Weitzmann, Kurt

Full Name: 
Weitzmann, Kurt
Date Born: 
Date Died: 
Place Born: 
Klein Almerode, Germany; [near Kassel]
Place Died: 
Princeton, NJ, USA
Home Country: 

Princeton scholar, influential Byzantinist and medievalist. Weitzman was the son of Wilhelm Weitzman, a city school superintendent, and Antoine Keiper. Weitzmann initially attended courses in the dominant art historical periods of that time, ancient and renaissance art at the universities of Münster, Würzburg and Vienna. His professors included the eminent of that time: Martin Wackernagel, Arnold von Salis, the theologian Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930), and Vienna-School giants Julius Alwin von Schlosser, Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski, Karl Maria Swoboda, and Emanuel Löwy. Weitzmann completed his education in Berlin under the distinguished archaeological art historian Ferdinand Noack and the eminent medievalist art historian Adolph Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt directed Weitzmann's 1929 dissertation on ivory rosette caskets, Die Elfenbeinkästen aus der mittelbyzantinsichen Zeit, which he and Weitzmann published as the first volume of Goldschmidt's corpus of medieval ivories, Die byzantinischen Elfenbeinskulpturen des X.-XIII. Jahrhunderts. Weitzmann collaborated on the second volume of the series as well as his Habilitation under Goldschmidt. During these years Weitzmann was a member of the Deutsches Archäologischen Institut in Berlin (1930-1934), using a stipend from that body for research in Athens, Patmos and Mount Athos (1931) and Berlin (1932-1934). In 1932 he married fellow Goldschmidt student Josepha Fiedler (1904-2000). Although not Jewish himself, his association with Goldschmidt, a Jew, and his refusal to join the Nazi party in order to teach as a Dozent at the University mandated his leaving Germany. He left Berlin for Princeton University in 1935, where he remained the rest of his life teaching and writing. His wife followed in 1938. At Princeton, he was a permanent member of the Institute for Advanced Study, initially engaged in preparing a corpus of illustrated manuscripts of the Septuagint with Charles Rufus Morey and Albert M. Friend, Jr. In 1938 he began his long association with Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard's research center for Byzantine studies, presenting the paper, "Principals of Byzantine Book Illumination," even before the center was fully established. In 1945, he succeeded Morey as professor in the department of art history. He and Friend conducted a manuscript seminar until Weitzmann's retirement. His most influential book, Illustrations in Roll and Codex, a distillation of his principles of manuscript interpretation, appeared in 1947 (later revised and reissued in 1970). He held visiting positions at Yale (1954-55). In 1956 he began his long research association with the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai. On his first visit he examined and photographed 2,000 manuscripts. Subsequent visits were sponsored by the Alexandria-Michigan-Princeton Expedition directed by George H. Forsyth, Jr. In 1960 he was visiting professor at Alexandria University. Weitzmann presented a manuscript seminar at the Universität Bonn in 1962. Together with Ernst Kitzinger he organized the 1965 Dumbarton Oaks conference on Byzantine contribution to the art of the West of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. A second edition of his Illustrations in Roll and Codex appeared in 1970. Named emeritus in the department in 1972, he relinquished his Institute appointment to be a visiting scholar at Dumbarton Oaks, 1972-1974. In 1977, Weitzmann organized an exhibition and symposium (with Margaret Frazer) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, entitled, "The Age of Spirituality." The show recapped Weitzmann's originality in looking at the range of early medieval objects which both showed the unity of the objects and the adoption of pagen images into new meanings. Although the icons of St. Catherine's had been published in cursory form, Weitzmann's enthusiasm for them and the place they played in religious iconography resulted a longer treatment. With George H. Forsyth, Jr., he issued The Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai. volume one on The Church and Fortress of Justinian, 1973 and a second volume of the Monastery, The Icons, 1976, the former a result of Weitzmann's supervission of the restoration of the Transfiguration mosaic of St. Catherine's. A book on The Frescoes of the Dura Synagogue and Christian Art co-authored with another of his students, Herbert L. Kessler appeared in 1990. That year, too, his research on illuminations of the St. Catherine's Monastery research began to appear in book form. The first, published in collaboration with another former student, George P. Galavaris, was The Illuminated Greek Manuscripts from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century His eyesight gone and his health failing rapidly in the spring of 1993, Weitzmann was conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters at bedside shortly before his death. Weitzmann was responsible for training many of the leading medievalists of the next generation. His students, in addition to Galavaris and Kessler, included Paul A. Underwood, Jack Martin, Lorenz Eitner, Bob Koch, Thomas Hoving, Oleg Grabar, James E. Snyder, W. Eugene Kleinbauer, Jr., and Robert P. Bergman. Roll and Codex illustrates Weitzmann's brilliance and methodology. Through precise visual analysis and archaeological evidence, he traced an evolution of illustrated manuscripts in the early Christian and Byzantine era, theorizing two turning points, Egyptian "papyrus style" and Greek "continuous narrative" style. From these two types, Weitzmann created a method of interpreting extant illustrations. In a 1990 Dumbarton Oaks publication, The Frescoes of the Dura Synagogue and Christian Art, he argued effectively that Christian symbolism, rather than emerging from a slow progression on its own, developed from a Jewish tradition of images adopted from a classical vocabulary. His encounter with Crusader icons at St. Catherine's buttressed Weitzmann's conviction to study all of medieval art, which he did in numerous articles and lectures. His legacy to early medieval art was foremost not to see a rigid division between east and west.

Selected Bibliography: 
[bibliography to 1970 in:] Studies in Classical and Byzantine Manuscript Illumination. Edited by Herbert L. Kessler. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971: 335-9; [dissertation:] Die Elfenbeinkästen aus der mittelbyzantinsichen Zeit, Berlin, Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, 1929, published, and Goldschmidt, Adolph.Die byzantinischen Elfenbeinskulpturen des X.-XIII. Jahrhunderts. I. Kästen. Bruno Cassierer, 1930; Die Armenische Buchmalerei des 10. und beginnenden 11. Jahrhunderts. Bamberg: Reindi, 1933; Die byzantinische Buchmalerei des IX. und X. Jahrhunderts. Berlin: Gebrüder Mann, 1935; and Friend, Albert M., and DeWald, Ernest. The Illustrations in the Manuscripts of the Septuagint. 3 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1941- ; Illustrations in Roll and Codex. Studies in Manuscript Illumination, 2. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947; "The Narrative and Liturgical Gospel Illustration." In New Testament Studies. Edited by M. Parvis and A. P. Wikgren. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950: 151-74; Greek Mythology in Byzantine Art. Studies in Manuscript Illumination, 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951; "The Survival of Mythological Representations in Early Christian and Byzantine Art." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 14, 1960: 43-68; Geistige Grundlagen und Wesen der Mekedonischen Renaissance. Cologne and Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1963; Zur Frage des Einflusses jüdischer Bilderquellen auf die Illustration des Alten Testaments." in Mullus: Festschrift Theodor Klauser. Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum. Ergänzungsband I, (1964): 401-15; Münster: 1964: 401-15; "Book Illustration of the 4th Century: Tradition and Innovation." In Akten des VII. Internationalen Kongresses für christliche Archäologie, Trier, September 5-11, 1965. 2 vols. Vatican City and Berlin, 1967, I: 257-81; Studies in Classical and Byzantine Manuscript Illumination. Edited by Herbert L. Kessler. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971; and Forsyth, George. The Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai. 2 vols. Volume 1, The Church and Fortress of Justinian. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1973, Volume 2, The Icons. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976; The Miniatures of the Sacra Parallel, Parisinus Graecus 923. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979; Adolph Goldschmidt und die Berliner Kunstgeschichte. Berlin: Kunsthistorisches Institut, Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaften der Freien Universität Berlin, 1985; and Galavaris, George. The Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai: the Illuminated Greek Manuscripts. vol. 1, From the Ninth to the Twelfth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.
[autobiography] Sailing with Byzantium from Europ to America: The Memoirs of an Art Historian. Munich: Edito Maris, 1995; 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. 46 mentioned, 60-1, 81 mentioned, 93; 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. 63-64; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l'histoire d l'art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p 541; Art Historian Kurt Weitzmann. Oral History Collection, Dept. of Special Collections, University of California, Los Angeles Library, 1994; Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 2, pp. 733-42; [obituary] Kessler, Herbert L. "Kurt Weitzmann, 1904-1993." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 47 (1993): xix-xxiii; Belting, Hans. "Kurt Weitzmann." Speculum 69 no. 3 (1994): 952-53;