Skip to content

Scully, Vincent, Jr.

    Full Name: Scully, Vincent, Jr.

    Other Names:

    • Vincent Joseph Scully Jr.

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1920

    Place Born: New Haven, New Haven, CT, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre) and sculpture (visual works)

    Career(s): educators


    Yale architectural historian. Scully was born to a modest family in New Haven, a city in which he remained his entire life. After graduating from high school at 15, he entered Yale University with a scholarship in 1936. At Yale, the lectures of Chauncey B. Tinker (1876-1963) caught his interest and he began graduate work in English. He quit after only one semester (citing a distain for the New Criticism that had gripped academic English departments). After failing to make the Army Flying Cadets, he joined the U. S. Marines in 1941 where he saw action in both the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters. He married Nancy Keith, a Wellesley art history student in 1942. After discharge in 1946, Scully returned to Yale and to art history. He was influenced by the French-school art historians at Yale (in contrast to the Germanic art historians at the other Ivy Leagues of Harvard and NYU), particularly Henri Focillon and Marcel Aubert. Scully was advised by George Heard Hamilton to write on the Hudson River School painters. Scully, however, had been deeply moved by the book Rhode Island Architecture by Henry-Russell Hitchcock. Hitchcock, who was teaching at Wesleyan University near Yale, agreed to be Scully’s Ph.D. advisor, which took Scully a mere three-and-a-half years to complete. Scully taught the large undergraduate survey of art history at Yale during the 1947-1948 year during the sabbatical of Carroll L. V. Meeks with fellow graduate student James S. Ackerman. He also began a life-long friendship with the architect Louis Kahn (1901-1974) in 1947, who had come to teach at Yale. Hitchcock introduced Scully to Frank Lloyd Wright who designed a house for Scully (never built). Scully was immediately appointed to the History of Art faculty upon his graduation from Yale in 1949. The first chapter of his dissertation appeared in the Art Bulletin as “Romantic Rationalism.” Scully was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 1950 to study gothic architecture in France, deferred for a year, by which time his interests had changed to Greek architecture. At Yale, Scully’s powerful position pushed out younger architectural faculty, such as William H. Jordy, who moved to Brown. Scully spent 1955 in Greece researching a book on the topic. Throughout these years, he developed a strong appreciation for Wright and a growing distaste for the Bauhaus architects. Around this time he became interested in Jungian archetypes, applying the term to architecture. He was also one of the first to realize the “neoclassical” impulses in the work of Mies van der Rohe, relating them to Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism by Rudolf Wittkower. He received tenured at Yale in 1956. By the late 1950s, Scully published portions of what would become a standard in the field of modern building, Modern Architecture: The Architecture of Democracy (1961). The same year he was appointed full professor. The following year, his research on Greek architecture was published as The Earth, the Temple and the Gods. The influence of Le Corbusier (specifically his Vers une architecture, 1923) was particularly apparent. Perhaps for that reason, the monograph was poorly received by the classicist community. Characterized as “a fabrication of a modern mind to suit a modern interpretation,” (Homer Thompson, Princeton), Scully never again attempted a book on classical architecture, despite another research trip to Greece in 1962-1963. Scully’s disenchantment with International-style architecture was evident in his 1963 article criticizing the Gropius-designed Pan Am building in New York, “Death of a Street.” However, he found himself defending modern architecture in a print debate with Norman Mailer in the Architectural Forum titled “Mailer vs. Scully” (1964). Around this time he began championing the young architect Robert Venturi (b. 1925). Scully’s introduction to Venturi’s 1966 Complexity and Contradiction is widely acknowledged to have solidified both Venturi’s and Scully’s careers (Levine). He went so far as to claim Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture was second only to Le Corbusier’s Vers une Architecture (1923). Scully increasingly seemed to adopt much of Mailer’s arguments about the blandness and totalitarian implications of modern architecture. In 1965 Scully divorced his wife and married Marian LaFollette Wohl. Scully’s American Architecture and Urbanism (1969) was essentially a rewrite of his Modern Architecture incorporating1960s architecture (including the late work of Kahn) and emphasizing the American Beaux-arts tradition. Scully completed research on his book of southwest architecture by 1969, but Pueblo: Mountain, Village, Dance did not appear until 1975. In the interim, The Shingle Style Today, or the Historian’s Revenge appeared. During this time Scully was master of Morse College, Yale, from 1969 until 1975. He spent the 1972-1973 year as a Fellow for the National Endowment for the Humanities in Switzerland and France. He divorced his second wife in 1978 and married the art historian Catherine Lynn in 1980. A major New Yorker profile was also written on Scully the same year. Scully remained teaching at Yale until he reached the mandatory 70-years in 1990. In retirement he taught at the University of Miami with Lynn. The years of the 1990s brought his Architecture: The Natural and the Manmade (1991), a critique, in part, of modern architecture’s failure to harmonize with the fabric of cities. His students included Spiro Konstantin Kostof. Scully was a champion of the “other modernism” in architecture, the non-International school of architecture in the twentieth century. His books on Wright, Venturi and indigenous American architecture opened architectural theory from dry formalism to psychological and archetypal analysis. Scully’s Shingle Style (1974) credited Venturi, Charles H. Moore, and their students as the true successors of Le Corbusier, opposing the 1972 book Five Architects, which attributed the lineage to Peter Eisenman and Michael Graves. Scully’s later work shows the influence of Harold Bloom (b. 1930), the conservative Yale literary historian, whose Freudian framework (as opposed to Scully’s earlier use of Jung) he may have adopted from Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence (1973). The Wall Street Journal architecture critic (and former architecture critic of The New York Times), Ada Louise Huxtable, wrote that Scully and Cornell University professor Colin Rowe were the most influential architectural historians of their time. These two academicians inspired the two great schools of post-modern architecture. Rowe’s, known as “the Whites” because of their preoccupation with formal purity and the absence of color in their designs included Richard Meier, Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey and John Hejduk. Scully’s group, “the Grays,” rallied around populist notions and the writing of Venturi, included Charles H. Moore and Robert A. M. Stern. Scully never published in the critical/theoretical architecture publications, (e.g., Eisenman’s Oppositions). Many found fault with his brusque dismissal of modernist architecture. Jordy criticized him (and by extension, Venturi), citing the “non-human realms of weather, minerals, plants, [and]…existences of all sorts” as more important than semiotic/Freudian impulses.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] The Cottage Style: (An Organic Development in Later 19th Century Wooden Domestic Architecture in the Eastern United States). Ph.D., Yale University, 1949, abridged and published under the title, The Shingle Style: Architectural Theory and Design from Richardson to the Origins of Wright. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955, 2nd ed., The Shingle Style and the Stick Style: Architectural Theory and Design from Richardson to the Origins of Wright. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971; The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962; “Introduction.” Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. New York: Museum of Modern Art/ New York Graphic Society,1966; American Architecture and Urbanism. New York: Praeger,1969; and Downing, Antoinette Forrester. The Architectural Heritage of Newport, Rhode Island, 1640-1915. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952; Architecture: the Natural and the Manmade. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991; The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962; Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: G. Braziller, 1960; Louis I. Kahn. New York: G. Braziller, 1962; Modern Architecture: the Architecture of Democracy. New York: G. Braziller, 1961; Pueblo: Mountain, Village, Dance. New York: Viking Press, 1975; The Shingle Style Today: or, The Historian’s Revenge. New York: G. Braziller, 1974; and Trager, Philip, and Cevese, Renato, and Graves, Michael. The Villas of Palladio. Boston: Little, Brown, 1986; “Mailer vs. Scully.” Architectural Forum 120 (April 1964): 96-7; “Romantic Rationalism and the Expression of Structure in Wood: Downing, Wheeler, Gardner, and the ‘stick Style,’ 1840-1876.” Art Bulletin 35 (June 1953): 121-42.


    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. 6, 51 mentioned, 103-4; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, pp. 123-4; Levine, Neil. “Vincent Scully: A Biographical Sketch.” Scully, Vincent. Modern Architecture and Other Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003, pp. 12-33; Stevenson, James. “Profiles [Vincent Scully]: What Seas What Shores.” New Yorker February 18, 1980, 43-48 ff.; [regarding Scully and Jordy] Jackson, Neil. “The Duckman Proves Triumphant.” Building Design, July 22, 2005, p. 20.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Scully, Vincent, Jr.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: