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Kurt Weitzmann ( 1904-1993 )

German-born art historian Kurt Weitzmann was a specialist in Byzantine and Medieval art. Educated at the Universities of Münster, Würzburg, Vienna, and Berlin, he completed his dissertation, entitled Die Elfenbeinkästen aus der mittelbyzantinsichen Zeit, under medievalist Adolf Goldschmidt in 1929.1 From 1930 to 1934 he was a member of the German Archaeological Institute (Deutsches Archäologischen Institut), and used funding from the institute for research studies in Athens, Mount Athos, and Patmos in 1931, and in Berlin from 1932 to 1934. Facing Nazi persecution because of his refusal to join the Nazi party, Weitzmann immigrated to the United States in 1935.2

Weitzmann joined the faculty of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study in 1935, and remained there until 1972. In 1945 he succeeded Johnathan Morey (also a Monuments Man) as professor in the Department of Art History at Princeton University. He was named full professor in 1950, and professor emeritus upon his retirement in 1972. Weitzmann also maintained a professional relationship with Harvard’s research center for Byzantine studies, Dumbarton Oaks. In 1938, he presented a paper there entitled “Principals of Byzantine Book Illumination,” before the center was formally opened. Weitzmann helped organize the 1965 conference Byzantine Contributions to the Art of the West of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries also held at Dumbarton Oaks. Following his retirement from Princeton, he was a visiting scholar there until 1974.3

In 1956, Weitzmann first visited the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. He returned many times to research and study. His studies culminated in the publication of three volumes, The Illuminated Manuscripts, The Icons, and The Church and the Fortress of Justinian. The latter was written with George Forsyth and was the result of his work overseeing the restoration of the Transfiguration mosaic at St. Catherine’s.4 Weitzmann was the author of many other articles and books, the most famous being Illustrations in Roll and Codex: A Study of the Origin and Method of Text Illustration, written in 1947 and revised in 1970. This work combines visual analysis and archaeological evidence to interpret manuscripts from the Byzantine and Early Christian periods. In his writings, Weitzmann often ignored conventional divisions between Byzantine and Western art, seeking instead to find the common threads between them.5

Weitzmann was a member of the Medieval Academy of America, the College Art Association, and the Archaeological Institute of America.6 He was conferred as an honorary Doctor of Letters at his bedside, shortly before his death in 1993.7

1. Dictionary of Art Historians, s.v. “Weitzmann, Kurt,” (accessed June 12, 2006).
2. ibid.
3. ibid.
4. ibid
5. “Review of Byzantine East, Latin West: Art-Historical Studies in Honor of Kurt Weitzmann”. (accessed August 31, 2006).
6. Peter Hastings Falk, ed., Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975 400 Years of Artists in America, vol 3: P-Z. (Madison: Sound View Press, 1999), 3508.
7. Dictionary of Art Historians, “Weitzmann, Kurt”.

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