- November 1942 - March 1946 (Creation)
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The Byzantine Institute (commonly known as the Byzantine Institute of America) was founded by Thomas Whittemore in 1930. On May 23, 1934, the Byzantine Institute officially became the Byzantine Institute, Inc. when it was issued a charter from the State of Massachusetts. Its mission was to conserve, restore, study, and document the Byzantine monuments, sites, architecture, and arts in the former Byzantine Empire. The first official project undertaken by the Institute was the examination and documentation of wall paintings at the Red Sea Monasteries in Egypt, which occurred between 1929 and 1931. By capturing select Byzantine iconography from the walls of St. Anthony and St. Paul, Vladimir Netchetailov produced oversize watercolor paintings of saints (Saints George, Mercurius, and Theodore Strateletes) and religious scenes (The Resurrection and Deësis).
In June 1931, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first President of the Republic of Turkey, permitted Whittemore and the Byzantine Institute to uncover and restore the original mosaics in Hagia Sophia, which had been covered in Islamic motifs when the church was converted into a mosque in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks. With approval from the Turkish government, the Institute began the conservation and restoration campaign in December 1931. While fieldwork primarily focused on sites within Istanbul, such as Hagia Sophia and Kariye Camii, conservation efforts were also expanded to Cyprus and present-day Macedonia.
In June 1950, Thomas Whittemore, founder of the Byzantine Institute, died while en route to the State Department office of John Foster Dulles. Subsequently, Paul Atkins Underwood was appointed as the Fieldwork Director of the Byzantine Institute, a position he held until his death on September 22, 1968. While this marked a transition period for the Institute, Underwood assumed the oversight of repair and restoration in Hagia Sophia and Kariye Camii. These endeavors resulted in the uncovering of the 7th century pavement in the Church of the Pantocrator (Molla Zeyrek Camii), the restoration of mosaics in Fethiye Camii (Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos), and finally the repair work in Fenari Isa (Lips Monastery). The projects also led to several publications, such as The mosaics of Hagia Sophia at Istanbul, the portrait of the Emperor Alexander: a report on the work done by the Byzantine Institute in 1959 and 1960 by Paul A. Underwood and Ernest J. W. Hawkins. Because of insufficient funding, the Byzantine Institute officially terminated its administrative and fieldwork operations in 1962 and transferred its assets to Dumbarton Oaks. In January of 1963, Dumbarton Oaks and the trustees of Harvard University assumed all fieldwork activities formerly initiated by the Institute. Dumbarton Oaks directed and sponsored new fieldwork projects in Turkey (Church of St. Polyeuktos), Cyprus (Church of the Panagia Amasgou at Monagri), Syria (Dibsi Faraj), and present-day Macedonia (Bargala).
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Thomas Whittemore was born in Cambridgeport, MA on January 2, 1871. He received his Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Tufts College in 1894 and was appointed Instructor of English at his alma mater immediately afterwards. While at Tufts College, Whittemore taught English Composition and directed several plays, such as the masque Comus and The Pleasant Comedy of Old Fortunatus. His teaching career continued intermittently until early 1930. In 1908, Whittemore taught a course on Ancient Art at Columbia University and starting in 1927, he taught classes on the fine arts and the history of Greek, Egyptian, and Byzantine art at New York University.
In the 1910s and 1920s, Whittemore became involved in expeditions and excavation projects in Egypt and Bulgaria. In January 1911, Whittemore joined a British archaeological expedition in Egypt under the auspices of the Egypt Exploration Society [or Egypt Exploration Fund]. Based on the letters between Whittemore and Isabella Stewart Gardner, Whittemore was in Egypt in the 1910s, where he helped other archaeologists discover pre-dynastic treasures such as, kilns and “the long sought IV-V dynasty cemetery at Abydos.” In between excavation seasons, Whittemore devoted his time to humanitarian work in Bulgaria, Russia, and Paris, particularly during and after the Russian Revolution in 1917. He was an active member of the Committee for the Relief of War Refugees in Russia and the Society for Relief Work among the Orphan Children of Russia. “The goal of the organization[s were] to educate the most promising young Russians in the arts and sciences such that they could help rebuild their country.” Whittemore also travelled to Mount Athos, Greece, in 1923 with George D. Pratt, where he and Pratt delivered food and supplies to the Russian and Bulgarian monks that became impoverished after the Russian Revolution.
In the 1930s, Whittemore changed his direction and focused on the conservation and restoration of Byzantine monuments, art, and architecture in Turkey and other areas of the former Byzantine Empire. In 1930, he founded the Byzantine Institute, a non-profit organization, with the full support of several committee members, such as John Nicholas Brown, Charles R. Crane, Charles R. Morey, Matthew Prichard, George D. Pratt, John Shapley, and others. In 1931, Whittemore and the Byzantine Institute were given permission to conserve and restore the original mosaics of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, ?smet ?nönü, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Economy. As the Director of the Byzantine Institute, Whittemore carried out the negotiations with government officials in Turkey, obtained work permits, recruited skilled fieldworkers, organized fundraising events, managed the Byzantine Institute staff, and delivered fieldwork supplies from/to the various sites.
On June 8, 1950, Whittemore suffered a heart attack while on his way to a meeting in the office of John Foster Dulles, then special advisor to the Secretary of State, in Washington, D.C. He died at the age of 79 and is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA.
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Robert and Mildred Bliss retired to their Georgetown home, Dumbarton Oaks, in 1933. They began adding to their already extensive collection of artwork and reference books, anticipating the creation of a research institute. In 1940, the Blisses gave their property to Harvard University, creating Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
"Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection is an institute in Washington, DC, administered by the Trustees for Harvard University. It supports research and learning internationally in Byzantine, Garden and Landscape, and Pre-Columbian studies through fellowships and internships, meetings, and exhibitions. Located in residential Georgetown, Dumbarton Oaks welcomes researchers at all career stages who come to study its books, objects, images, and documents. It opens its doors to the public to visit its historic Gardens, designed by Beatrix Farrand; its Museum, with world-class collections of art; and its Music Room, for lectures and concerts. The institute disseminates knowledge through its own publications (such as Dumbarton Oaks Papers and symposium volumes) as well as through the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (published by Harvard University Press). Dumbarton Oaks also makes accessible ever more of its resources freely online." -http://www.doaks.org/about
Among its many other activities, in January of 1963, Dumbarton Oaks and the trustees of Harvard University assumed all fieldwork activities formerly initiated by the Byzantine Institute. The Dumbarton Oaks fieldwork committee directed and sponsored new fieldwork projects in Turkey (Church of St. Polyeuktos), Cyprus (Church of the Panagia Amasgou at Monagri), Syria (Dibsi Faraj), and present-day Macedonia (Bargala).