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Kubler, George

    Full Name: Kubler, George

    Other Names:

    • George Kubler

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1912

    Date Died: 1996

    Place Born: Hollywood, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

    Place Died: Hamden, new Haven, CT, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): anthropology, Caribbean, Central American, Pre-Columbian (American), and South American

    Career(s): educators


    Yale art historian of Pre-Columbian and Ibero-American Art; integrated non-European arts and anthropological aspects into the discipline of art history. Kuber was the son of German immigrant parents, Frederick William Kubler (1881-1920), an industrialist with a degree in art history from Munich, and Ellen Orloff-Beckmann (Kubler). After his father’s death when Kubler was eight, he moved with his mother to Europe where he studied in France and Switzerland. Following her death, Kubler attended Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio, between 1925-1929. He returned to Europe where he studied in Germany (Berlin, 1931) and then in Munich, 1932-1933. Kubler was admitted to Yale University in the United States where he received his BA in 1934 and MA in 1936. After coursework for the doctorate at New York University, 1936-1938, and a marriage to Elizabeth Bushnell (b. 1912) in 1937, Kubler returned to Yale as a student of Henri Focillon in 1938 and as an instructor. His earliest interest was on the more traditional European research interests of Velasquez and Murillo. He received his Ph.D. in 1940, publishing his dissertation, The Religious Architecture in New Mexico the same year. From the first, Kubler showed himself to be a maverick. Church architecture in New Mexico had been more or less ignored by English-speaking art historians. His article “The Kuchua in the Colonial World,” an article on the presence of Peruvian indigenous tradition during Spanish rule, remains a staple for the anthropological study. In 1943 he translated his mentor’s theoretical tract as the Life of Forms in Art into English giving Focillon a new following among English readers. Kubler was visiting professor at the University of Chicago in 1946. He was appointed professor at Yale in 1947. His second book, Mexican Architecture of the Sixteenth Century, appeared in 1948. He chaired of department of art at Yale between 1953-1956. His Arquitectura de los siglos XVII-XVIII published for the respected Ars Hispaniae series in 1957, was subsequently translated in English, with an added section by Martin S. Soria in the equally important Pelican History of Art series as Baroque Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and Their American Dominions, 1500-1800 in 1959. Kubler’s attention then turned to Pre-Columbian art. In 1962, Kubler published two books on which his fame would thereafter rest. Art and Architecture of Ancient America, his second for the Pelican History of Art series, and The Shape of Time. In 1964 he was named Robert Lehman Professor of History of History of Art. He was a visiting professor at Harvard University, 1966-67. He was appointed Sterling Professor of the History of Art in 1975. Kubler retired from active teaching at Yale in 1983. He was appointed the 1985-86 Kress Professor at the Center for Advanced Studies (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art in Washgington, D. C. Kubler wrote Esthetic Recognition of Ancient Amerindian Art in 1991, a thoughtful art historiography of the ancient America. Among his final presentations was a lecture on Focillon in 1995, published posthumously as “L’enseignement d’Henri Focillon.” His students included Robert Farris Thompson. The work of the Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully, Jr., was deeply affected by Kubler’s thought. Kubler was the foremost scholar of Pre-Columbian and Post-Columbian art of his generation and brought the area into consideration of the discipline of art history (Willey). The Shape of Time remains fundamental for the concept of art history as “material culture.” Kubler argued in it that art “can be expanded to embrace the whole range of [hu]man-made things.” But Kubler also controversially asserted in Shape of Time that “art stands outside culture” and warned about a linear-historical perspective that would interpret objects through historical precedent. History, Kubler contended, is a process that continually transforms human sensorial capacities and knowledge through ongoing discovery.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] The Religious Architecture of New Mexico. Yale University, 1940, published, The Religious Architecture of New Mexico in the Colonial Period and Since the American Occupation. Colorado Springs, CO: The Taylor Museum 1940; translated, with Hogan, Charles Beecher. Focillon, Henri. The Life of Forms in Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1942; Mexican Architecture of the Sixteenth Century. 2 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948; Arquitectura de los siglos XVII-XVIII. Vol 14 of Ars Hispaniae. Madrid, 1957, partially translated into English as, and Soria, Martin. Baroque Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and Their American Dominions, 1500-1800. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1959; The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962; Art and Architecture of Ancient America. (Pelican History of Art, 21). Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1962; The Iconography of Teotihuacán. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks/Harvard University, 1967; Studies in Classic Maya Iconography. Hamden, CT: Connecticut Academy of Arts & Sciences, 1969; Building of the Escorial. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982; Esthetic Recognition of Ancient Amerindian Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991; “L’enseignement d’Henri Focillon,” in, Relire Focillon: cycle de conférences organisé au musée du Louvre. Paris: Ecole nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, 1998.


    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, pp. 30-32, 42 mentioned, 51, 94, 31 n. 67; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 149; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 444, 455-456; [transcript] George Kubler and Elizabeth Kubler. 3 vols. Interviews with Art Historians, 1991-2002. Getty Research Institute, Malibu, CA, 1994; [obituaries:] Kimmelman, Michael. “George Kubler, 84, Pioneer In Study of Pre-Columbian Art.” New York Times October 5, 1996, p. 52; Yale Bulletin and Calendar 23 no. 10 (1996); Willey, Gordon R. “George Alexander Kubler (26 July 1912-3 October 1996).” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 142, no. 4 (December 1998): 672-675.


    "Kubler, George." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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