Skip to content

Van Nice, Robert L.

    Full Name: Van Nice, Robert L.

    Gender: male

    Date Born: March 1910

    Date Died: 22 January 1994

    Place Born: Portland, Multnomah, OR, USA

    Place Died: Bethesda, Montgomery, MD, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), Byzantine (culture or style), documentaries (documents), and sculpture (visual works)

    Career(s): researchers


    Dumbarton Oaks staff researcher, published core documentation on Hagia Sophia. Van Nice graduated from the University of Oregon in 1928 and continued for an architectural master’s degree at MIT. He married Elizabeth “Betty” Rebec (1912-2000) in 1936. In 1937, the Dean of the architecture school, William Emerson (1873-1957), traveled to Hagia Sophia church in Istanbul to examine the mosaic exposure and conservation work being performed by Thomas Whittemore. The multi-connected Whittemore had close business connections with Elizabeth Cram (1874-1943), wife of the architect Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942), the former dean of the MIT architecture school. Emerson and Van Nice elected to conduct a detailed architectural survey of the church-mosque-cum-museum on the heels of Whittemore’s work. Van Nice traveled to Turkey and worked for Whittemore’s foundation, the Byzantine Institute, making copious notes and surveying the building. During World War II his knowledge of the area induced the Office of Strategic Services in Europe (OSS) to assign him covert operations. After the war he conducted archaeological research in Iran in the late 1940s. With Whittemore’s sudden death in 1950, Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks research center gradually assumed control of the Institute, installing Van Nice in basement offices to continue his project. Van Nice divided his time between Washgington, D. C., and Istanbul during these years. He lectured periodically at Vassar College in 1967 as the Class of 1928 Visiting Scholars’ Lecture. In 1970 he was awarded a gold medal from the American Institute of Architects. Van Nice retired to a Bethesda Nursing home where he died of pneumonia at age 83.

    Selected Bibliography

    and Emerson, William. “Hagia Sophia and the First Minaret Erected after the Conquest of Constantinople.” American Journal of Archaeology 54 no. 1 (January 1950): 28-40; Santa Sophia in Instanbul: An Architectural Survey. Washington, D. C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1966-


    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, p. 59 cited; Richard, Paul. “Dumbarton Oaks.” Washington Post August 26, 1979, p. G1, Robert Van Nice Collection, Dumbarton Oaks (website).; [obituary:] Rober L. Van Nice.” Oregonian (Portland, OR) January 31, 1994: B06.


    "Van Nice, Robert L.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: