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Rickert, Margaret

    Full Name: Rickert, Margaret

    Other Names:

    • Margaret Josephine Rickert

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 1888

    Date Died: 1973

    Place Born: La Grange, Brown, IL, USA

    Place Died: Grinell, Poweshiek, IA, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): British (modern), British Isles Medieval styles, Medieval (European), Medieval styles and periods, and Northern European Medieval styles

    Career(s): educators


    University of Chicago medievalist; authored the Pelican History of Art volume on medieval art in Britain. Rickert was the daughter of Francis E. Rickert and Josephine Newburgh (Rickert). At the death of her mother, her older sister and later medieval literary scholar, [Martha] Edith Rickert (1871-1838) helped raise Margaret. The younger Rickert graduated from Grinell College, Iowa, in 1910 becoming a high school principal in Greene, Iowa. She made an initial trip to Europe in 1914 which consolidated her interest in art history. After another teaching stint in Hillsboro, OR, she joined the photographic department of the Ryerson Library of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1922. Edith was now faculty at the University of Chicago and in 1923 Margaret made a second trip to England assisting her with her book on Chaucer. She remained in Europe, spending four years at the Villa I Tatti principally with Mary Berenson revising the regional renaissance art books written by Berenson’s husband, Bernard Berenson, which eventually appeared as Italian Painters of the Renaissance in 1930. The elder Berenson was engaged at the time in writing an article for Monty James on medieval art; Rickert developed a methodology akin to Berenson’s during this time. She returned to Chicago in 1928 and the University were she continued to assist her sister and earn a master’s degree in art history in 1933. She published her first article (incongruously enough, on a Greek stele) in the American Journal of Archaeology the same year. In 1938 she received her Ph.D. from Chicago with a thesis on the reconstruction of an English Carmelite missal. She joined the art history department at the University the same year, replacing, in a sense, her sister who died also in 1938. During World War II, she moved to Washgington, D. C., to work as a code breaker for the U. S. Army Signal Corps until 1944. In 1948 she published a memorial volume of her sister’s work. About this time, Nikolaus Bernard Leon Pevsner contacted her to write a volume on medieval painting in Britain for the Pelican History of Art series. Pevsner was attracted to maverick art historians for the medieval; he was in the process of commissioning another untested scholar, Lawrence Stone, to write the volume on medieval sculpture in England. Rickert accepted the assignment, likely suggested by her British colleague Francis Wormald, and became both the only woman and only American to author a volume in the initial Pelican set. She researched the volume for most of her years at Chicago. She retired from the University in 1953 and the volume appeared in 1954. Rickert returned to teach at the University of Chicago between 1958 and 1960 during which time she published a facsimile edition and commentary, La miniature anglaise. Rickert mover to a retirement home in Grinell, IA in 1963 and worked on a second edition to the Painting volume, which appeared in 1965. After the flooding in Florence in 1966, she returned to Italy to assist in the restoration of art works. However, she suffered a stroke and return to Chicago and then Grinell. She died in 1973 and willed her body to the University of Iowa Medical School. Rickert employed a stylistic analysis methodology developed during the years spent at I Tatti. Her Painting in Britain monograph was remarkable for the breath of objects considered, everything from mural painting to manuscript illumination to stained glass and embroidery. C. R. Dodwell complained in his review of her lack of attention to iconography. The work has been largely replaced today by more specific studies on medieval painting.

    Selected Bibliography

    [master’s thesis:] A New Method of Analysis Applied to the Study of Manuscript Illumination. A.M., University of Chicago, 1933; [dissertation:] The Reconstruction and Study of an English Carmelite Missal. Chicago, 1938, published as The Reconstructed Carmelite Missal: an English Manuscript of the Late XIV Century in the British Museum (Additional 29704-5, 44892). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952; Painting in Britain: the Middle Ages. Pelican History of Art 5. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books 1954; La miniature anglaise. 2 vols. Milan: Electa Editrice,1959-61; and Dean, Mabel, and McIntosh, Helen, Manly, John Matthews (editor). The Text of the Canterbury Tales, Studied on the Basis of all Known Manuscripts. 8 vols. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1940.


    Stanton, Anne Rudloff. “Margaret Rickert (1888-1973) Art Historian.” in, Chance, Jane, ed. Women Medievalists in the Academy. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005, pp. 285-294.


    "Rickert, Margaret." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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