On 24th October, Hans Belting, a German art historian and one of the world’s foremost experts on art history, received an honorary doctorate, or an honoris causa doctoral degree, from Masaryk University. The laureate of the Balzan Prize, which is awarded for outstanding achievements in humanities, natural sciences and culture, received the degree for his groundbreaking work that changed the way researchers approach the field today.
Hans Belting was born in 1935 in Andernach, Germany, and studied art history, archaeology and philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the Sapienza University of Rome. Despite his fascination with contemporary art, he decided to focus his professional career on the art of the Middle Ages and became one of the world’s leading medieval art historians. In the following decades, he widened his scope to include Renaissance art and contemporary art.
In the past twenty years, he has become one of the founders of Bildwissenschaft, a new discipline that focuses on the study of images, and he is also an expert on new media theory. “Hans Belting personifies the dialogue between the East and the West, the Byzantine Empire and the Latin world and kingdoms, the Catholic and the Orthodox art and all the different parts of the Mediterranean,” says Milan Pol, the dean of the MU Faculty of Arts, which conferred the degree on Belting.
Art history as a discipline was transformed by Belting’s book published in the early 1980s titled The End of the History of Art? The book explores the crisis that the discipline faced due to the gap between contemporary art and research. “Belting was the first to suggest a radical new methodology, which was a decisive milestone on the way to the contemporary discipline of art history. He has never been happy just following the trends and continues to ask new questions,” says Ivan Foletti, the head of the Centre for Early Medieval Studies at the MU Faculty of Arts.
As well as sharing the same professional interests, the German researcher also made friends with his colleagues in Brno, which is what led him four years ago to gift his personal book collection of several thousand volumes to the students at the local department. The Hans Belting Library, which subsequently opened at the faculty, remains one of the best-stocked libraries in central Europe.
The books gifted by Hans Belting are not the only donation that helped enhance the studies at the Department of the History of Art. In 1992, the department opened the Getty Library, which was made possible through the funding of The Getty Grant Program, a US initiative by several private donors.
The collection available for study was further replenished last year with over 1,200 academic publications that the department received from the estate of Ursula Nilgen, another renowned German art historian, and it is set to grow further. Several days ago, the Oxford University Professor Bryan Ward-Perkins announced his intention to gift more books to the students and researchers at the Centre for Early Medieval Studies.