Medievalist, Focillon student. Baltrušaitis was the son of Jurgis Baltrušaitis, senior (1873-1944) a Symbolist poet, translator and man of letters. He was raised in the intensely cultural environment of his parents. His father was deeply pro-Russia, translating many Western works of literature into Russian and acting as the first chairman of the Soviet Writers' Union. The younger Baltrušaitis had the poet Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) as a teacher. Baltrušaitis moved to Paris to further his education in 1923, studying at the Sorbonne. There, he took classes under the medievalist art historian Henri Focillon who inspired him to study art history. Beginning in 1927 Baltrušaitis' traveled to Armenia, Georgia, and later to Spain, Italy, and Germany studying Romanesque architecture. He received his doctorate from the Sorbonne in 1931. He married Focillon's daughter, Hélène Focillon, and initially worked for the Lithuanian Legation in Paris as the cultural attaché. In 1933 Baltrušaitis studied monuments in Persia and Mesopotamia examining the connection between Oriental (middle eastern) and medieval art. The same year he accepted a position lecturing in art history at the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania (through 1939). Baltrušaitis organized an exhibition of Baltic folk art in 1934 in Paris. During these years he also lectured at the Sorbonne and at the Warburg Institute in London. With the liberation of France in 1944, Baltrušaitis again represented Lithuanians in various international organizations, such as the Assemblée des Nations Captives d'Europe and the Congress for Cultural Freedom. After World War II, Baltrušaitis lectured at New York University, 1947-1948. He was a visiting professor at Yale University and lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1952. He lectured in the Netherlands between 1952-1953. Baltrušaitis took up Focillon's theme of metamorphoses in several important works of the 1950s, Le moyen âge fantastique: antiquités et exotimes dans l'art gothique and Aberrations: quatre essais sur la légende des formes. In these, Baltrušaitis traced the influences of Oriental inspiration on medieval art. Like Focillon, Baltrušaitis' focus was the metamorphosis of central themes of Romanesque art over time. Both historians emphasized the outer perimeter or frame as the key to Romanesque composition, what he termed in La stylistique ornementale dans la sculpture romane the "Law of the Frame." The Romanesque stylized its treatment of objects rather than attempting to be true to nature. Linear designs, he contended, are derived from plant forms, which reveal an intellectual conception. The saints and beasts of the Romanesque belong were transformed into a decorative and conceptual design belonging to the architectural order from which they sprang (Sypher). His methodology blends iconographic and formal approaches. Like his mentor, Focillon, his work was criticized by Meyer Schapiro in Schapiro's 1932 essay, "über den Schematismus in der romanische Kunst." The medievalist Oleg Grabar considered Baltrušaitis' writing too purely theoretical and abstract, chiding it as learned, subjective trivia. Scholars similar in approach included Louis Bréhier and M.-M. Davy.
- Private Archive in Paris.
- Jurgis Baltrušaitis' Manuscripts, Lithuanian Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art. http://www.ndg.lt/exhibitions/archive.aspx?year=2016&id=3973.