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Moses, Elisabeth

    Full Name: Moses, Elisabeth Caroline

    Other Names:

    • Elizabeth Moses

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 14 January 1894

    Date Died: 21 December 1957

    Place Born: Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

    Place Died: San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): decorative art (art genre)

    Career(s): curators

    Institution(s): de Young Museum and Kunstgewerbemuseum Cologne


    Useful arts and modernist art historian. Elisabeth Moses was born in 1893 in Cologne, Germany.  Her father, Dr. Salli Moses was an otolaryngologist in private hospital practice in Cologne. Her mother,  Luise “Lucie”  Rothschild (Moses), worked on board of the Cologne Association of Jewish nurses. Elizabeth Moses began her studies at the unique  Humanistisches Mädchengymnasium am Marienplatz (humanistic girls’ high school) in Cologne, a manifestation of the women’s movement there. A classmate was the later art historian Luise Straus. Both women studied art history in at the university at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Cologne lacking a university at the time. Moses added archaeology, philosophy and architecture as minors. There, she wrote her dissertation, Pflanzendarstellungen in der deutschen Kunst des 14.15. Jahrhunderts (“Depiction of Plants in German Art of the 14th15th Century) under Paul Clemen. After obtaining her graduate degree, she travelled extensively, an option owing to the wealth of her parents.  She joined the Kunstgewerbe-Museum der Stadt Köln in 1919. The Museum’s newly hired director, Karl Schäfer, was in the process of reorganizing the collection.. Moses’ art sensibilities resulted in the hanging of the collection more complimentary to each other.  In addition, she took over A chance lecture there on Gauguin, van Gogh and Cezanne inspired her to research and lecture on modern art.  In 1925, at the millennial celebration of the city of Cologne she was appointed co-curator of Judaica section with the rabbi and historian Adolf Kober (1879-1958). That same year, Moses also worked in the collection of Textiles and Porcelain of the -Museum.  Her specialty in northern renaissance art brought her to an appointment in the Old Paintings division in the prestigious Wallraf-Richartz Museum, also in Cologne. The Jewish special pavilion at the International Pressa in 1928 gave Moses the forum to establish the legacy of Jewish art to the greater art of the Rheinland and Cologne.  The following year,1929,  however, she was accused of having an affair (unsittlich verhältnis) with Schäfer and she was dismissed.  The hearing that followed eventually found her innocent and reinstated her at the Museum.  Schäfer, often the center of controversy, was dismissed and replaced by Karl With.  Under With she once again was in charge of a rehanging of the collection, choosing this time to group the object thematically rather than chronologically.  Together with the historian Edith Wurmbach (1900-1980) they mounted a show on clothing fashion.


    In 1933, with the Nazis in control of the government, she was dismissed from her position, deemed a “non-Aryan”. The following year the Gestapo of Cologne moved next door to where her family lived.  She emigrated first to Italy and from there to the United States the following year in 1934.  Her family followed in 1937.


    The same year, she accepted the role of curator of the decorative arts department at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco under director Walter Heil. At the museum, she reorganized the decorative arts section and led a number of temporary exhibitions including “Design in ’49”  and 1957’s  “Designer Craftsmen of the West.” During her time in the museum, she returned to Judaica with the exhibition “Jewish Ceremonial Objects and Items of Historical Interest.” Moses died in 1957 after a long illness.


    Selected Bibliography

    • [dissertation:] Pflanzendarstellungen in der deutschen Kunst des 14./15. Jahrhunderts: Ihre Form und ihre Bedeutung Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn 1921, partially published, Zeitschrift für christliche Kunst 34 (1921): 157–165;
    • Der Schirm: kulturhistorische Studie. Cologne: Firma Hieronymus Eck, 1924;
    • “Caspar Benedikt Beckenkamp (1747–1828)”. Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch/Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 2 (1925): 44–77;
    • “Brauchen wir Museen?” Festschrift zur Feier des 25 jährigen Bestehens der gymnasialen Studienanstalt in Köln Cologne: DuMont, 1928, pp. 69-77;
    • and Kober, Adolf. “Jüdische Kult- und Kunstdenkmäler in den Rheinlanden.” Zeitschrift des Rheinischen Vereins für Denkmalpflege und Heimatschutz. 24 (1931): 99–201;
    • “California Museum Metamorphosis.” Art News. 36 (1937): 12-13;
    • Three Centuries of European and American Domestic Silver. San Francisco: De Young Museum, 1938;
    • “A Gothic Sculpture of the Madonna and Child.” Pacific Art Review. 1 no. 1 (1941): 25-29;
    • “A Dutch Armory of the 17th Century.” Pacific Art Review. 33-36;
    • “Two Dresses, Two Eras.” Pacific Art Review 2 (1941): 32-35.


    Contributors: Sofia Silvosa


    Sofia Silvosa. "Moses, Elisabeth." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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