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Buchthal, Hugo

Date born: 1909

Place born: Berlin, Germany

Date died: 1996

Place died: London, United Kingdom

Professor of Fine Arts, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. Buchthal was born to Eugen Buchthal (1878-1954) and Thea Wolff (Buchthal) (1886-1968), wealthy shop owners. The family lived in the "Villa Buchthal" on Berlin's west end (after the war, the home of tenor Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, b. 1925). Buchthal attended the Herder-Reform-Gymnasium in Charlottenberg, graduating in 1927. After a semester studying economics, he switched to art history, attending classes at the universities including the Sorbonne, Paris, Heidelberg and Berlin before settling on the so-called new “Hamburg school” art historians Fritz Saxl (q.v.), Edgar Wind (q.v.) and Erwin Panofsky (q.v.) and the concomitant Warburg Institute, then directed by Saxl. The accession of power in Germany by the Nazis in 1933 meant that all Jewish university faculty were being summarily discharged. Saxl warned Buchthal that if he could not finish his dissertation by the end of 1933, he would be forced to leave the Warburg without a degree, as the Institute was closing its doors. Panofsky was already living in New York as a visiting professor, but returned briefly to Hamburg that summer for his students oral examinations and dissertations. Buchthal finished his dissertation in the two summer weeks for Panofsky to grant the degree, writing on the Codex Pariinus Graecus 139. He emigrated in 1934 for “racial reasons” (he was Jewish) to London with the Warburg Institute staff and library. The Warburg in London became a center for German refugee scholars like Buchthal, including, among others Ernst Gombrich (q.v.) and Wind. In 1935 he studied Arabic at the School of Oriental and African Studies before receiving a fellowship from 1936 to 1937 at the University of Beirut. He was the 1938 Lord Plumer Fellow at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. That same year he also re-edited and published his dissertation, The Illustrations of the Paris Psalter: a Study in Middle Byzantine Painting (1938). In 1939 her married Amalia "Maltschi" Serkin (1904-1996), sister of the pianist Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991). The Warburg Institute was evacuated to Denham, England, at the outbreak of World War II. Buchthal acted as librarian for the Institute during 1941-43, becoming a Lecturer a the University of London 1944-45 (which subsumed the Institute). He was a visiting fellow at Dumbarton Oaks 1950-51 and again in 1965. In 1957 he published perhaps his most influential book, Miniature Painting in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Buchthal was the first to organize the illuminated manuscripts produced in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, from the twelfth-century Melisende Psalter to the later manuscripts written in Acre, into a cohesive body for discussion. His book remains a detailed introduction to the manuscripts and a comprehensive study of Crusader miniature painting. In 1959-60 Buchtal was appointed a temporary member at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ. The years 1960-65 Buchthal was an endowed chair at the Warburg Institute with the year 1963 as a visiting professor at Columbia University, New York. Between 1965-75 he was the first Ailsa Mellon Bruce Chair in Fine Arts at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1970 and 1971. The1970s were a period of great publishing activity for Buchthal. His books include works on both French and Italian manuscripts of the legend of the fall of Troy, Historia Troiana (1971), and later Byzantine painting, Patronage in Thirteenth-century Constantinople, with Hans Belting (q.v.), (1978). From 1975 onward he was a professor emeritus at New York University. Buchthal's students at the Warburg included Michael Kauffmann (q.v.), who would later become its director. His Institute of Fine Arts students included Harvey Stahl (q.v.). Buchthal died of a heart ailment at age 87; his wife, Amalia, died less than a week later.

Buchthal’s area was Byzantine and western medieval art. His 1957 Miniature Painting in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1957) was praised for weaving paleographic and liturgical analysis with meticulous visual skill. Buchthal was particularly interested in the transfers of traditions and culture between the medieval east and west. He is credited for opening the area of Crusader culture as an area for art historical study. Thomas F. Mathews (q.v.), a former student, described Buchthal's writings as laying "the foundation for all subsequent work on the art of the Crusaders."

Home Country: Germany/United Kingdom/United States

Sources: Buchthal, Hugo. Persönliche Erinnerungen eines Achtzigjährigen an sein Studium bei Panofsky in Hamburg. Wiener Jahrbuch 44 (1991): 205-13; Buchthal, Hugo. "Persönliche Erinnerungen an die ersten Jahre des Warburg Institutes in London." Wiener Jahrbuch 45 (1992): 213-21;Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 1, pp. 73-6; [transcript] Hugo Buchthal. Interviews with Art Historians, 1991-2002. Getty Research Institute, Malibu, CA. [obituaries:] Burlington Magazine (1997): 198-99; Kauffmann, C. Michael, and Gombrich, Ernst. The Guardian. November 19, 1996, p. 18; Pace, Eric. "Hugo Buchthal Is Dead at 87, Studied Medieval Illumination." The New York Times November 13, 1996, p. D21; The Independent (London), November 19, 1996, p. 18; The Times (London) November 22, 1996.

Bibliography: [bibliography to 1980:] "The Writings of Hugo Buchthal, 1933-1980." Art of the Mediterranean World, A.D. 100 to 1400. Washington, DC: Decatur House Press, 1983, pp. xvii-xxii; A Hand List of Illuminated Oriental Christian Manuscripts. London: The Warburg Institute, 1942; Historia Troiana: Studies in the History of Mediaeval Secular Illustration. London: Warburg Institute, University of London, 1971; Miniature Painting in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957; The Miniatures of the Paris Psalter: a Study in Middle Byzantine Painting. London: The Warburg Institute, 1938; The "Musterbuch" of Wolfenbüttel and its Position in the Art of the Thirteenth Century. Vienna: Verl. d. Österr. Akad. d. Wiss., 1979; Patronage in Thirteenth-century Constantinople: an Atelier of Late Byzantine Book Illumination and Calligraphy. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies/Harvard University, 1978; The Western Aspects of Gandhara Sculpture. Annual Lecture on Aspects of Art, Henriette Hertz Trust of the British Academy. Proceedings of the British Academy, 1945. London: British Academy, 1947.

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