 he went to Munich to study humanistic studies at his university. A year later, already oriented towards the studies of history of the art, moved to Berlin where it taught Wölfflin. He traveled through Italy and Spain, locating and studying the work of José de Ribera , to whom he devoted his doctoral thesis: Jusepe de Ribera (the Spagnoletto) , presented in 1907 and published a year later, with which he began his studies on Hispanic art.

He returned to Spain in 1908 to continue his studies on Valencian painting, which began with the writing of his thesis on Ribera, and to study the Sevillian painting prior to Murillo , particularly interested in the work of Juan de Roelas . He also traveled to Granada, where he located key documents for the biography of Alonso Cano .

In the summer of 1909, returning to Germany, he began working as an unpaid assistant at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. He then published Toledo , a travel guide dedicated to Carl Justi in which he included a first study dedicated to El Greco . The exhibition in Munich and Düsseldorf of the Hungarian collection Marczell von Nemes, with old and modern paintings from Tintoretto to Cezanne , in which organization and cataloging collaborated, gave Mayer the opportunity to deepen the work of the Cretan, presented as a precursor of the Modernity and axis of the collection of Nemes, who was in possession of eleven of his paintings of which seven were shown on that occasion next to the Laocoon , then deposited in the munich museum. 2 As a result of these studies in 1911 he published the first monograph dedicated to El Greco written in German.

Also in 1911 he published his contribution to the study of the Sevillian school and organized in Munich the first exhibition of old Spanish painting held in Germany. In 1911, 1912 and 1913 he was invited by the Spanish Ministry of Education to deliver a series of lectures on Spanish art in Madrid. This dedication to the study of Spanish painting earned him the concession of the Order of Alfonso XII in 1911. Two years later he was also recognized with the Order of Carlos III for his efforts to obtain from Nemes the cession to the Museo del Prado del Socorro in Genoa by the Marquis of Santa Cruz of Antonio de Pereda , that Mayer himself had identified as part of the series of battles for the Hall of Realms of the Buen Retiro Palace , and in 1914 was named academic of the Royal Academy of San Fernando .

From 1912 he made his work in the Pinacoteca, of which at the end of 1913 he was appointed curator, teaching at the University of Munich, which shortly before Wölfflin had moved as head of the chair of History of Art.

The outbreak of the Great War interrupted his vacation in London . Called in, it served for some months in infantry although it was immediately claimed by the management of the Bavarian museums to continue with its work of cataloging the Neue Pinakothek . He also dedicated the years of the war, in which he could not travel to Spain, to work in the catalog of Tintoretto ‘s work . In September 1918, and as part of the German propaganda campaign abroad, Mayer presented in Basel an exhibition dedicated to Munich expressionists, including Paul Klee , Franz Marc and Alfred Kubin or the sculptor Edwin Scharff . Wilhelm von Bode then accused him of being the agent of the dealer Paul Cassirer , who in turn accused him of trading for the enemy. 3 Mayer, however, maintained his strong support for Expressionists, even after they supported the November Revolution and were therefore branded as revolutionaries and antipatriots by the nationalists, although with the exception of Klee none of them subsequently joined the Spartakists , defending, in an article published in May 1919, after the crushing of the Spartacist uprising, that art is always revolutionary. 4

After the war he resumed his travels to Spain, where he arrived in November 1919 to supervise the edition of his history of Spanish painting. He continued to travel to Spain regularly in the immediate years, focusing now on the study of Christian sculpture. In the autumn of 1920 he was accompanied by Aloise Deuschinger ( Rabenstein , 1891 – Paris , 1941), a Czech Catholic with whom he had recently married and with whom he had a single daughter, Angelika, born in 1930, baptized and educated in religion Catholic at the behest of Mayer, whose investigative work continued. 5 Also in the difficult postwar years continued its work to spread knowledge of Spanish art in Germany, for which he organized in 1921 an exhibition devoted to El Greco, who introduced in 1926 the critical catalog of his complete works.

As a culmination of his professional career, in 1927 he was promoted to conservative head of the State Collections of Bavaria . In these years, without abandoning his works in the university and in the art gallery, he developed an incessant activity, making continuous trips by Europe and America at the same time that began the preparation of the catalog of the work of Velázquez and carried out other varied studies, like Those dedicated to Goya and José Gutiérrez Solana , understood as Expressionists, and was in charge of the edition of Pantheon magazine .

Campaign of defamation against Mayer

Following the inauguration of the Schloß Rohoncz (later Thyssen Bornemisza ) exhibition in Munich in June 1930, a group of art historians and university professors of nationalist ideology began a smear campaign against Mayer whom they accused of To profit from the experience of works of art of dubious authenticity. The mystery that had surrounded the formation of the collection made suspicion, moreover, that its presentation was but a commercial operation in which also would be involved Mayer, who was accused besides to participate in the illegal export of Greco, which finished For indisputing it with some reputed Spanish historians, like Elías Tormo . 6 Even though all those accusations were denied by the suspects, as well as by Francisco Javier Sánchez Cantón , deputy director of the Prado Museum , who did not hesitate to go out in defense of Mayer’s honesty, the Bavarian Ministry of Education and Culture opened a file To the complaint of Ernst Heinrich Zimmermann, director general of the National Germanisches Museum in Nuremberg. After confessing to some administrative irregularity, because he had not always requested permission from the museum to experiment, and therefore had not given all the fees to the Pinacoteca, he resigned his posts in the Bavarian collections at the end of January 1931 And in college.

The resignation did not satisfy his detractors and even though there was some Jewish among them, in April of that year in Bavaria discussed the budgets of the Pinacoteca, an MP from the NSDAP spoke of the damages that to the reputation of Munich Had caused the “Jew Levi Mayer,” as proof of the evil done to art by historians of that origin, “who by following the laws of their race simply see everything as an object of commerce.” 7

Last years. Exile in France

After the resignations Mayer continued his studies, giving birth to a new monograph on El Greco, the last of his books published in Germany, and traveled to London to participate in the exhibition of Spanish art organized by the antiquarian Thomas Harris. Meanwhile the persecution against him continued: in March 1933, after Hitler’s rise to power, he was arrested on charges of capital evasion and non-payment of taxes. He spent four months in prison, under frequent interrogations. Finally, after a suicide attempt, in July he was released but was fined 115,000 marks and to pay it was forced to sell part of his collection of works of art. In 1934, he was charged with new fines and debts with the Treasury, which forced him to divest himself of all his possessions to recover his passport, and as soon as he disposed of it, in January 1935, he marched to Buenos Aires where the Association of Friends of the Museo de Bellas Arts had invited him to give a lecture series. At the end of 1935 he met with his family in Paris. In April he moved with his wife and daughter to Madrid where he began the process of obtaining citizenship. Referring to Fig.

Established in Paris recovered thanks to the efforts of US antiquarian Joseph Duveen part of his library and was able to publish in London his catalog of reasoned Velázquez work. After the outbreak of the war , he became a stateless person, was arrested in Arcachon , on the way to Barcelona, ​​and held in a concentration camp from September to December 1939. Once released he was able to return to Paris with his family, German was a new internment in Toulouse from May to June 1940. He then settled in Nice , without being able to reunite with his wife, who died in Paris in 1941.

In Nice and Monaco , where he took refuge after a new entrance of the Germans in the French city, he survived advising, under the pseudonym of Henri Antoine, German dealers established in France who, in turn, were agents of Karl Haberstock, antiquarian Berliner , A member of the Nazi party while helping numerous Jews to escape, and one of the main advisers to the Sonderauftrag Linz , Hitler’s large museum. Hans Wenland, another German antiquarian who served as an intermediary in the sale of a Rembrandt to Goering , made possible the reunion of Mayer with his daughter in Nice. None of this prevented his arrest by the Gestapo on February 13, 1944, denounced by Louis Delclève, a Nice gallery owner who had also sold some work to Haberstrock. A few days later he arrived in Drancy from where he was deported to Auschwitz on 7 March . He died, according to Wenland in the gas chamber, on 12 March. 9 The news soon became known: still in 1946 the Marquis de Lozoya made arrangements with the intention of inviting him to give some lectures in Madrid. 10

Work (selection)

  • Jusepe de Ribera. (Lo Spagnoletto) . Doctoral Thesis, 1907, Verlag Hiersemann, Leipzig 1908. With 59 photogravures in black and white. 2nd edition corrected and augmented, Leipzig, 1923.
  • Toledo , Verlag EA Seemann, Leipzig 1910.
  • El Greco: eine Einführung in das Leben und Wirken des Domenico Theotocopuli genannt El Greco . Munich, Delphin Verlag, 1911. 50 interleaved photogravures. Reissues in 1916 and 1920.
  • Die Sevillaner Malerschule , Klinkhardt & Biermann, Leipzig, 1911.
  • Geschichte der spanischen Malerei , 2 volumes, Klinkhardt & Biermann, Leipzig 1913, 1922. Spanish edition, History of Spanish painting , Madrid, 1929, 2nd ed. Corrected, 1942.
  • Segovia, Avila und El Eskorial . EA Seemann, Leipzig, 1913.
  • Murillo – des Meisters Gemälde . DVA, Stuttgart-Berlin 1913
  • Kleine Velazques-Studien . Delphin Verlag, Munich, 1913. 16 black and white reproductions.
  • Manual of History of Art, volume 13 – Painting of the Renaissance in Italy, volume 2: Malerei des 15. und 16. Jahrhtds. In Oberitalien . Erich vd Bercken, Berlin Neubabelsberg Athenaion, 1917
  • Grünewald: Der Romantiker des Schmerzes , Munich, Delphin-Verlag 1917.
  • Expressionistische Miniaturen des deutschen Mittelalters . Munich, Delphin Verlag 1918.
  • Alt-Spanien , Müller & Rentsch Verlag, Munich, 1921. English edition, Architecture and Applied Arts in Old Spain , Brentano, New York, 1921.
  • Der Spanische Nationalstil des Mittelalters . Leipzig, 1922.
  • Mittelalterliche Plastik in Spanien . Delphin Verlag, Munich, 1922.
  • Francisco de Goya . Bruckmann, Munich, 1922. With 434 illustrations in black and white. English edition, London, 1924; In Spanish, Labor, Barcelona-Buenos Aires, 1925; Italian, Bergamo, 1933.
  • Mittelalterliche Plastik in Italien . Delphin, Munich, 1923.
  • Gotische Portalskulpturen in Spanien . Leipzig 1923.
  • Spanische Barock-Plastik . Munich, 1923.
  • Jacopo Tintoretto Munich, 1923.
  • Anthonis van Dyck . OC Recht, Munich, 1923
  • Diego Velazquez . Berlin 1924. With 115 reproductions in black and white.
  • Dominico Theotocopuli El Greco: Kritisches und illustriertes Verzeichnis d. Gesamtwerkes . F. Hanfstaengl, Munich, 1926, profusely illustrated.
  • Spanish painting . Labor, Fine Arts 73-74, Barcelona-Buenos Aires, 1926.
  • Gotik in Spanien . Leipzig 1928, ed. Spanish: The Gothic style in Spain , Espasa-Calpe, Madrid-Barcelona, ​​1929, 2nd ed., 1943.
  • El Greco . Klinhardt & Biermannm, Berlin, 1931. With 122 photogravures in black and white.
  • The Romanesque style in Spain , Espasa-Calpe, Madrid-Barcelona, ​​1931.
  • Velazquez: a catalog raisonné of the Pictures and Drawings . Faber and Faber, Limited, London, 1936, with 399 reproductions in 198 sheets.
  • Velazquez , Éditions Pierre Tisné, Paris, 1940; Spanish edition, Kramer, Buenos Aires, 1940; English edition, New York, 1940.


  1. Back to top↑ Posada, August L. Mayer , 2010, p. fifteen.
  2. Back to top↑ Posada, August L. Mayer , 2010, p. 53.
  3. Back to top↑ Posada, August L. Mayer , 2010, p. 63.
  4. Back to top↑ “Revolution und Kunst”, article published in Münchner Blätter für Dichtung und Graphik , cit., Posada, August L. Mayer , 2010, p. 65.
  5. Back to top↑ Posada, August L. Mayer , 2010, p. 74.
  6. Back to top↑ Posada, August L. Mayer , 2010, págs. 84-87.
  7. Back to top↑ Quoted in Posada, August L. Mayer , 2010, p. 91.
  8. Back to top↑ Posada, August L. Mayer , 2010, p. 103.
  9. Back to top↑ Posada, August L. Mayer , 2010, págs. 108-109.
  10. Back to top↑ Posada, August L. Mayer , 2010, p. 110.


  • Posada Kubissa, Teresa, August L. Mayer and Spanish painting. Ribera, Goya, El Greco, Velázquez , Madrid, Center for Hispanic Europe Studies, 2010, ISBN 978-84-9360604-6