Paul Zanker studied Classical Archaeology, Ancient History, and Classical Philology at the Universities of Munich, Rome – la Sapienza, and Freiburg in Breisgau. He received his PhD in 1962 at Freiburg. He was a Travelling Fellow of the DAI in Berlin in 1963/64 and Assistant for the DAI in Bonn and Freiburg from 1964-1967. After his Habilitation in 1967 he joined the faculty of Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg and taught Classical Archaeology (1967-72). From 1972-1976 he was a Professor at the Georg August University in Goettingen, and from 1976-96 Professor at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. From 1996-2002 he was Director of the DAI in Rome. Since 2001 he has lectured on Storia dell’Arte Antica as a Professor at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa.
The focus of his research activities lies in the area of Hellenistic culture and the Roman period. Above all he is interested in the function and meaning of images and architecture as integral parts and reflections of political, societal, and cultural processes. His most well-known publications include Augustus und die Macht der Bilder (1987), Pompeii. Stadtbild und Wohngeschmack(1994), Die Maske des Sokrates. Das Bild des Intellektuellen in der antiken Kunst (1995), (with B. Ewald) Mit Mythen Leben. Die Bilderwelt der roemischen Sarkophage (2003), Roemische Kunst (2007).
Paul Zanker is a member of many Academies, including the Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, the British Academy, The European Academy London, and der Koeniglich Daenischen Akademie der Wissenschaften Kopenhagen. He was the Jerome Lecturer at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and in the American Academy of Rome (1984/85), Sather Professor at the University of California, Berkeley (1991), Visiting member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Research Fellow in Berlin as well as Visiting Professor at many universities in England, the USA, and Italy.