- July 1960 (Creation)
Level of description
Extent and medium
Name of creator
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.