The Monuments Men

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Walter William Horn ( 1908-1995 )

Scholar of medieval architecture, Walter William Horn was born in Waldangelloch, Germany on January 18, 1908. He studied the history of art and architecture at the Universities of Heidelberg and Berlin before completing a Ph.D. from the University of Hamburg in 1937. He wrote his dissertation on the façade of the church of St. Gilles in France under the supervision of renowned art historian, Erwin Panofsky. During his graduate studies, Horn worked as a research associate at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, Italy.

Horn fled Germany and the Nazis in 1938, bound for the United States.He began lecturing at the University of California, Berkeley in 1939; an appointment as assistant professor followed in 1940.In July 1944, less than a year after becoming an American citizen, Horn was inducted into the U.S. Army. He served first with General George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army, and later as an Intelligence Officer at U.S. Third Army Intelligence Center.

Horn’s background in art, combined with his fluency in German, French, and Italian, made him an ideal candidate for service with the MFAA. After the German surrender, he became an art-intelligence officer for the MFAA Section of the Office of Military Government, U.S. Zone (OMGUS). He interrogated German prisoners of war and Nazi officials regarding the location of looted works of art and other cultural objects. In July 1945 he was assigned temporary duty in Nuremberg to investigate the missing Holy Roman regalia. The priceless collection included the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, two swords, a scepter, and the Imperial globe. Through much investigation and the skillful interrogation of Dr. Friese, assistant to the mayor of Nuremberg, Horn tracked the regalia to its hiding place in secret tunnels deep below the city of Nuremberg. He discovered that the regalia had been hidden by the mayor of Nuremberg to serve as a rallying symbol for a future Nazi resistance movement.

Horn was discharged in November 1946 and returned to the University of California, Berkeley. In 1948 he became the first Professor of Art History in the University of California system. For the next twenty-seven years, he significantly expanded the History of Art department at Berkeley and managed the University Art Museum (today, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Rim Archive). In addition to his lectures, he published articles on numerous topics pertaining to medieval architecture, including Cistercian buildings in England and France, Romanesque stone structures, and Carolingian monasteries and cloisters. His three-volume book, The Plan of St. Gall (1979), won prestigious awards from the Académie d’Architecture in France and the American Institute of Architects. He retired as Professor Emeritus in 1975.

Horn was a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and served on the Board of Trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Walter Horn died of pneumonia on December 26, 1995 in Point Richmond, California.


(Photo courtesy of Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)