Full Name: Bober, Harry
- Harry Bober
Date Born: 1915
Date Died: 1988
Place Born: Brooklyn, Cattaraugus, NY, USA
Place Died: New York, NY, USA
Home Country/ies: United States
Subject Area(s): Medieval (European) and Renaissance
Art historian of medieval and the early Renaissance art and historiography. Bober was born to Hyman and Fanny Newman (Bober) and raised in Brooklyn, NY. His parents were eastern European Jews who had emigrated to the United States before World War I. In Brooklyn he attended Boy’s High School, the public grade school, before entering the City University of New York to become an artist. There he met George W. Eggers, the chair of the CUNY art department, who steered him from studio art to art history. Bober was Eggers’ teaching assistant at the University between 1935-1942. In 1936 he enrolled at the newly formed Fine Arts Graduate Center (later Institute of Fine Arts) at New York University, under Walter W. S. Cook. Cooked used the exodus of art historians from Hitler’s Germany to populate the Center with some of the best scholars of the time. Bober’s study with Erwin Panofsky, who had already moved to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton but continued to teach at NYU, led him to give up painting all together for art history. Bober wrote his M.A. thesis under Erwin Panofsky (on the Brussels Apocalypse) in 1939 (published 1940 in Revue Belge). During World War II he joined the U. S. Navy air combat intelligence in the Caribbean. He met the future art historian Phyllis Pray Bober in class at New York University; they married in 1943 (divorced, 1973). After the war, Bober and his wife continued their graduate work. Their connections (Bober was Panofsky’s “favorite student” according to Phyllis Pray Bober) were both admitted to the seminar on palaeography at the Morgan Library given by Elias A. Lowe (1879-1969). They traveled to Europe in 1946, first to France and then to the Warburg Institute. He received in Ph.D., from NYU in 1949, writing his dissertation on medieval books of hours. The 1950-1951 year was spent as a Senior Research Fellow at the Warburg Institute. He taught at Harvard University 1951-1954, coinciding with the years Hanns Swarzenski was curator of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and with whom he held a strong rapport. In 1953, in honor of his work with Warburg colleague Fritz Saxl, he co-edited Saxl’s catalog of medieval astrological and mythological illuminated manuscripts, Verzeichnis astrologischer und mythologischer illustrierter Handschriften. In 1954 he returned to New York University as professor at the Institute of Fine Arts. He was a founding member and first secretary (1956-1959) of the International Center for Medieval Art, for which he also helped launch Gesta, its scholarly organ. During these years Bober published several facsimile editions of medieval manuscripts for H. P. Kraus. He was a visiting scholar at the Warburg Institute in 1960 and 1962. In 1964 he was named NYU’s first Avalon Foundation Professor of the Humanities. For the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, he curated, “The Passover: An Exhibition,” in 1975 and authored an exhibition catalog of the same title. The following year he began his “connoisseurship” courses, a two-semester course, at the Institute. Bober was a still engaged in teaching at NYU when died from complications of liver cancer. A son, Jonathan Bober, is an art curator. Bober’s students included the Yale medievalist Walter B. Cahn and Lucy Freeman Sandler. Bober’s work in manuscripts focuses on discerning medieval “schemata” or the relationship between how the medieval worldview affected art. Bober had a fine collection of medieval (and other genres) art, some of which was included in the Metropolitan’s 1968 show Medieval Art from Private Collections. According to one of his students, Cahn, Bober viewed his work on schemata as a kind of key to the medieval art and in classes spoke as if it were about to be revealed in his research. Bober later lost faith in the notion of medieval art as a “mystery language” and switched to connoisseurship as a methodology. “It was as if Meyer Schapiro had transformed himself into Bernard Berenson,” Cahn wrote. Bober’s later devotion to connoisseurship is evidenced by his editing the English edition of Religious Art in France, the Twelfth Century by Émile Mâle.
[M.A. thesis:] The Brussels Apocalypse (Ms.II.282) of the Bibliothèque Royale, Containing also the Lumière as Lais and the Pe´nitence Adam. New York University, 1940, published as same in Revue Belge d’archéologie et d’histoire l’art 10 (1940):16ff.; [dissertation:] The Illustrations in the Printed Books of Hours, Iconographic and Stylistic Problems. New York University, 1949; edited, Saxl, Fritz, and Meier, Hans. Catalogue of Astrological and Mythological Illuminated Manuscripts of the Latin Middle Ages: English Libraries/Verzeichnis astrologischer und mythologischer illustrierter Handschriften des lateinischen Mittelalters. Handschriften in englischen Bibliotheken. 3 vols. London: Warburg Institute, 1953ff.; Medieval Art in the Guennol Collection. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975; ”Reappraisal of Rayonnant Architecture.” in The Forward Movement of the Fourteenth Century. Utley, Francis Lee, editor. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1961; edited,Mâle, E´mile. Religious Art in France, the Twelfth Century: a Study of the Origins of Medieval Iconography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978; The St. Blasien Psalter. New York: H. P. Kraus, 1963; The Passover Story: an Exhibition [for] Passover 5736 = 1975, the Blumenthal Patio, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975; The Coronation Book of Charles IV and Jeanne d’Evreux. New York: H. P. Kraus, 1958. Expression in Art. New York: Art Treasures of the World, 1953; “The ‘First’ Illustrated Books of Paris Printing: a Study of the Paris and Verdun Missals of 1481 by Jean du Pre´.” Marsyas 5 (1947-49): 87-104.
Bober, Phyllis Pray. A Life of Learning. Charles Homer Haskins Lecture. New York: American Council of Learned Societies, 1995, pp. 7-9; Sears, Elizabeth. “The Art-Historical Work of Walter Cahn.” in Hourihane, Colum, ed. Romanesque Art and Thought in the Twelfth Century: Essays in Honor of Walter Cahn. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2008, p. 20, note 34; [obituaries:] “Harry Bober, 72, Professor of Medieval Art.” New York Times June 20, 1988, p. 11; Boehm, Barbara Drake. “Harry Bober (1915-1988).” Gesta 28, no. 1. (1989): 103-106.