Michael Kauffmann obituary


Michael Kauffmann, who has died aged 92, was a former director of the Courtauld Institute, a university of the College of London specialising within the examine of historical past of artwork, conservation and curating, which additionally has an vital assortment, particularly of French Impressionist work. He was a person with uncommon presents. When he launched into his profession within the Fifties, he may hardly have foreseen that it will culminate three a long time later in two heroic removing jobs – the set up of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s work, prints and drawings within the refurbished Henry Cole Wing, adopted by the even trickier manoeuvring of 30 teachers (to not point out an ideal assortment and greater than 200 college students) into the Courtauld’s new premises at Somerset Home in 1989.

The truth that Kauffmann, who was a curator on the V&A earlier than turning into the Courtauld’s director, carried out these duties so effectively, and with such spectacular outcomes, is all of the extra exceptional on condition that he was primarily not an administrator however a scholar.

He had broad tutorial pursuits, masking enormous areas of the artwork of the final millennium, however was above all a perceptive, rigorous historian of illuminated manuscripts from the interval following the Norman conquest – when English portray achieved, as he put it, “the form of undisputed worldwide stature” maybe not matched till the age of Constable and Turner.

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An illuminated preliminary D from the Twelfth-century Bury Bible, one of many Romanesque manuscripts analysed by Kauffmann. {Photograph}: Corpus Christi Faculty, Cambridge

Born Claus Michael Kauffmann in Frankfurt, he was the son of Tamara (nee Karp) and Arthur Kauffmann, who initially managed after which, from 1934, owned the Hugo Helbing public sale home, and had commanded a battalion of the German military throughout the first world battle. These impeccably patriotic credentials maybe led the household to suppose that they may survive the rising antisemitism of the Thirties.

Ultimately, they emigrated, simply in time, to Britain: Michael was despatched in 1938 to stick with his uncle and aunt, who had arrived the earlier 12 months, in Burnley, Lancashire; his mother and father arrived later the identical 12 months, together with his elder brother, Sascha, settling in London. Michael attended Sunny Financial institution faculty, after which the Royal grammar faculty, Clitheroe, till 1943. He then moved to St Paul’s faculty, based mostly quickly in Berkshire, till it returned to London on the finish of the second world battle.

At Oxford, the place he studied trendy historical past at Merton Faculty, he met Dorothea Hill, whom he married in 1954. Dorothy, as she was identified, was, like her husband, an completed Latinist, and, as Kauffmann acknowledged, typically helped him with troublesome linguistic issues raised by medieval paperwork.

His postgraduate research have been on the Warburg Institute in London, the place as a junior analysis fellow from 1953 to 1955 he pursued his doctoral thesis below the meticulous supervision of Hugo Buchthal. His subject – the ten illustrated manuscripts of a Thirteenth-century poem on the Roman baths at Pozzuoli, close to Naples – could seem esoteric. Nonetheless, it led to a mannequin evaluation of the complicated relationship between textual content and picture. Moreover, Kauffmann was capable of present how a few of the illuminators not solely drew from one another and from works in different media, but in addition, exceptionally for the time, represented the bodily realities of their topic, the traditional spa itself.

After a short stint as an assistant keeper within the photographic assortment of the Warburg, in 1958 Kauffmann started his curatorial profession at Manchester Metropolis Artwork Gallery, from which two years later he moved to the V&A, the place he was to spend the following quarter of a century. This surroundings was to have a vital impact on his scholarship, a lot of which was dedicated to the museum’s personal collections: as a consequence, his themes ranged from late medieval photos of flagellants, 11,000 virgin martyrs and the apocalypse, to landscapes by John Constable and John Varley.

Nonetheless, his biggest tutorial achievement on this interval was a survey of Romanesque manuscripts, 1066-1190, printed in 1975. This mixed an exhaustive examine of iconography and creative types with a consideration of the books’ ecclesiastical patrons and their mysterious illuminators, who by this time would largely have been laymen slightly than monks.

As so typically in Kauffmann’s writing, an thrilling sense of the creative course of, its richness and selection, emerges from the trivialities of his dialogue. Solely when he turns to the depiction of material – “damp fold”, “clinging curvilinear”, “multilinear”, even “nested V” – does he, in all probability unavoidably, undertake the jargon of his commerce. In any other case his type is a paragon of plain English.

Definitely Kauffmann didn’t want to communicate solely to a slender circle of medievalists: The Bible in British Artwork, an exhibition that he curated on the V&A in 1977, started with the Anglo-Saxons and completed with David Hockney and Oskar Kokoschka, whereas in 1984 one other present, with which he was closely concerned, introduced English Romanesque artwork into the limelight of the Hayward Gallery.

This occasion coincided with Kauffmann’s ultimate 12 months on the V&A, the place from 1975 he had been keeper of the museum’s work, prints and drawings – a set bigger than that of the Nationwide Gallery, if much less famend.

Having accomplished his division’s triumphant transfer into the Henry Cole Wing, Kauffmann took up the directorship of the Courtauld in 1985. This will need to have appeared a poisoned chalice. With all his administrative expertise and huge experience, he was requested to handle a coterie of eccentric specialists, typically solely vaguely conscious of artwork exterior their durations and often distinctly missing in sensible talent.

Moreoever, Kauffmann had inherited from his predecessor Peter Lasko the duty of transporting the entire faculty from its beautiful goldfish bowl in Portman Sq. – the Courtauld’s unique residence – to a a lot bigger, if much less atmospheric, property at Somerset Home. Inevitably, a few of the shubunkins shook their fins. Others, particularly among the many non-academic employees, enormously contributed to the enterprise’s success in 1989, which allowed the establishment’s scholar numbers virtually to double by the point of Kauffmann’s departure six years later.

Along with all his different duties, Kauffmann was an approachable if considerably grave instructor, his feedback at all times forthright however balanced, his famously tiny handwriting as immaculate as any Romanesque script.

Unsurprisingly, he seized his retirement as a chance for extra analysis, producing in 2003 the monumental Biblical Imagery in Medieval England, 700-1550, a characteristically authoritative therapy of the iconographical points that had fascinated him all through his profession. This was adopted, in 2017, by Eve’s Apple to the Final Supper: Picturing Meals within the Bible, in addition to by quite a few opinions and even the odd obituary. A sort, hospitable man, he was a scholar whose humanity and breadth of pursuits touched many individuals.

Dorothy died in 2009. He’s survived by his two sons, Francis and Martin.


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