Campus & Community

Esteemed medieval art historian Kitzinger dies at 90

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Ernst Kitzinger

Ernst Kitzinger, the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor Emeritus, an art historian specializing in Byzantine, early Christian, and early medieval art, died of a stroke Jan. 22 at his home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He was 90 years old.

President Lawrence H. Summers said, “The death of Ernst Kitzinger is a great loss for Harvard and for scholarship worldwide. Professor Kitzinger will be remembered not only as one of the greatest medieval art historians of the 20th century, but as a scholar who combined intellectual integrity, a love of the arts, and a gentle and sympathetic personality that endeared him to his students and colleagues.”

Kitzinger spent a large part of his career at Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C., which houses collections of Byzantine and pre-Colombian art and rare books and is a center for the study of landscape architecture. Kitzinger began as a junior fellow at Dumbarton Oaks in 1941 and rose through the ranks of assistant professor, associate professor, and professor, ending with an 11-year stint as director of studies, from 1955 to 1966.

Kitzinger’s special interests lay in the fields of early Christian art, the relation between the art of Byzantium and the medieval West, and the medieval mosaics of Sicily. During his long career, he trained many members of the current senior generation of American historians of Byzantine art.

He was born in Munich, Germany, in 1912. He did graduate work at the Universities of Munich and Rome, receiving his doctorate from the University of Munich in 1934. He left Germany soon afterward, settling in England, where he spent five years as an assistant in the British Museum.

In 1941, he came to the United States, where he became a junior fellow at Dumbarton Oaks. During World War II, Kitzinger served with the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) in Washington and London as a research analyst. In 1945, he returned to Dumbarton Oaks, where he remained for the next 22 years.

Kitzinger left Dumbarton Oaks to teach at Harvard’s main campus in 1967, as the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor, a post he held until 1979, when he retired. University professorships are awarded to individuals of distinction whose work cuts across the traditional boundaries of academic specialties.

Kitzinger was a member of the Lowell House Senior Common Room. In 2001, a house prize, the Ernst Kitzinger Award, was established in his honor.

He received many awards and honors during his career. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Sicily from 1950 to 1951; a Guggenheim Fellow in Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Turkey from 1953 to 1954; a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University from 1966 to 1967 and in 1980 and 1982. He was Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Cambridge from 1974 to 1975 and Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1989.

His books include: “Early Medieval Art in the British Museum” (1940), “Mosaics of Monreale” (1960), and “The Art of Byzantium and the Medieval West: Selected Studies” (1976).

Kitzinger’s wife Susan died in 2000. The couple are survived by three children, Stephen Anthony Kitzinger, Margaret Rachel Kitzinger, and Adrian Nicholas Kitzinger, and by three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held in Cambridge some time in the next few months. A scholarly symposium is also being planned.