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Harvard art historian James S. Ackerman Dies at 97

Historians in the News
tags: obituary, James S Ackerman



James S. Ackerman, a Harvard art historian whose studies of the architecture of Michelangelo and Palladio remain classics in the field, died on Dec. 31 at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 97.

The death was confirmed by his wife, Jill Slosburg-Ackerman.

Mr. Ackerman plunged into the study of architecture while serving in Italy with the Army at the end of World War II. While awaiting a transfer back to the United States, he volunteered to work for the Monuments and Fine Arts Commission in Milan. He was given the assignment of retrieving archives that had been stored for safety in Pavia, in the monastery complex known as the Certosa.

A flame was kindled. His immersion in the Certosa di Pavia generated a master’s thesis at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York, where he earned a doctorate in 1952. While teaching art history at the University of California, Berkeley, he was approached by the art historians Anthony Blunt and Rudolf Wittkower to write a survey of Michelangelo’s architecture for a series of architectural monographs they were editing.

“The Architecture of Michelangelo,” published in two volumes in 1961, was greeted as an indispensable work on an overlooked subject. In the first volume, a dozen essays aimed at the educated general reader discussed the artist’s major building projects, which included the Laurentian Library and the Medici Chapel in Florence and the Farnese Palace and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In the second volume, each project was discussed with full scholarly apparatus appended. ...

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