@Dumbarton Oaks

Collection MS.BZ.007 - Josephine M. Harris Research Papers and Photographs on Coptic Architectural Sculpture from Oxyrhynchos, ca. 1950s-1970s

Identity area

Reference code



Josephine M. Harris Research Papers and Photographs on Coptic Architectural Sculpture from Oxyrhynchos, ca. 1950s-1970s


  • ca. 1950s-1970s (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

2 boxes of papers
5 boxes of approximately 430 black and white photographs
2 boxes of approximately 200 black and white and color slides
2 boxes of approximately 2,000 black and white negatives

Context area

Name of creator

Harris, Josephine M. (1911-1992)

Biographical history

Josephine Marie Harris (1911-1992) earned a Ph.D. in Latin and Greek at Washington University, St. Louis in 1936. From 1937-1941, she was a fellow in Archaeology at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Harris became a Junior Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection from 1942-1945. Under the direction of Wilhelm R. W. Koehler, Senior Fellow in charge of Research, Harris cataloged the art and architecture of Late Antique Egypt, including Oxyrhynchos, for the Research Archive.

Harris was an art history instructor at Smith College from 1945-1946. She was associate professor at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA, from 1946-1954, after which she became Chair of the Fine Arts Department. Harris was granted leave for the academic year 1953-1954, having received a Faculty Fellowship from the Ford Foundation to travel to Europe and the Near East and also receiving the Margaret M. Justin Fellowship from the American Association of University Women to study Coptic Sculpture in Egypt. At this time, Harris began photographing and studying the Oxyrhynchos fragments from the three excavation campaigns (1927-1937) by Evaristo Breccia, which are housed in the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, Egypt. Breccia published his findings in two volumes of the Graeco-Roman Museum’s annual publication in 1932 and 1933, but only featured 200 of the roughly 500 fragments, which were tentatively dated by scholars as 4th-6th century works. As there was no further detailed study being done of all the fragments, Harris recognized the research potential of the Oxyrhynchos fragments for a better understanding of the larger context of Coptic sculpture. Harris set out to analyze and catalog all of the fragments, in order to discuss their interrelationships, the development in their “stylistic features,” and their relationship to decorative sculpture from other Late Antique sites in Egypt, Constantinople, and elsewhere in the Byzantine Empire. In 1959, Harris received additional grant funding from the American Philosophical Society to continue the project. This enabled her to return to Dumbarton Oaks for research and to visit other libraries and specialists in the field. Harris returned to Egypt in 1963 to continue her photography at the Graeco-Roman Museum, a trip that produced the majority of her Oxyrhynchos documentation. During subsequent trips to Egypt in the 1970s, she continued to fact-check and re-photograph selected fragments with the intention of publishing them.

Harris served on the faculty at Wilson College until the 1970s. Nearing the completion of her manuscript, Harris suffered from a stroke in 1979 and relocated to Arizona to live with family. Harris passed away in 1992. Her manuscript remains unpublished, but it has been consulted and cited, along with her photographs, by scholars in the field of Late Antique sculpture. The manuscript reveals Harris’ analytical study, which ultimately dates the Oxyrhynchos fragments to the 5th-6th centuries and deciphers two distinct “styles” of ornamentation. The first “style” possesses richness in combinations and variations of motifs, a preference for plant motifs, the juxtaposition of geometric and natural forms, and a deep undercutting of edges. Being more common, the first “style” displays a clear development over time. The second “style” is characterized by a simplification and stylization of patterns, the absence of deep undercutting, and a lack of clear distinction between geometric and natural forms.

Archival history

The archive came to Dumbarton Oaks in 1966 and 1993.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

In 1993, the collection was mailed to the Byzantine Studies Program at Dumbarton Oaks (then called the Center for Byzantine Studies) in one box by Josephine Harris’ sister, Elizabeth Harmon. The materials were transferred to the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (then called the Byzantine Visual Resources) in the mid-1990s.

Apart from this donation, two earlier acquisitions of copies of Harris’s photographs were made by former curators of the Dumbarton Oaks Photograph Collection (now ICFA), Georgine Reed in 1966 and Judith O’Neill in 1978, for inclusion in the Black and White Mounted Photograph Collection (PH.BZ.001).

Additional materials related to Harris were found in ICFA's backlog and donor files and added to the collection in December 2012.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The collection consists of Josephine M. Harris’s documentation and catalog of Coptic architectural sculpture, specifically block fragments housed in the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, Egypt, excavated from the site of Oxyrhynchos in 1927 to 1931 by the former museum director, Evaristo Breccia. The collection materials date from the 1950s to 1970s, when Harris was focused on determining the chronology of the fragments and the development of their “stylistic features” within the larger scope of Coptic and Byzantine architectural sculpture. Harris measured, described, and photographed approximately 500 fragments in the Graeco-Roman Museum, and she assembled the photographs into a catalog, organized on the basis of architectural type and decorative motif. Included is a copy of an unpublished manuscript of her research findings, cataloging notes, and some correspondence, but the majority of the collection consists of photographs and negatives of the Oxyrhynchos fragments, culminating in her catalog of Coptic architectural sculpture from Oxyrhynchos.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

The collection is divided into four (4) series. The first series comprises Harris’s documentation of the Oxyrhynchos fragments at the Graeco-Roman Museum and her collection of comparative material, including negatives, slides, and photographic prints. The second series represents the development and intellectual organization of Harris’s catalog of the Oxyrhynchos fragments in three sets of photographs and the articulation of her thesis in an unpublished manuscript. The third series includes a research grant report and some correspondence referring to her research and two acquisitions of her photographs by Dumbarton Oaks in 1966 and 1978. The fourth series includes two sets of enlarged, mounted prints of Harris’s photography given to her as a gift by another photographer

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Access to the collection is unrestricted. It is available for research purposes. Appointment is required for access because researcher space is limited: http://www.doaks.org/icfa-appointment-request-form. For research queries, contact the staff of Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (icfa@doaks.org).

Conditions governing reproduction

Photographs are for research and study purposes only.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Slides and negatives have been removed from the document files and moved to ICFA Cold Storage for preservation purposes.

Finding aids

PDF version: http://www.doaks.org/library-archives/icfa/harris.pdf
Harvard OASIS (Online Archival Search Information System): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:DOAK.LIB:dca00005

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

At Dumbarton Oaks:

  • Black and White Mounted Photograph Collection, PH.BZ.001. Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C.
  • Dumbarton Oaks Research Archive, MZ.BZ.018. Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D. C.
  • “Harris, Josephine” folder, fellows and scholars files. Dumbarton Oaks Archives. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D. C. http://www.doaks.org/library-archives/dumbarton-oaks-archives.
  • “Josephine Harris” Donor File, Curator’s Office Files. Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C.

Publication note

Breccia, Evaristo. Le Musée gréco-romain 1925/1931. Bergamo, Italy: Istituto italiano d'arti grafiche, 1932.

Breccia, Evaristo. Le Musée gréco-romain 1931/1932. Bergamo, Italy: Istituto italiano d'arti grafiche, 1933.

Gonosová, Anna. “A Note on Coptic Sculpture.” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 44 (1986): 10-15.

Harris, Josephine M. “A Gold Hoard from Corinth.” American Journal of Archaeology 43:2 (1939): 268-277.

Harris, Josephine M. “Coins Found at Corinth.” Hesperia 10:2 (1941): 143-162.

Harris, Josephine. “Coptic architectural sculpture from Oxyrhynchos.” 1960 Yearbook of the American Philosophical Society (1961): 592-598.

Kitzinger, Ernst. “Notes on Early Coptic Sculpture.” Archaeologia 87 (1938): 181-215.

Krumeich, Kirsten. Spätantike Bauskulptur aus Oxyrhynchos. Germany: Reichert Verlag Wiesbaden, 2003.

Vikan, Gary. Catalogue of the Sculpture in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection from the Ptolemaic Period to the Renaissance. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1995.

Notes area


The photographic prints in the catalog are organized by Harris according to the following categories:

I- NICHES (Nos. 1-18)
Vine motifs:
Running vine with heavy stem (Nos. 19-27)
Running vines with stems intertwined (Nos. 28-38)
Vine scrolls (Nos. 39-52)
Small friezes with undulating stems and an alternation of grapes and/or leaves in the undulation (Nos. 53-76)
Small friezes with undulating stems with leaves only in undulation (Nos. 77-98)
Small friezes with double undulating stems forming ovals which contain leaves and/or bunches of grapes (Nos. 99-111)
Small friezes with stems undulating and interloped (Nos. 112-116)

  • Acanthus motifs:

Large scrolls with grape vines (Nos. 117-123)
Scrolls with animals (Nos. 124-135)
Small scrolls with birds (Nos. 136-140)
Scrolls with pliant leaves (Nos. 141-153)
Scrolls and undulating stems with lotus seed-pod fillers (Nos. 154-173)
Scrolls and undulating stems with flower fillers (Nos. 174-187)
Scrolls and undulating stems with leaf fillers (Nos. 188-204)
Scrolls and undulating stems with various fillers (Nos. 205-217)

  • Miscellaneous plant motifs:

Upright acanthus leaves (Nos. 218-230)
Interlaced acanthus leaves in progression (Nos. 231-251)
Interlaced ribbons (Nos. 252-259)
Laurel or myrtle leaves in progression (Nos. 260-275)
Leaf and tongue (Nos. 276-279)
Egg and leaf (Nos. 280-292)

  • Geometric pattern:

Diaper pattern (Nos. 293-299)
Meander patterns – intersecting meanders, two or more rows (Nos. 300-311)
Meander patterns – intersecting meanders, single row (Nos. 312-321)
Meander patterns – intersecting oblique meanders, single row (Nos. 322-329)

Large cornices with single leaf on modillion (Nos. 330-348)
Large cornices with interlaced acanthus on modillion (Nos. 349- 364)
Cornices with plain modillions (Nos. 365-388)
Cornices with ankh on modillion (Nos. 389-395)
Miscellaneous cornices (Nos. 396-409)

Column capital (Nos. 410-430)
Pilaster capitals (Nos. 431-450)
Small pilaster capitals with two leaves (Nos. 451-472)


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Institution identifier


Rules and/or conventions used

Describing Archives: A Content Standard



Level of detail



  • English



Archivist's note

The collection was preliminarily processed by former ICFA staff members in the 1990s. The finding aid was updated by ICFA Archivist Rona Razon in October 2010 and December 2012 and by former ICFA Metadata Intern Alison T. Miner in September 2012. Additional materials found in the ICFA Curator’s Office Files and backlog were added in December 2012. All of the negatives and slides were moved to ICFA’s cold storage for preservation by ICFA Departmental Assistant Jessica Cebra in December 2012. In some cases, the original containers for the negatives and slides were discarded for preservation purposes. Original containers, such as envelopes or sleeves, were only kept if they included significant descriptive information.

Assessment, research, physical arrangement, and rehousing of the collection were completed by Cebra in August-October 2014. Previously, the collection was divided into two series: Correspondence and Slides and Photographs and Negatives. It is not known whether the physical arrangement of the collection had any relation to how Harris originally kept her files. Cebra created four new series: Photographic Documentation and Comparative Material, Unpublished Manuscript and Catalog, Grant Report and Correspondence, and Additional Photographic Material.

Based on an understanding of why the materials were created and how they functioned in Harris’s research, Cebra began to physically and intellectually reorganize them, while keeping in mind the way that Harris would likely have arranged her records. The body of Harris’s photographs, which were previously all grouped together, actually represent two different activities: the physical activity of documentation (photographing, developing negatives, printing contact sheets, printing larger photographs, producing slides, and collecting comparative photographs) and the intellectual activity of assembling her catalog (grouping photographs by category, organizing the categories, attaching the photographs to descriptive note cards, and assigning catalog numbers to the photographs). The first and second series differentiate between these two activities. Harris’s unpublished manuscript, which was previously grouped with correspondence, is also included in the second series because it encompasses the intellectual framework of her research and goes hand in hand with her catalog.

The third series was created to compile the few additional records deriving from Harris’s work, including a grant report and four letters. The fourth series was created to represent two large format portfolios of Harris’s photographs. Though these photographs are by Harris, the prints were produced, mounted, and gifted to Harris by another photographer. The portfolios were separated from the other photographic material because they are secondary to, and do not correlate organizationally with, the work produced by Harris for assembling her catalog. The collection title was also changed from Josephine M. Harris Research Papers and Photographs, ca. 1950s-1970s to Josephine M. Harris Research Papers and Photographs on Coptic Architectural Sculpture from Oxyrhynchos, ca. 1950s-1970s.

The finding aid was edited by Razon, ICFA Byzantine Research Associate Fani Gargova, and ICFA Manager Shalimar White and was finalized in July 2015.

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Photographs are for research purposes only.



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Under copyright

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Preferred Citation: Josephine M. Harris Research Papers and Photographs on Coptic Architectural Sculpture from Oxyrhynchos, ca. 1950s-1970s, MS.BZ.007, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.



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214.7 KiB


October 24, 2016 6:26 AM

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