Short Portrait: Karl Jettmar

Karl Jettmar
Karl Jettmar

  Karl Jettmar was born 1918 in Vienna. His father was the well-known Art Nouveau – painter Rudolf Jettmar (who was part of the commission that rejected Hitlers application to Arts Academy in 1907); his mother spent most of her life in Sweden. Karl Jettmar's special interest in ethnographic and prehistoric art can be traced back to the influence of his father. After the union of Germany and Austria in 1938 and the beginning of World War II Jettmar had to become a soldier and was soon heavily wounded. Thus he got a leave to finish his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Vienna. He did so in 1941 before he had to return to the army.

The postwar wave of unemployment in Austria and Germany was the reason why he did not get a job with a reasonable salary in anthropology during the first postwar decade, but had to work as a shopman. Nevertheless he published many important contributions to the art and prehistory of Central and Northern Asia in Sweden and the German-speaking countries during this time. Beginning with 1955 till the mid of the seventies he carried through ethnographical and archeological fieldwork in Northwest-Pakistan and Afghanistan about every second year, sponsored by the German Research Foundation. His special field of interest were the pre-Buddhistic and pre-Islamic religions and the art of these areas, which were also the main themes of his six major books and his numerous articles.

In 1958 Jettmar became associate professor in Vienna, and only three years later he was appointed to the department of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the university of Mainz. In 1964 he became head of the department of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the South Asia Institute of the university of Heidelberg. Jettmar retired in 1983 and used the increase of free time in the following decades for further publications on the indigenous religions, art and prehistory of Central Asia. In 1999 he became honorary member of the German association of anthropologists (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde, DGV).

(This short portrait was written by Prof. Ulla Johansen, August 2011; Photograph by courtesy of Prof. Johansen, published in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 127, 2002, p. 133)

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