Historian of Islamic art. Ettinghausen received his Ph.D. from the University of Frankfurt in 1931 in Islamic history and art history. While pursuing his studies he worked, beginning at 24, on the excellent Islamic collection of the State Museum (Kaiser-Friedrich Museum) in Berlin between 1929 and 1931, under the direction of Ernst Kühnel and the collector/archaeologist Friedrich Sarre. In 1934 at the assumption of power by the Nazis, he emigrated first to Britain and then to the United States where he joined the staff of Arthur Upham Pope at the Institute of Persian Art and Archaeology in New York. His research, which had previously focused on Egypt and Syria, increased to the Islamic art of Iran. During the 1937-38 academic year, he taught his first class at the Institute of Fine Art, New York University. The following fall he was appointed an associate professor at the University of Michigan. In 1944 Ettinghausen left Michigan to join the Freer Gallery, Department of Near Eastern Art, part of the Smithsonian Institution. The following year he married the art historian Elisabeth Sgalitzer. He also lectured at Princeton University. His 1941 lecture, "The Character of Islamic Art," presented at the third summer seminar in Arabic and Islamic studies at Princeton University, was published in the collection The Arab Heritage. It defined succinctly the character and qualities of the genre. Nikolaus Bernard Leon Pevsner, editor of the Pelican History of Art, contacted Ettinghausen to write a single-volume history of all of Islamic art. In 1959, Ettinghausen secured Oleg Grabar to write on the architecture and he on the independent arts. Partially due to its scope and partially because of the commitments of the two men, the project developed slowly. In 1961 he was appointed chief curator of the Freer. During his tenure at the Freer, he built the collection into one of the finest collections on Islamic art in the world. In 1966 Ettinghausen left the Freer to become Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Islamic Art at the Institute of Fine Art, New York University. Together with the Middle East historian R. Bayly Winder he founded the Kevorkian Center the same year at NYU. Three years later he added the duties of Consultative Chairman of the Islamic Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the Metropolitan, he was instrumental in installing the galleries to their sensitive arrangement. Ettinghausen died of cancer. Grabar completed the remaining portions of Ettinghausen's manuscript for the Pelican book, which appeared only in 1987 as The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250, the first of two volumes envisioned. The library in the Kevorkian Center is named in Ettinghausen's memory. Ettinghausen published the groundbreaking early books in English on Islamic art. His major interest was in Islamic painting. His 1962 Arab Painting was translated into five languages by Skira publishers. Ettinghausen combined a knowledge of classical Greek and Roman authors to the Islamic sources made him aptly able to identify iconography, his major methodology. His 1950 book The Unicorn: Studies in Muslim Iconography, is a monumental source of iconographical information for scholars not only of Islamic studies but also for medieval western art. Both a Jew and an avid Islamicist, his ties to Israel found expression in his promotion of the establishment of a museum for Islamic art in Jerusalem.
- Richard Ettinghausen Papers, Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. http://collections.si.edu/search/detail/edanmdm:siris_arc_370910?q=record_ID%3Asiris_arc_370910&record=1&hlterm=record_ID%3Asiris_arc_370910, FSA A2002.07.