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Tyler, Royall

Date born: May 4, 1884

Place Born: Quincy, MA

Date died: March 2, 1953

Place died: Paris, France

Byzantinst and Spanish arts authority. Tyler was born to William Royall Tyler (d. 1897), a principal of Adams Academy and Ellen Curtis Krebs (Tyler) (d. 1904), an heiress to a Boston shipbuilding fortune. Tyler's great-grandfather and namesake was Royall Tyler (1757-1826), first chief justice of Vermont and a playwright. Tyler attended Milton Academy after his father's death and then Harrow [school], London, in 1898 where his mother lived. His mother's remarriage to Josiah Quincy (1859-1919), a former Boston mayor resulted a Venice trip with his family. There his experience of the church of San Marco profoundly swayed him to Byzantine art. In 1902 he entered New College, Oxford, but left after two years for Salamanca, forming a friendship with the philosopher (and rector of the university there) Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936). His mother died in 1904, leaving Tyler independently wealthy. After some study in Germany he settled in Paris by 1905, making Europe his permanent home. Study at the École des Sciences Politiques in Paris resulted in no degree. He began collecting objet d'art and corresponding with the American socialite Mildred Barnes (1860-1969), who married an American Foreign Service officer, Robert Woods Bliss (1875-1962) in 1908. A fascination with things Spanish bore fruit in his first book, Spain: A Study of Her Life and Arts, 1909. Tyler eloped with his publisher's wife, Elisina Grant, née Contessa Elisina Palamidessi de Castelvecchio (1875-1959), great-great granddaughter of Napoleon's brother, Louis, and Florence native, to Paris. Tyler edited the Calendar of Letters, Despatches, and State Papers Relating to the Negotiations Between England and Spain for the British government, making use of his diverse language skills. Bliss was appointed secretary to Paris embassy in 1912. It was Tyler who introduced the couple to Byzantine art, thereby creating the great collectors of the (later) Dumbarton Oaks collection, as well as their interest in pre-Columbian art. In 1913 Tyler made a significant acquistion of a sixth-century silver Byzantine chalice himself. The Tylers worked for war relief efforts with the author Edith Wharton (1862-1937) during World War I with Royall working as a German interrogator after the United States' entrance, at the rank of lieutenant. Eventually as Major Tyler, he and his Elisina were made chevaliers of the Legion of Honor and serving in the peace delegations. In 1920 the Blisses purchased a Georgetown mansion, Dumbarton Oaks, where they lived with among their collections and Byzantine research library which Tyler had urged them to form. In 1923 the Tylers bought Antigny, a château near Arnay-le-Duc, Burgundy. In this Gothic edifice, which they restored, Tyler studied Byzantine art in earnest with the American Hayford Peirce (1883-1946). During this time, Tyler as a deputy commissioner general for Hungary, 1924-1928. Peirce and Tyler published their book, Byzantine Art in 1926. In 1931, Tyler assisted in organizing the first exhibition devoted to Byzantine art, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, including objects owned by the Blisses. The first two volumes of Peirce and Tyler's larger study of Byzantine art, L'Art byzantin, projected for five volumes, appeared in 1932 and 1934. Tyler completed various missions for the League and banks, especially for Hungary, until World War II. During the war, his wife lived at Antigny trying to protect it from enemy damage until forced out in 1941, with Royall working in Geneva. After the War, Tyler worked for the World Bank in Paris, until 1949. Tyler additionally served at the United Nations Economic Survey and then as European representative of the National Committee for a Free Europe, ultimately founding Free Europe College in Strasbourg. He committed suicide in Paris with the volume of The Emperor Charles the Fifth nearly completed. It was published in 1956. His son, William Royall Tyler, a god-son of the Blisses, became a director of Dumbarton Oaks Center in 1969. His papers are held at Harvard University Archives.

Fifty years after the publication of his initial Spain: A Study of Her Life and Arts, 1909, the art historian Walter Muir Whitehill could still write it "remains an unrivaled introduction to the subject."

Home Country:  United States

Sources: Burckhardt, Carl J. "Foreward." Tyler, Royall. The Emperor Charles the 5th. London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1956; Whitehill, Walter Muir. "Tyler, Royall."Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 5: 1951-1955. American Council of Learned Societies, 1977; Nelson, Robert. Hagia Sophia, 1850-1950: Holy Wisdom Modern Monument. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004, pp. 161-164.

Bibliography: Spain, a Study of her Life and Arts. New York: M. Kennerley/London, G. Richards, 1909; and Hume, Martin A. S. Calendar of Letters, Despatches, and State Papers Relating to the Negotiations Between England and Spain, Preserved in the Archives at Vienna, Simancas and Elsewhere. London: H.M.S.O./Hereford Times, 1912; and Peirce, Hayford. Byzantine Art. New York: F. A. Stokes, 1926; edited, with Tatlock, R. R. Spanish Art, an Introductory Review of Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, Textiles, Ceramics, Woodwork, Metalwork. London, B.T. Batsford, 1927; Exposition internationale d'art byzantin [exhibition catalog, Exposition internationale d'art byzantin]. Paris: Musée des arts décoratifs, 1931; L'Art byzantin. vol. 1. Paris: Libr. de France, 1932, vol. 2, 1934; Three Byzantine Works of Art. Dumbarton Oaks Papers 2. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1941.

Subject's name: Royall Tyler