Charles Mitchell (1912-1995)
Art historian and professor, Charles Mitchell was born in London, England on January 25, 1912. He was exposed to the works of Art and Crafts pioneer William Morris at young age. Mitchell’s father, Stanley Mitchell, was a pupil of the artist W. R. Lethaby, a friend and contemporary of Morris. Mitchell was educated at St. John’s College, Oxford University, where he studied history. While his careful devotion to research made him a natural student, his curiosity bred a spectrum of varied interests. Captivated by the Humanistic ideals of Neo-Platonism and the Italian Renaissance, his academic focus soon shifted from history to philosophy and the humanities. He studied Italian Renaissance arts, literature, and architecture, completing an in-depth analysis of The Tempio Malatestiano, the quattrocento cathedral designed by Leon Battista Alberti. He then began a degree in literature under the mentorship of Sir Karl Parker, Keeper of Prints at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. He travelled to Germany to study the works of Matthias Grünewald in preparation for his thesis on Grünewald’s famed Isenheim Altarpiece. Determined not to contribute to Nazi economy, he reportedly slept outside in ditches and ate as little as possible.
Mitchell began his professional career at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. He joined the museum’s staff in 1935 and quickly became a connoisseur of maritime paintings. He joined the civilian staff of the Admiralty in 1939 and later received commissions in the Special Branch of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and British Naval Intelligence. The Monuments Men Foundation is very interested in knowing more about Mitchell’s involvement with the MFAA. If you have any information, please contact .
Following the end of World War II, Mitchell returned to London. His postwar years were impaired by ill health caused by a near-fatal bout of polio in his early forties. Despite his physical disability, he remained active in both mind and spirit. He was a lecturer at the Warburg Institute in London from 1945 to 1960 and a professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania from 1960 to 1980. At Bryn Mawr, he served as Chair of the Department of Art History and significantly enlarged the program. He also lectured as a visiting professor at prominent institutions in the northeastern United States, including Bowdoin College in Maine (1980-82), Williams College in Massachusetts (1982), and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (1984-85). His numerous writings reveal his varied interests, including The Lateran Fresco of Boniface VIII (1951), Hogarth’s Peregination (1952), A Fifteenth Century Italian Plutarch (1961), Pirro Ligorio's Roman Antiquities; The Drawings in MS XIII. B. 7 in the National Library in Naples (with Erna Mandowky, 1965), and Cyriacus of Ancona's Journeys in the Propontis and the Northern Aegean, 1444-1445 (with Edward Bodner, 1976).
Charles Mitchell died in Oxford, England on October 23, 1995. Honoris Causa, Doctor of Literature at Bowdoin University, once described Mitchell as “a committed humanist, a scholar of formidable achievement, a warm friend to [his] first American academic home, representing the best in the international academic community.”
Photo courtesy of The Bern Schwartz Family Foundation.