Former Laureates

Ernst Gombrich

Ernst Gombrich


Sir Ernst Gombrich received the Erasmus Prize together with Willem Sandberg.
Ernst Gombrich was born in Vienna in 1909 and emigrated to London in the 1930s. In 1959 he became Professor of History of the Classical Tradition and director of the Warburg Institute, where he had previously worked as an assistant. While still young he was not only deeply interested in the central questions of art history and art criticism, but he also possessed the gift of explaining the most difficult problems in simple words and a clear style. For this reason his readers include both specialists and laymen. Professor Gombrich’s area of particular interest was the Renaissance; his studies in the field of iconology have been important. More influential, possibly, are his pioneering writings on the perception and the appreciation of art. Gombrich combines experimental psychology, sociology and art history so brilliantly and in such a level-headed way that fundamental problems, stripped of all mystery, are shown in a new light. In this way the artist’s creative process becomes clearer. Gombrich argues that the most important factors for a change in style are the result of rational activities rather than the mysterious changing ‘Zeitgeist’, a notion to which he strongly opposed. His best known works include The Story of Art (1950, translated into more than 30 languages), Art and Illusion, a Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (1963), Studies in the Art of the Renaissance (1966-76, three volumes), Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography (1970), The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art (1979) and Meditations on a Hobby Horse (1985). His book The Preference for the Primitive (2002) appeared after his death in 2001.

Ernst Gombrich donated part of his prize to the Warburg Institute of the University of London, of which he was the director for many years. The money was used to help young researchers of various nationalities to publish their studies in the fields of art and cultural history.

HRH Prince Bernhard with Willem Sandberg

HRH Prince Bernhard and Willem Sandberg, Erasmus Prize winner in 1975 and former director of the Stedelijk Museum.