Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) was one of the preeminent art historians of the twentieth century. A new translation of his seminal work, Perspective as Symbolic Form, was recently published by Zone Books; now three remarkable essays, one previously unpublished, place Panofsky's genius in a different perspective: What Is Baroque?, Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures,and The Ideological Antecedents of the Rolls-Royce Radiator. The essays are framed by an introduction by Irving Lavin, Panofsky's successor as Professor of Art History at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, discussing the context of the essays' composition and their significance within Panofsky's oeuvre, and an insightful memoir by Panofsky's former student, close friend, and fellow emigré, William Heckscher.
All three essays reveal unexpected aspects of Panofsky's sensibility, both personal and intellectual. Originally written as lectures for general audiences, they are composed in a lively, informal manner, and are full of charm and wit. The studies concern broadly defined problems of style in art—the visual symptoms endemic to works of a certain period (Baroque), medium (film), or national identity (England)—as opposed to the focus on iconography and subject matter usually associated with Panofsky's "method." The essay on Baroque, which Lavin considers "vintage Panofsky" and which appears here for the first time, and the one on film were written in 1934. The Rolls-Royce piece was written in 1962.