DICTIONARY OF ART HISTORIANS
A Biographical Dictionary of Historic Scholars, Museum Professionals and Academic Historians of Art
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Lasko, Peter [Erik]
Date born: 1924
Place Born: Berlin, Germany
Date died: 2003
Place died: London, United Kingdom
Medievalist and director of the Courtauld Institute; authored Pelican History of Art volume, Ars Sacra. Lasko grew up in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. His father, Leo Lasko, was a prominent figure in the German film industry and a Jew. The younger Lasko knew the avant-garde and Bauhaus sensibilities first hand. With the Nazi rise to power in 1933, Lasko's father retired to Paris, but returned Germany believing the threat to Jews had passed. Leo Lasko fled again in 1936, this time to England and the family, including Peter, his mother, Wally, and sister, followed in 1937. Lasko first considered being a painter and attended Hammersmith and St Martin's School of Art, but switched to art history at Birkbeck College, under the guidance of Nikolaus Pevsner (q.v.). Lasko was admitted to the Courtauld Institute in 1946. His German background won him friends with the refugee art historians at the University of London and the Warburg. He became a British subject in 1948, marrying Lyn Norman the same year. Lasko graduated from the University of London in 1949. He was appointed assistant keeper in the department of British and medieval antiquities of the British Museum in 1950. It was the era when Rupert Bruce Mitford (1914-1993) was publishing the Sutton Hoo ship burial and Lasko work slightly on this project. He left the Museum in 1965, lured away to set up a school of music and the fine arts at the new University of East Anglia. He acceded to the chair in art history there and set about assembling one of the most dynamic faculties in the British Isles. In 1971 his Kingdom of the Franks appeared, partially the result of his years of research on medieval migrational peoples at the British Museum. His earlier connection with Pevsner, who was now editor of the Pelican History of Art series, led to the commissioning of the 1973 volume in the series on medieval objects, Ars Sacra: 800 and 1200. The book was stylistic analysis major ecclesiastical objects, and, though perhaps more conservative than the main currents of art-historical methodology, fit well into the limited subject of portable objects of the middle ages. At the University, Lasko proved an able administrator. Among other accomplishments, he persuaded Robert and Lisa Sainsbury to donate their art collection, where the University built a new building to house art and the department designed by Norman Foster. In 1974, Lasko made a bid to replace Sir Anthony Blunt (q.v.) as director of the Courtuald Institute. Lasko won the appointment, largely on his record as an administrator. However, the Courtauld faculty were powerful and deeply entrenched in their traditions. Lasko was unable to make the administrational reforms he had with the new institution in Norwich. Among his successes, however, was the moving of the Courtauld to a permanent building. The lease on the former Robert Adam building at 20 Portman Square had not been renewed and attempts to build a modern building for the Courtauld failed. Lasko assembled a large part of the funding and negotiations to move to Somerset House, combining art and faculty into a single environ. Lasko resigned citing ill health in 1985 before the move was completed. In retirement, Lasko worked on The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Great Britain And Northern Ireland, which he had taken over from George Zarnecki (q.v.), and a book on German expressionist art, which never ceased to fascinate him. His book on German Expressionism, The Expressionist Roots of Modernism, was published posthumously.
Home Country: Germany/United Kingdom
Sources: [obituaries:] The Guardian (London) May 29, 2003, p. 27; The Times (London), May 29, 2003, p. 40.
Bibliography: The Expressionist Roots of Modernism. New York:
Manchester University Press: Palgrave,2003; The Kingdom of the Franks:
North-west Europe Before Charlemagne. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971; Ars
Sacra: 800-1200. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1972; Medieval Art in
East Anglia, 1300-1520. Norwich, England: Jarrold & Sons, 1973; The
Painting Collections of the Courtauld Institute of Art. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1979.