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Swift, Emerson H.

    Full Name: Swift, Emerson H.

    Other Names:

    • Emerson H. Swift

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1889

    Date Died: 1975

    Place Born: West Orange, Essex, NJ, USA

    Place Died: Gilroy, Santa Clara, CA, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Classical and Medieval (European)

    Career(s): educators


    Columbia University professor of classical and early medieval art history. Swift attended Williams College, Williamstown, MA, receiving his B. A. in classics in 1912. He traveled to Greece the same year to study at the American School in Athens under Bert Hodge Hill (1874-1958), the director, and Carl. W. Blegen (1887-1971), secretary. Under Blegen, Swift investigated the channels of the fountain Peirene. In 1913 he accompanied Blegen and Jacob G. Schurman (1854-1942), United States Ambassador to Greece, to Istanbul. There he developed a fascination with Byzantine art in addition to classical art, though publications in this area would not appear until the 1930s. Under Rhys Carpenter, he explored Acrocorinth. He returned to the United States in 1915 to complete his dissertation at Princeton University. In 1916, an article, “Marble Head at Corinth” adumbrated his dissertation, accepted in 1921, on Roman Imperial statuary. His dissertation appeared as a series of articles in the American Journal of Archaeology between 1921 and 1922. These articles led to regular courses in Roman art at Columbia University. In 1926 he joined the faculty of Columbia. His first article on Byzantium, “Byzantine Gold Mosaics,” appeared in 1934. His research with Carpenter was published in 1936 as Carpenter and Bon’s Corinth III: The Defenses of Acrocorinth. In 1940 he published his book on the Hagia Sophia. His Roman Sources of Christian Art was issued in 1951. He retired from Columbia in 1957. Swift lived in Princeton, N. J., until 1961 when he moved to California. In 1964 his early research at the American School was published in Hill’s book on Corinth, The Springs: Peirene, Sacred Spring and Glauke. Swift died at age 86. Swift stood on the traditional side of the famous “Orient oder Rom” debate on the origins of early Christian iconography. Whereas the Byzantinists Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski and Charles Rufus Morey contended that early Christian stylistic forms were drawn from western Asian sources, Emerson asserted that the form was principally western in derivation with (perhaps) an Oriental overlay (Gutmann). Contemporary scholarship has supported Asianists-theory and not Emerson.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] A Group of Roman Imperial Statues at Corinth. Princeton, 1921; Hagia Sophia. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940; “Byzantine Gold Mosaic.” American Journal of Archaeology 38, no. 1 (January 1934): 81-82; [research published in:] Carpenter, Rhys, and Bon, Antoine. The Defenses of Acrocorinth and the Lower Town. Corinth 3 pt. 2. Cambridge, MA: American School of Classical Studies at Athens/Harvard University Press, 1936; “Bronze Doors of the Gate of the Horologium at Hagia Sophia.” Art Bulletin 19 (June 1937): 136-147; Roman Sources of Christian Art. New York: Columbia University Press, 1951; [research published in:] The Springs: Peirene, Sacred Spring, Glauke. Corinth 1 pt. 6. Princeton, NJ: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1964.


    [obituary:] I. R. “Emerson Howland Swift.” American Journal of Archaeology 80 no. 2 (Spring, 1976): 197; [calling him “Harry Emerson”] Gutmann, Joseph. “Early Christian and Jewish Art.” in Attridge, Harold W., and Hata, Gohei, eds. Eusebíus, Christianity, and Judaism. Cleveland: Wayne State University Press, p. 271.


    "Swift, Emerson H.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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