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Diehl, Charles

    Image Credit: Dumbarton Oaks

    Full Name: Diehl, Charles

    Other Names:

    • Michel Charles Diehl

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 04 July 1859

    Date Died: 01 November 1944

    Place Born: Strasbourg, Grand Est, France

    Place Died: Paris, Île-de-France, France

    Home Country/ies: France

    Subject Area(s): archaeology, Byzantine (culture or style), and Medieval (European)


    Byzantinist and archaeologist; founder of French academic byzantinologie. Diehl’s father was Frédéric Geoffroy Diehl (1804-1868), a professor of German at the lycée in Strasbourg. The younger Diehl studied at the lycées of Strasbourg and Nancy, graduated from the Louis-le-Grand lycée. He received further degrees from the École normale supérieure in 1878, licencié in 1879, and the agrégé d’histoire in 1881. He spent the following years first in Rome as a member of the École Française de Rome, 1881-1882 and then in Athens, a member of the École Française d’Athènes, 1883-1885. That year, 1885, he began teaching in a faculty position at Nancy. He received his Ph.D. in 1888 writing his dissertation on Byzantine history, still relatively novel among French dissertations [Alfred Rambaud (1842-1905) being his only predecessor with an 1870 thesis] (Boer). The same year he married Marguerite de Langenhagen (b. 1868), daughter of a physician. Unlike most new French academics, Diehl was spared time teaching secondary education and directly offered an appointment as professor of archaeology at the university in Nancy. An 1889 book on the convent of Saint-Luc en Phocide included mosaics, his first foray into art writing. Beginning in 1892 he joined archaeological excavations in North Africa. The first of his art history was issued in 1894 as L’art byzantin dans l’Italie méridionale. L’Afrique byzantine: Histoire de la domination byzantine en Afrique (533-709), the result of his archaeological digs, appeared in 1896. In 1899 he moved to the University of Paris where a lectureship in Byzantine history was made for him, another highly unusual move for a French academic situation. His work on Justinian and Byzantine civilization of the sixth century was published in 1901. His titles in art history stem from this later time, including Figures byzantines, 1906. He was made full professor in 1907. His Histoire de l’Empire byzantin was translated into English as a standard text of the era. Other art books included Manuel d’art byzantin, 1925-1926, L’art chrétien primitif et l’art byzantin, 1928, part of a series Bibliothèque d’histoire de l’art edited by Auguste Marguillier, and La peinture byzantine, 1933. He retired in 1934 as increasing blindness set in. Before Diehl, France was not represented in Byzantine scholarship, a field dominated by the Germans (Boer). He was among the emerging specialists in the redefining period of the French academic system of the nineteenth century. Though known generally for his books on Byzantine history, his contribution to art history was voluminous, though not widely accepted by Byzantinist art historians of the time. He was criticized for not incorporating the latest scholarship or ignoring it from German and English-speaking scholars (Burlington Magazine). His books featured liberal documentation and a readable writing style.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Études sur l’administration byzantine dans l’exarchat de Ravenne (568-751). Paris, 1888, published, Paris: E. Thorin, 1888; Études d’archéologie byzantine. L’église et les mosaïques du couvent de Saint-Luc en Phocide. Paris: E. Thorin, 1889; L’art byzantin dans l’Italie méridionale. 1894; Figures byzantines. Paris: Armand Colin, 1906, English, Byzantine Portraits. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1927; Histoire de l’Empire byzantin. Paris: A. Picard, 1919, English, History of the Byzantine Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1925; Manuel d’art byzantin. Paris: A. Pickard, 1925-1926; L’art chrétien primitif et l’art byzantin. Paris: G. van Oest, 1928; Ravenne. Paris: Librairie Renouard, H. Laurens, 1928; La peinture byzantine. Paris: G. van Oest, 1933.


    E. B. “[review of] L’Art Chrétien primitif et L’Art Byzantin.” Burlington Magazine 53, no. 305 (August 1928): 102; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986 p. 171; Charle, Christophe. Dictionnaire biographique des universitaires aux XIXe et XXe siècles. 1. Les professeurs de la faculté des lettres de Paris. Paris: Institut national de recherches pédagogiques: Éditions du CNRS, 1985, pp. 62-63; Boer, Pim den. History as a Profession: the Study of History in France, 1818-1914. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998, pp. 248, 269-271; Behn, Wolfgang. Concise Biographical Companion to Index Islamicus: an International Who’s Who in Islamic Studies from its Beginnings down to the Twentieth Century. Boston: Brill, 2004-2006; [obiturary:] Byzantion 17 (1944/1945): 414-416.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Diehl, Charles." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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