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Jaffe, Irma B.

    Image Credit: Legacy

    Full Name: Jaffe, Irma B.

    Other Names:

    • Irma B. Jaffe

    Gender: female

    Date Born: c. 1918

    Place Born: New Orleans, Orleans, LA, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): American (North American)

    Career(s): educators


    Americanist art historian and founder of the Department of Fine Arts, Fordham University. Irma Blumenthal was the daughter of Harry Blumenthal and Estelle (Levy) Blumenthal. She entered the University of Illinois at 17 but left school her sophomore year to marry Samuel B. Jaffe (d. 1987). Eighteen years later, at the time her daughter entered Radcliffe College in 1954, Jaffe elected to return to college at Columbia University’s School of General Studies. She graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa in 1958. She continued to graduate school at Columbia, receiving her M.A. in 1960. While pursing her Ph.D. she was appointed research curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1964. From the beginning, she had a strong interest in Italian art. The same year, 1964, she published her first article on Italian art history, on the so-called Barccacia fountain, the famous boat-shaped fountain in the Piazza di Spagna, near the Spanish Steps in Rome. She completed her Ph.D. in 1966 with a dissertation on the Italian-American painter Joseph Stella. She left the Whitney to establish a fine arts department at Fordham University. While developing the department and running it as chair, she published a revised version of her dissertation as Joseph Stella (Harvard University Press), 1970. She wrote and narrated a television series, “Project Now: Introduction to Art History,” for WABC-TV New York, NY, airing between 1969-1970. As department head at Fordham, she launched a symposium “Baroque Art: the Jesuit Contribution,” with the Baroque scholar Rudolf Wittkower. Jaffe wrote the volume on John Trumbull for the innovative books series analyzing a single work of an artist’s career, the Art in Context series. In 2002, she published Shining Eyes, Cruel Fortune: The Lives and Loves of Italian Renaissance Women Poets. She retired stepped down as chair in 1978, continuing as cultural consultant for the Italian Encyclopedia Institute of New York. Her research work led her to two volumes on Italian-Americans in art, The Italian Presence in American Art, spanning 1760 through 1920. The Italian government awarded her the title of Cavaliere in the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy. Approaching her 90th year, she copublished a book on Giovanni Battista Zelotti’s frescoes at Cataio. She was also an active environmentalist.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Joseph Stella: An Analysis and Interpretation of his Art. Columbia, 1966; Joseph Stella. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970. and Wittkower, Rudolf, eds. Baroque Art: the Jesuit Contribution. New York, Fordham University Press, 1972; Trumbull: the Declaration of Independence. New York: Viking Press, 1976; The Italian Presence in American Art, 1760-1860. New York : Fordham University Press, 1989; The Italian Presence in American Art, 1860-1920. New York: Fordham University Press, 1992; preface. Favata, Daniel C. John Trumbull: a Founding Father of American Art. New York: Fordham University, 2001; and Colombardo, Gernando. Zelotti’s Epic Frescoes at Cataio: the Obizzi Saga. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.


    Phinney, Siobhan C. “Cav. Irma B. Jaffe, Ph.D.” The Owl Online (Columbia School of General Studies newsletter) Fall/Winter 2003,; Who’s Who in Art.


    "Jaffe, Irma B.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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