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Yates, Frances [Amelia], Dame

Date born:  1899

Place born:  Southsea, United Kingdom

Date died:  1981

Place died:  Surbiton, United Kingdom

Historian and art historian of the Renaissance;  Reader and Honorary Fellow, Warburg Institute.  Yates’ parents were James Alfred Yates, a naval architect, and Hannah Eliza Malpas.  She attended Birkenhead High School 1913-17.  Through part-time correspondence study, she was granted degree in French at University College, London, achieving firsts, in 1924, and an M.A. at the same institution on French Theater in 1926.  Although raised in a family of modest income, Yates was left enough money to pursue a career of an independent scholar.  Initially she wrote criticism and history on Shakespeare’s work.  In 1936 she began to visit the Warburg Institute for her research.  By 1941 she had joined the staff as a part-time employee, advancing to full-time lecturer and editor of publications in 1944.  In 1947 she published The French Academies of the Sixteenth Century, a study of the artistic and literary activities.  In the late 1940s and 50s, she concentrated on Renaissance philosophical traditions, the result of which was her 1964 Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.  In 1956 she was made reader in the history of the Renaissance at the Warburg.  Most important to the study of art history was her 1959 book, The Valois Tapestries, which traced the intellectual, religious and political traditions incorporated in those works of art.  Her 1966 The Art of Memory, described how Roman oratorical devices gained religious significance in later centuries. She received a D. Lit. from London University in 1965, retiring as an honorary fellow from the Warburg, now part of the University of London, in 1967.  Theatre of the World, 1969, examined Vitruvian tradition on Elizabethan public theaters.  Yates’ mastery of occult  literature was brought together in her collected essays, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, 1979.

Methodologically, Yates represented scholarship in the Warburg tradition.  She studied all aspects of a cultural event, preferring to envision it as cultural phenomenon rather than simply isolated objects. Her 1947 monograph on the French academies draws inspiration from Love's Labour's Lost, examining the political, religious, artistic  and philosophical implications of the institutional commissions.  Likewise, The Valois Tapestries uses evidence from art (major as well as the minor arts) to illuminate significance of the tapestries’ symbolism. Among her other, non-art historical scholarship, she is known for her work on Giordano Bruno.  Her papers were left to the Warburg Institute.

Home Country:  United Kingdom

Sources:  Dictionary of National Biography 1981-85:  433-4;  The Dictionary of Art;  Vickers, Brian.  "Frances Yates and the Writing of History."  Journal of Modern History 51, no. 2 (1979):  287-316;  Frances A. Yates 1899-1981.  London:  Warburg Institute, 1982.

Bibliography:  The Art of Memory.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1966;  Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century. 2nd ed.  London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1975;  The French Academies of the Sixteenth Century. (Studies of the Warburg Institute : 15) London:  Warburg Institute, University of London, 1947; Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.  London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1964.