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Richter, Gisela M[arie] A[ugusta]

Date born: 1882

Place Born: London, England

Date died: 1972

Place died:  Rome, Italy

Author and curator of Greek art, Metropolitan Museum, 1929-1952.  Richter was the daughter of the eminent art historian Jean Paul Richter (q.v.) and Louise Schwab [Richter] (q.v.), also an art historian.  After settling for a time in London, the Richters lived in Rome and Florence before moving back to London in 1892.  Gisela Richter attended the prestigious Maida Vale School for women.  Lectures by Emmanuel Loewy (q.v.) during study at the University of Rome around 1896 convinced her to study classical art.  Richter was admitted to Girton College, Cambridge University, in 1901 where her don, Katherine Jex-Blake (1860-1951), along with Eugénie Seller Strong (q.v.), was the translator of elder Piny’s passages on the history of art.  Forbidden to be degreed by Cambridge because she was a woman, Richter continued study at the British School at Athens, 1904-1905.  Richter’s intelligence and learning attracted the attention of the School’s director, Robert Carr Bosanquet (1871-1935), and the American archaeologist Harriet Boyd Hawes (1871-1945). Hawes, as the first woman to direct an archaeological excavation, clearly understood the difficulties for a female to break into classical studies. Richter, who had not even been allowed to live at the British School in Athens, had published an article in the Annual of the British School at Athens (1905).  Boyd moved to Boston in 1905 and convinced Richter her career lay there as well.  There Richter met Edward Robinson (q.v.), then director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  When Robinson moved to become the Assistant Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, he hired Richter for a temporary assignment to produce the catalog the newly acquired Greek vases. In 1906 the position was made permanent.  Robinson and his agent John Marshall (1862-1928) added heavily to the ancient collection, aided with the newly established Rogers Fund.  Richter was elevated to assistant curator in 1910, and  began a publishing career on which her current fame is based.  Using a strong connoisseur approach, Richter issued Greek, Etruscan and Roman Bronzes in 1915.  Unlike her colleagues, the books she wrote were not principally catalogs but surveys of the period.  She became an American citizen in 1917.  In 1921 she was part of a group to found the American Archaeological Club. She was made full curator in 1925, the first woman to hold the rank at the Metropolitan.  In 1929 she issued Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks, which saw numerous revisions and set her fame as an art historian.  As full curator in charge of acquisitions, Richter added some of the most famous pieces of classical art to the Metropolitan.  These included the Kleitias stand and Lydos krater, both in 1931, the famous “Metropolitan” (“New York”) kouros, 1932, the Landsdowne Amazon, 1932, a portrait of Caracalla, 1941, and a Hellenistic Sleeping Eros, 1943.  Her 1942 book Kouroi: Archaic Greek Youths and Korai:  Archaic Greek Maidens, 1968, remain her most consulted work. Her sister, Irma Anne Richter (q.v.), an artist and art historian collaborated with her on several books. G. M. A. Richter also published on vase painting, jewelry and furniture.  While subsequent scholarship has altered her dating somewhat, her chronology of work has not been seriously challenged.  In 1946 she hired the young Dietrich von Bothmer (q.v.). She retired from the museum in 1948 and held the title Honorary Curator until 1952, when she was named emerita.  That year she moved with Irma to Rome where she continued to publish and revise her other books. The Engraved Gems of the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans (1968-1971); a third edition of Kouroi (1970); Perspective in Greek and Roman Art (1970) and a fourth edition of Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks (1970) all date from her retirement years.  In 1961 she taught--her only formal teaching position--at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.  She left her personal papers to the American Academy in Rome;  the documents of her years at the Metropolitan remain at that Institution.

Richter, like her father, was strongly influenced by the work of Giovanni Morelli (q.v.).  His connoisseurship-style analyzed how particular artist's rendered anatomical and costume drapery.  Her approach to sculpture was to group objects stylistically together and, with the use of external documents and even vase painting, date them. In Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks, Richter limited her conclusions to those based upon classical texts and observation, rejecting the Roman copy attributions. Overall, she saw the development of Greek sculpture as a progression from stylized to verisimilitude, for which she developed a precise, if not always accurate, chronology.  Richter's technique opened herself to acquiring forgeries.  Between 1915-231 she acquired the so-called Etruscan warrior for the museum, which, despite an article by Massimo Pallottino (q.v.) debunking the eight foot soldier as a forgery from the Riccardi family of Oriveto, Italy, Richter remained unconvinced.  The forgery were proven in 1961 by Harold W. Parsons.

Home Country: United States

Sources: Kleinbauer, W. Eugene.  Research Guide to the History of Western Art.  Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2.  Chicago:  American Library Association, 1982, p. 72;  Kleinbauer, W. Eugene.  Modern Perspectives in Western Art History:  An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts.  New York:  Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 46 mentioned;  Medwid, Linda M.  The Makers of Classical Archaeology:  A Reference Work.  New York:  Humanity Books, 2000 pp. 256-7;  Richter, Gisela.  My Memoirs:  Recollections of an Archaeologist's Life.  Rome: privately printed, 1972; Crawford, John Stephens.  “Gisela Maria Augusta Richter.”  American National Biography.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1999; Ingrid E. M. Edlund. "Gisela Marie Augusta Richter (1882-1972): Scholar of Classical Art and Museum Archaeologist," In Women as Interpreters of the Visual Arts, 1820-1979. Claire R. Sherman, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981, pp. 275-300; Allsebrook, Mary, and Allsebrook, Annie.  Born to Rebel: The Life of Harriet Boyd Hawes. Oxford: Oxbow Books,  1992; Tomkins, Calvin.  Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  2nd. ed.  New York: Henry Holt, 1989, pp. 123-128;  [obituary:] Vermeule, Cornelius C. “Gisela M. Richter.”  The Burlington Magazine 115 (1973): 329.

Bibliography: Korai: Archaic Greek Maidens: A Study of the Development of the Kore Type in Greek Sculpture. London: Phaidon, 1968;  Kourai: A Study in the Development of the Greek Kouros from the Late Seventh to the Early Fifth Century B.C.. New York: Oxford University Press, 1942. 2nd ed. London: Phaidon, 1960;  The Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks. 1st ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929. 4th ed. 1970; "The Department of Greek and Roman Art:  Triumphs and Tribulations."  Metropolitan Museum Journal 3 (1970): 73-95; The Engraved Gems of the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans 2 vols.  1968-1971; Perspective in Greek and Roman Art  New York: Phaidon, 1970.