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Finding aid for the Arthur Kingsley Porter study photographs of Romanesque architecture and sculpture, 1900s
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Archival Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Arthur Kingsley Porter study photographs of Romanesque architecture and sculpture
    Date (inclusive): 1900s
    Number: 91.P.4
    Creator/Collector: Porter, Arthur Kingsley, 1883-1933
    Physical Description: 6.0 linear feet (14 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: An assortment of approximately 2000 photographic copy prints made from Arthur Kingsley Porter's negatives, now held by the Fine Arts Library, Harvard University. Images document medieval architecture and sculpture across Europe, with an emphasis on Romanesque monuments in France and Italy, as well as some images of Spanish and Portuguese sites.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Arthur Kingsley Porter (1883-1933) was a medieval archaeologist, and art and architectural historian. Through his numerous publications and his post as a professor at Harvard, Porter was instrumental in establishing the study of medieval art history in the United States.
    The summer after graduating from Yale in 1904, Porter discovered his passion for architecture, especially medieval architecture, on a trip to France. That fall instead of beginning to study law as had been expected, Porter enrolled in the Columbia University School of Architecture. While there, Porter's focus soon shifted from the practice of architecture to architectural history. In 1906, Porter left Columbia to begin work on his first book, entering the life-long pattern of travel, research and writing that his family wealth allowed.
    By the beginning of World War I, Porter had spent extended periods of time in Europe studying medieval monuments, had published three books and gained a certain international scholarly recognition. This success led to his appointment first as a lecturer on the history of architecture in 1915, and then, after completing a BFA degree in 1917, as an assistant professor at Yale.
    In the aftermath of the war in 1918, Porter took a leave from Yale, accepting an invitation, the only one offered to a foreigner, to serve on the French governmental Commission des Monuments Historiques documenting damaged and endangered monuments. During this time Porter met and became friends with Bernard Berenson. This connection was presumably a factor in Porter joining the Harvard Fine Arts faculty upon his return to the United States in 1920.
    Porter's years at Harvard were a professional success on many levels. He published consistently; he acquired medieval art and artifacts for the Fogg Museum; and he was appointed to an endowed chair in 1925. Porter's time at Harvard was marked by his influence on and mentoring of a new generation of art historians at Harvard and other institutions, including Kenneth Conant, Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Meyer Schapiro. He also continued his European sojourns. The years from 1923-1925 were spent on leave in France and Spain, teaching and lecturing.
    Porter brought international recognition to the study of medieval art and architectural history in the United States. In his publications, he tackled large questions, such as the origin of the rib vault, the nature and transmission of artistic influence, and attribution, and he challenged the current systems of chronology and classification. His interdisciplinary approach was well ahead of its time and he was an ardent advocate of the use of photography as an art historical tool. Assisted by his wife Lucy, he photographed prodigiously during his travels in Europe, often using hotel bathrooms and closets as darkrooms, and these photographs were integral to his scholarship. His publication Romanesque Sculpture of the Pilgrimage Roads, for example, used 1527 photographic plates to illustrate circa 350 pages of text, or one volume of text with nine volumes of plates. Porter's theories were controversial and elicited a strong reaction, especially from French academics, but this meant that he, an American scholar, was taking part in the intellectual debates previously held exclusively among European medievalists.
    Yet, Porter was unhappy. He considered quitting Harvard as early as 1929. By the early 1930s Porter had developed a new passion for Celtic culture and was spending most of the year in Ireland, a refuge from what he saw as the growing political and moral decay of the United States, as well as personal turmoil and professional danger related to his homosexuality. On July 8 1933 Porter disappeared while walking the sea cliffs near his house in Ireland and was presumed dead, a victim of an accidental fall or a suicide.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Photographs and permission to publish must be obtained from copyright holder(s). For further information, contact Library Reproductions and Permissions .

    Preferred Citation

    Arthur Kingsley Porter study photographs of Romanesque architecture and sculpture, 1900s, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 91.P.4

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired from Harvard University in 1991-1992.

    Processing History

    Jan Bender created the collection inventory in 2013 and Ann Harrison completed the finding aid.

    Related Archival Materials

    The complete set of Arthur Kingsley Porter's negatives, with contact prints and selected enlargements, is held by Harvard University (HOLLIS number 000601589).

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The collection is comprised of an assortment of approximately 2000 photographic prints made from Arthur Kingsley Porter's negatives, now held by the Fine Arts Library, Harvard University. Almost 12,000 photographic negatives were made by Porter as illustrations for his ten-volume work, Romanesque Sculpture of the Pilgrimage Roads (Boston, 1923) and his other publications. These images capture medieval architecture and sculpture across Europe, with emphasis on Romanesque monuments and architectural sculpture in France and Italy. Porter's photographs provide critical documentation of the state of preservation of hundreds of medieval sites in the early twentieth century. Many of the monuments and sculptures recorded have undergone steady deterioration since then, suffered war damage, or disappeared into private collections. These images also address the development of the discipline of art history in America, as Porter's photographic work served as a basis for his controversial theories of the migration of forms and styles.
    In 1991 as part of the development of the Medieval section of the Photo Archive, the Getty Research Institute negotiated with Harvard University to acquire enlarged prints of Porter's negatives. Harvard holds a complete set of contact prints of Porter's negatives for research purposes, but only selected enlargements, and Dumbarton Oaks holds selected prints, primarily of Byzantine monuments. The intention was for the Getty to acquire a complete set of enlargements, making it the only institution to hold such a research tool. However, when the project lapsed in 1992, the Getty had received only about 2000 prints. The Getty prints include all the large negatives in Porter's collection, plus selections from the nitrate and the medium-sized negatives, a body of material reflecting Harvard's production flow rather than image content categories. Photocopies of Harvard's catalog records accompany and identify each image.
    A small number of photographs drawn from other sources are also included in this collection. There are twenty-eight prints made from negatives in the James M. Paton Photograph Collection also held by Harvard University (HOLLIS number 010880186) and fifty other photographs from the general photographic holdings of the Fogg Museum, as well as documentation of a small display of Porter's photographs at the Getty Research Institute in 1994.


    Arranged culturally/geographically.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Porter, Arthur Kingsley, 1883-1933 -- Photograph collections

    Subjects - Topics

    Architecture, Medieval
    Architecture, Romanesque--France
    Architecture, Romanesque--Italy
    Sculpture, Medieval
    Sculpture, Romanesque--France
    Sculpture, Romanesque--Italy

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Photographic prints


    Paton, James Morton, 1863-1944