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Smith, E. Baldwin

    Full Name: Smith, E. Baldwin

    Other Names:

    • E. Baldwin Smith

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1888

    Date Died: 1956

    Place Born: Topsham, Sagadahoc, ME, USA

    Place Died: Princeton, Mercer, NJ, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Christianity and Early Christian

    Career(s): educators


    Scholar of early Christian art; Princeton University professor and chair of the department. Smith graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1906 and received his A. B. and Bowdoin College in 1911. He moved to Princeton University studying under Charles Rufus Morey and Howard Crosby Butler, where he earned his M. A. in 1912 and his Ph.D. in 1915. His dissertation topic was Early Christian Iconography and the School of Provence. Smith joined the faculty at Princeton the following year and advance rapidly through the academics ranks. He married Ruth Preble Hall. During World War I, he joined the army, rising to captain in the 312th infantry. His dissertation appeared as a Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology shortly before he was gravely wounded at the battle of Grand Pés in 1918. He returned to Princeton where he was made an assistant professor in 1919. Smith worked closely with Butler during these years. He was named associate professor in 1923 and was appointed full professor in 1926. After Butler’s death in 1922, Smith set about organizing Butler’s unpublished notes into a book on Syrian churches. Early Churches in Syria,1929, though the research is Butler’s, are imbued with the style and methodological strategy that is purely Smith’s. Smith’s first wife died in 1930 and Smith remarried Helen H. “Nancy” Hough, daughter of a federal judge the same year. In 1931, Smith was named the first Howard Crosby Butler Professor of the History of Architecture. Smith was part of a committee that launched Princeton’s “Four-Course plan” requiring only four courses the junior and senior year, but stipulating independent research courses for all upperclassmen. In 1936 he became director of the American Institute for Iranian Art and Archaeology, which he held until 1940. Egyptian Architecture as Cultural Expression, 1938, was Butler’s first book written solely under his own direction. During World War II, Smith served as faculty at the Naval Air Combat Intelligence School in Quonset, Rhode Island. In 1945 he became Chairman, Department of Art and Archaeology, which he held until 1954. In later years, Smith devoted his publishing efforts to broad questions of conceptual scholarship. Most notable among these is his study, The Dome (1950) which examines the architectural component throughout a wide range of history. He wrote volume 30 of the Princeton Monographs in Art and Architecture, Architectural Symbolism of Imperial Rome and the Middle Ages, in 1956. He retired from the department shortly before his death the same year. Methodologically, Smith helped develop the emerging field of iconography which Princeton had forged, together with his teacher and colleague Morey. As early as 1917 he suggested an Alexandrian origin to the Chair of Maximianus based upon its iconography. His dissertation became the basis for the Index of Christian Art, the image collection founded a Princeton by Morey (Robb and Tatum). Erwin Panofsky cited Smith’s work on Christian ivories in Provence as one of serveral “very good art-historical books” with which European scholars such as himself were familiar before World War II. Egyptian Architecture as Cultural Expression (1938) hallmark’s Smith’s approach to architecture: architectural shapes are “embodiments of social needs, conventions and aspirations.” He was among the first architectural historians to use evidence from many disciplines, numismatics, theology and geography. His lectures, cigarette-in-holder ubiquitously in hand, were famous for their eloquence.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Early Christian Iconography and the School of Provence. Princeton, 1915, published under the same title, Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology 6, 1918; [edited and completed] Butler, Howard Crosby. Early Churches in Syria, Fourth to Seventh Centuries. Princeton, NJ: Department of Art and Archaeology of Princeton University, 1929; Egyptian Architecture as Cultural Expression. New York: Appleton-Century, 1938; The Dome, a Study in the History of Ideas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950. Architectural Symbolism of Imperial Rome and the Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956; The Dome: A Study in the History of Ideas. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950.


    Panofsky, Erwin. “The History of Art.” In The Cultural Migration: The European Scholar in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953 p. 87, mentioned; 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. 58, 67; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 63 mentioned; [obituaries:] Erik Sjoqvist, [E. Baldwin Smith] American Journal of Archaeology 60 (1956): 285-86; Kurt Weitzmann, Speculum 32 (July 1957): 647-8; “Prof. E. B. Smith, Educator, Dead.” New York Times March 8, 1956, p. 29; Robb, David M. and Tatum, George B. “Earl Baldwin Smith 1888-1956.” College Art Journal 16, no. 3 (Spring, 1957): 239-242.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Smith, E. Baldwin." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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