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Max Jakob Friedländer (5 July 1867 in Berlin – 11 October 1958 in Amsterdam) was a German curator and art historian. He was a specialist in Early Netherlandish painting and the Northern Renaissance, who volunteered at the Kupferstichkabinett or prints collection of the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin in 1891 under Friedrich Lippmann. On Lippmann's recommendation, Wilhelm von Bode took him on as his assistant in 1896 for the paintings division. He was appointed deputy director under Bode in 1904 and became director himself from 1924 to 1932, working on his history From Van Eyck to Bruegel and the 14-volume (printed in 16, with supplements) survey Early Netherlandish Painting. He also donated several works to the collection and worked in the art trade as an advisor, to Hermann Göring among others. He moved to Amsterdam in 1939. He attained the rank and title of geheimrat (privy councillor) under the German Empire.
Friedländer's approach to art history was essentially that of a connoisseur. He gave priority to a critical reading based on sensitivity rather than on grand artistic and or aesthetic theories. He described it as follows:
If the determination of the authorship of an individual work of art most certainly is not the ultimate and highest task of artistic erudition; even if it were no path to the goal: nevertheless, without a doubt, it is a school for the eye, since there is no formulation of a question which forces us to penetrate so deeply the essence of an individual work as that concerning the identity of the author. The individual work, rightly understood, teaches us what a comprehensive knowledge universal artistic activity is incapable of teaching us.
During his lifetime he took high quality photographs of artwork wherever he travelled. His personal archive with approximately 15,000 photos and reproductions of 15th- and 16th-century paintings from the North and South Netherlands are often accompanied with notes including such things as the provenance, attribution, relative condition, and location of the paintings. The majority of his work has been transcribed and digitised in the RKDimages database of the Dutch National Institute of Art History (RKD) and forms an important open access archive for art historians.
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