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Groenewegen-Frankfort, Henriette

    Image Credit: Brown

    Full Name: Groenewegen-Frankfort, Henriette

    Other Names:

    • Henriette Groenewegen-Frankfort

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 1896

    Date Died: 1982

    Place Born: Rotterdam, South Holland, Netherlands

    Place Died: Kimmeridge, Dorset, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: Netherlands

    Subject Area(s): ancient and archaeology


    Archaeologist and scholar of ancient art. Groenewegen’s father, Hermanus Ysbrand Groenewegen (b. 1862), was a minister and professor of theology at a seminary in Leiden and later a professor of philosophy of religion and ethics at the University of Amsterdam. She studied Greek and Chinese philosophy at the University of Amsterdam where she met Henri Frankfort, another ancientist student a year younger than she. The two became engaged in 1920. In 1921 Groenewegen was granted an M. A. in philosophy and Frankfort one in Netherlands Language and Literature and history. Before their marriage, Frankfort traveled to London to study with the Egyptian archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie (1853-1942). She accompanied Frankfort, teaching French at a girl’s school on the South Coast of England. Petrie invited him to Egypt and the archaeological dig at Qau el-Kebir. Frankfort returned to London, marrying “Jettie” Groenewegen (as she was known) in 1923 and completed a second M. A. at the University of London the same year. The two lived in Athens for the 1924-1925 academic year at the British School of Archaeology. Frankfort wrote his doctoral dissertation there. The Frankforts worked in tandem for up to six months each year on two major archaeological digs: the excavations of London’s Egypt Exploration society (which Henri Frankfort directed, 1925-1926) and then the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute’s Iraq Expedition in the Diyala River Basin and the Assyrian city of Khorsabad, of which Frankfort was field director, 1929-1937. Groenewegen’s position as Frankfort’s wife resulted in her performing the duties of camp manager on the expeditions. She acquired much of her knowledge of ancient civilizations first hand at these sites, working with her husband and other archaeologists. In October 1931 Frankfort fell ill and was not able to begin the Iraq excavation; Groenewegn started the expedition in his stead, on time, and Frankfort joined it six weeks later. During the off season, Frankfort taught at the Warburg Institute in London. The Frankforts lived in Hampstead (London), the center of the British avant-garde. There they knew artists such as Barbara Hepworth and her husband, the artist Ben Nicholson. The effects of the Depression finally ended the Iraq Expedition in 1937. In 1938 the couple moved to a house overlooking the sea in Kimmeridge near Corfe Castle, Dorset. When World War II was declared in Europe in 1939, Frankfort moved to Chicago to teach, while Groenewegen remained in Europe, volunteering with the Red Cross. In 1941 she rejoined Frankfort and their son in Chicago. Groenewegen suggested a series of speculative talks as part of a public course in the Division of the Humanities of the University of Chicago on ancient human’s worldview. The lectures, delivered by the archaeologists John Albert Wilson (1899-1976), Thorkild Jacobsen (1904-1993) and William A. Irwin (1884-1967), resulted in the book Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East. Groenewegen and her husband supplied the introduction, “Myth and Reality,” and a conclusion. At the death of Fritz Saxl, the director of the Warburg, Frankfort accepted a professorship and appointment as director at the University of London. Groenewegen and Frankfort resettled in London. She published Arrest and Movement, an Essay on Space and Time in the Representational Art of the Ancient Near East, perhaps her best known book, in 1951. Groenewegen remained in Dorset rather than inhabit Frankfort’s flat in London. The couple grew apart. In the meantime, Frankfort had fallen in love with a Spanish scholar and photographic archivist of the Warburg, Enriqueta Harris. He divorced Groenewegen and married Harris in 1952. Groenewegen was deeply hurt by the divorce although she and Frankfort collaborated on additional manuscripts. Two years later, Frankfort died. For the final thirty years of her life, she became a recluse, seldom publishing. In 1971 she and Bernard Ashmole wrote an introductory survey of ancient art, Art of the Ancient World, in which Groenewegen authored the sections on ancient middle-eastern art. Arrest and Movement: An Essay on Space and Time in the Representational Art of the Ancient Near East examines the formal representation of space and time in the art of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Crete. Groenewegen charted the differences of spatial rendering through the different regions of the ancient Near East. She theorized the significance as an issue of cultural rather than aesthetic necessity. Her study reflects the methodology of German structuralism employed by Gerhard Krahmer, Friedrich Matz (1890-1974), Guido Kaschnitz von Weinberg, and Bernhard Schweitzer, which “aimed at replacing the concept of style with that of spatial structure and linking the latter to cultural identity” (Suter). Her writing on “Myth and Reality” owes much to Ernst Cassirer and his Philosophie der symbolischen Formen.

    Selected Bibliography

    [complete bibliography:] Arrest and Movement: an Essay on Space and Time in the Representational Art of the Ancient Near East. London: Faber and Faber, 1951; and Ashmole, Bernard. Art of the Ancient World: Painting, Pottery, Sculpture, Architecture from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Crete, Greece and Rome. New York, H. N. Abrams, 1971; and Wilson, John A., and Jacobsen, Thorkild, and Irwin, William A., and Frankfort, Henri. The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: an Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946 [reprinted as Before Philosophy: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1949.


    Ground Breaking: Women in Old World Archaeology. Henriette Groenewegen-Frankfort., and Suter, Claudia E. “Henriette Antonia Groenewegen-Frankfort., Brown Institute of Archaeology and the Ancient World; [place of birth verification, Ben Noach, Genealogist of the Frankfort family of Oldenzaal in the Netherlands, correspondence, January 2013]


    "Groenewegen-Frankfort, Henriette." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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