Professor and chair of the Department of Art, University of Chicago; historian of Italian Renaissance sculpture. Middeldorf was the son of Hans Middeldorf, a mining engineer, and Meta Zuckerschwerdt (Middeldorf). His family was of Dutch ancestry. Middeldorf began his study of art history in 1920-1921 initially under Heinrich Wölfflin, already retired, and August Liebmann Mayer at the University of Munich. His dissertation, written under Adolph Goldschmidt in Berlin, centered on late medieval sculpture, Die Entwicklung der thüringische-sächsische Plastik seit etwa 1250 bis 1350. Berlin, with its spectacular collections at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, also gave him an enthusiasm for Italian Renaissance sculpture and medals. He spent 1924-1926 as a Fellow and the Keeper of the photography collection (the Fototeca) at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence and assisting Richard Offner in the Corpus of Florentine Painting. Middeldorf visited London frequently and made the acquaintance of its director, Sir George Hill. In 1928 he published two articles with his colleague, Martin Weinberger, the latter in the first volume of the nascent British journal Pantheon. A vocal opponent to Nazism, Middeldorf emigrated to the United States in 1935 to become an Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago at the personal recommendation of Bernard Berenson. He remained at the University, eventually becoming chair, until 1953. His legendary Chicago department included Joshua Taylor and Otto von Simson. Middeldorf concomitantly was honorary curator of sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1941-1953, where he was responsible for several major acquisitions. From 1953-1968, he served as the Director of the Kunsthistoriches Institut in Florence, where he worked to increase its reputation as an institution of sound art historical scholarship. A skilled administrator, Middeldorf raised funds locusing the institution on solid financial grounds. He also moved the institution to new quarters, doubled the size of the library and opened the doors to scholars of all nations. His Chicago students included Seymour Slive, Bates Lowry, Peter Selz and Francis Dowley.
Middeldorf distinguished himself among American academics as one particularly devoted to the studying works of art in their original, eschewing a reliance on illustrations. His many writings indicate a broad knowledge of art in situ. His written contribution lacked the single specialized monograph on a topic that is a staple among academics. Though his writing was extremely diverse within the history of art, it was limited to extensive catalog entries and articles. As a teacher, he was known to be aloof except to his graduate students.
[collected wrtings:] Barocchi, Paola, editor. Raccolta di Scritti. 3 vols. Florence: Studio per edizioni scelte,1979-81; and Weinberger, Martin. “Unbeachtete Werke der Brüder Rossellino. Münchner Jahrbuch (1928): 85-100; and Weinberger, Martin. “Französische Figuren des frühen 14. Jahrhunderts in der Toscana.” Pantheon.1 (1928): 187-190;Middeldorf Kosegarten, Antje, and, Tigler, Peter, eds. Festschrift Ulrich Middeldorf. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1968; Raphael's Drawings. New York: H. Bittner, 1945; Renaissance Medals and Plaquettes: Catalogue. Florence: Studio per Edizioni Scelte, 1983; Sculptures from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools, XIV-XIX Century. London: Phaidon Press for the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 1976; and Prinz, Wolfram, and Procacci, Ugo. Die Sammlung der Selbstbildnisse in den Uffizien. 3 vols [projected, only one volume published]. Berlin: Mann,1971.
Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 1, pp. 440-45; The Dictionary of Art; Radcliffe, Anthony. "Ulrich Middeldorf." Burlington Magazine 126 (May, 1984): 288-290; Russell, John. "Prof. Middeldorf, Art Scholar, Dies: Expert in Renaissance Studies." New York Times March 1, 1983, p. B4.