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Forsyth, George H., Jr.

    Full Name: Forsyth, George H., Jr.

    Other Names:

    • George Howard Forsyth Jr.

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1902

    Date Died: 1991

    Place Born: Highland Park, Lake, IL, USA

    Place Died: Ann Arbor, Washtenaw, MI, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), Byzantine (culture or style), Medieval (European), and sculpture (visual works)


    Architectural historian and Byzantinist. Forsyth’s father was George H. Forsyth and his mother Sarah Brockunier (Forsyth). He attended Princeton University, graduating in 1923. After than, Forsyth secured a Mediaeval Academy fellowship for the 1924-1925 year which earned him a master’s degree of fine arts at Princeton under Charles Rufus Morey in 1927. Forsyth married Eleanor Marquand (1897-1988) the same year, the daughter of Princeton’s Department of Art and Archaeology’s founder, Allan Marquand. The wedding was a large academic/society affair befitting the Marquand’s status; Forsyth’s best man was his Princeton colleague Albert M. Friend, Jr. In the 1920’s, Forsyth engaged in extensive archeological excavations. Between 1930 and 1936 he led groups which uncovered important religious relics in the ruins of the nine-century Church of St. Martin at Angers, France. He joined the faculty at Princeton, as an instructor in 1927, advancing to assistant professor of art and archaeology in 1931. During this time he also studied at the Institute for Advanced Study, New York University, (1935-36). In 1941 Forsyth was appointed chairman of the art history department at Michigan. During World War II, he served as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve (1942-1945). After his divorce to his first wife, he married Mary Isom Hayes (d.1958) in 1942. He was director of College Art Association in 1949 and again in 1954. In 1955 he was awarded the Haskins Medal for outstanding distinction in medieval studies. The following year, a University of Michigan reconnaissance expedition under Forsyth’s direction embarked on a expeditionary trip to look for promising sites to excavate in the Near East. They settled on St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai, the Mount of Moses, the oldest existing Greek Orthodox monastery in the world. The Monastery’s art and architecture were so important that Forsyth and his team convinced the University of Michigan, Princeton University and the University of Alexandria to mount a combined documentation of the existing objects and buildings, since excavation was impossible for religious reasons. The Monastery and church contained some of the best examples of Byzantine religious art, manuscripts, as well as its architecture. Forsyth’s team was also responsible for saving the most important mosaic in the church. The team realized while photographing the transfiguration of Christ mosaic on scaffolding that the tessarae’s adhesion material had become detached from the vault of the apse and was loosely hanging. Restorers were able to reattach the mosaic, commissioned by Justinian the Great, because of Forsyth’s team’s discovery. The project continued under his direction during 1960, 1963, and 1965. He articles on Mount Sinai included articles to the popular press, National Geographic. Forsyth’s efforts resulted in the first large-scale, scientific drawings of the church and Monastery. While Chair of the department at Michigan, he married for a third time, a recent Columbia University art history Ph.D., in 1960, Ilene E. Haering (see, Ilene H. Forsyth), twenty-six years younger than himself. Forsyth was appointed director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and his wife became an assistant professor in the department in 1961. In 1969 he returned to teaching as research professor of archeology. Fosyth retired emeritus in 1972. He died of an embolism in an Ann Arbor hospital in 1991. He is not related to the other C. R. Morey student and art historian, William Forsyth.

    Selected Bibliography

    The Church of St. Martin at Angers: the Architectural History of the Site from the Roman Empire to the French Revolution. The Excavations in Collaboration with William A. Campbell. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953; and Weitzmann, Kurt. The Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai. Volume 1, The Church and Fortress of Justinian. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1973. Volume 2, The Icons. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976; “The Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai: The Church and Fortress of Justinian.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers XXII (1968): 1-19; “The Church of St. Martin at Angers: Roman, Merovingian, and Carolingian Constructions.” Antiquity 11 (December 1937): 400-408; “A Problem of Surveying in Mediaeval Architecture.” Archaeology 3 no. 2 (Summer 1950): 74-79; “Island of Faith in the Sinai Wilderness.” National Geographic (January 1964): 82-104; and Weitzmann, Kurt. “Saving the Sinai Mosaics.” Biblical Archaeology Review 4 no. 4 (November-December 1978): 16-31.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 61 mentioned; Sears, Elizabeth. “Dedication: Ilene H. Forsyth.” in, Sears, Elizabeth, and Thomas, Thelma K., eds. Reading Medieval Images: The Art Historian and the Object. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002, pp. xvi, note 5; “Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai.” The Kelsey Online.; “Eleanor Marquand Engaged to Marry, Daughter of Late Archaeologist to Wed George Howard Forsyth Jr.” New York Times December 6, 1926, p. 27; [obituary:] “George Forsyth, 89, Historian Who Led Archeological Digs.” New York Times January 29, 1991, p. B5.


    "Forsyth, George H., Jr.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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