Heinrich Zimmer

This article is about the Indologist (1890–1943). For the Celticist and Indologist (1851-1910), see Heinrich Zimmer (Celticist).
Heinrich Zimmer

Heinrich Zimmer (1933)
Born December 6, 1890
Greifswald, German Empire
Died March 20, 1943 (age 52)
New Rochelle, New York
Occupation Academic, Indologist, Historian of South Asian art

Heinrich Robert Zimmer (December 6, 1890 – March 20, 1943) was an Indologist and historian of South Asian art, most known for his works, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization and Philosophies of India. He was the most important German scholar in Indian Philology after Max Müller (1823-1900).[1] In 2010, a "Heinrich Zimmer Chair for Indian Philosophy and Intellectual History" was inaugurated at Heidelberg University.[2]

Early life and education

He was born in Greifswald, Germany. Zimmer began studying Sanskrit and linguistics at the University of Berlin in 1909. He earned his doctorate in 1914 with a thesis entitled Studien zur Geschichte der Gotras and directed by Heinrich Lüders.


Between 1920-24 he lectured at the University of Greifswald, moving to Heidelberg University to fill the Chair of Indian Philology (1924-1938).[1]

In 1938 he was dismissed by the Nazis, and he emigrated to England where between 1939-40 he taught at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1940 he moved to New Rochelle, New York where he eventually accepted a Visiting Lecturer position in Philosophy at Columbia University. Here, Joseph Campbell, who was then working on his first book, A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944) attended his lectures. The two men became good friends.

Zimmer died of pneumonia the following year (1943). After his death, Campbell was given the task of editing and posthumously publishing Zimmer's papers, which he did over the next 12 years, turning Zimmer’s lecture notes into four books, in the Bollingen Series: Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, Philosophies of India, The Art of Indian Asia, and The King and the Corpse, which in turn became Zimmer's lasting legacy.[3]


Zimmer's method was to examine religious images using their sacred significance as a key to their psychic transformation. His use of (Indian) philosophy and religious history to interpret art was at odds with traditional scholarship. His vast knowledge of Hindu mythology and philosophy (particularly Puranic and Tantric works) gave him insights into the art, insights that were appreciated by Joseph Campbell among others. Campbell edited many of Zimmer's writings after his death. The psychiatrist Carl Jung also developed a long-standing relationship with Zimmer, and incidentally edited a volume of Zimmer's entitled Der Weg zum Selbst (The Way to the Self). The two men first met in 1932, after which Zimmer, along with Richard Wilhelm, became one of the few male friends of Jung.

Zimmer is credited by many for the popularizing of South Asian art in the West, as he was the first to identify the radical difference between Western classical and Indian art.[4]

Personal life

In 1929 he married Christiane, daughter of Austrian novelist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Zimmer died of pneumonia in New Rochelle, New York, on March 20, 1943.


On all levels there are rituals capable of transforming man. But it is everywhere the tradition and trend to rank the spiritual, sublime practices above the sensual and magical ones, since the general course of cultural development has favored the spiritual element over the material and feminine. This development has taken place under the predominance of the male principle. But with the cult of the Great Goddess in late Hinduism, the archaic heritage of sensual earth-bound rites rises once again overwhelmingly to the zenith."[5]



  1. 1 2 Heinrich Zimmer Chair for Philosophy and Intellectual History Heidelberg University.
  2. "India's Ambassador inaugurates Heinrich Zimmer Chair". Heidelberg University website. Jun 25, 2010.
  3. "Heinrich Zimmer". Britannica.com.
  4. "Works by Heinrich Zimmer, Completed and Edited by Joseph Campbell". Princeton University Press.
  5. Zimmer, Heinrich. The Indian World Mother, [1938] pp. 91–92; from The Mystic Vision: Papers from The Eranos Yearbooks, Bollingen Series XXX, 6. Princeton University Press, 1968, Edited by Joseph Campbell and translated by Ralph Manheim.

Further reading

External links

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