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Holt, Elizabeth Gilmore

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Holt, Elizabeth Gilmore

    Other Names:

    • Elizabeth Basye Gilmore Holt

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 1906

    Date Died: 1987

    Place Born: San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA

    Place Died: Washington, DC, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): documentaries (documents) and documentary (general concept)


    Documentary historian of art. Gilmore was the daughter of Eugene Allen Gilmore, a former Vice Governor General of the Philippines and later President of the University of Iowa. Holt attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, graduating in 1928. She wrote her master’s paper at Radcliffe College in 1930 continuing on to the University of Munich’s Kunsthistorisches Institut where she completed her Ph.D., in 1934 with a dissertation (in German) under Wilhelm Pinder on the Augsburg epitaphs. Holt joined the faculty of Duke University in 1934. In 1936 she married John Bradshaw Holt (1910-1994), then a professor at William and Mary and later a foreign service officer in the State Department. Holt defined herself first as a State Department wife and then mother; her teaching positions were only when they would coordinate with her family. As such the brilliance of her career was not through her advancing teaching appointments, but of the important primary texts she published. Immediately after World War II, she worked in Berlin, rebuilding the trade unions and occasionally helping East Germans escape to the west. She taught at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, and at Talladega College, American University, and Boston University. In her 60’s, she rode an oil tanker truck in Iran and India in order to follow the route Alexander the Great had taken. After her husband retired in 1970, Holt was free to do independent research. She focused on the role of criticism and exhibitions in art history, publishing some of the most important texts for the nineteenth century. Her skill, as E. H. Gombrich pointed out, was in her selecting the most representative writing of the age, all personally translated. She was a 1980 Guggenheim fellow. She died of cancer in 1987. Holt believed that art was a social expression of its times. To that end, she wrote books which were the compilation of documents affecting the history of art. Her documentary histories of art are still classroom standards today.

    Selected Bibliography

    Literary Sources of Art History: An Anthropology of Texts from Theophilus to Goethe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947, revised and reissued as, A Documentary History of Art. 2 vols. Garden City, NY: Doublday, 1957; From the Classicists to the Impressionists: A Documentary History of Art and Architecture in the Nineteenth Century. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966; The Triumph of Art for the Public: The Emerging Role of Exhibitions and Critics. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 34; [obituary:] “Elizabeth G. Holt, 81, Peripatetic Art Expert.” New York Times January 28, 1987. p. D26; Gombrich, Ernst H. “Elizabeth Gilmore Holt (5th July 1905-26th January 1987).” Burlington Magazine 129, No. 1011 (June 1987): 396.


    "Holt, Elizabeth Gilmore." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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