André Nicolaevitch Grabar (July 26, 1896 – October 3, 1990) was an historian of Romanesque art and the art of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Bulgarian Empire. Born in Ukraine and educated in the Russian Empire, he spent his career in Bulgaria (1919-1922), France (1922-1958) and the United States (1958-1990), and wrote all his papers in French. Grabar was one of the 20th-century founders of the study of the art and icons of the Eastern Roman Empire, adopting a synthetic approach embracing history, theology and interactions with the Islamic world.
His son Oleg Grabar also became an art historian, with a special interest in Islamic art.
André Nicolaevitch Grabar was born in the Ukraine on July 26, 1896, at Kiev (at that time part of the Russian Empire). He was educated in Kiev and at first thought of becoming an artist, joining the studio of a Kiev painter on leaving school. Deciding that he did not have sufficient talent he turned to the study of art history, although he remained an amateur painter. He began his university studies in Kiev, moving to St. Petersburg (then known as Petrograd) in 1915. While there he began to think about the connection between religious life and art, which would become his life's work. Discussing the connection between the Orthodox Christian faith and conservative aesthetics of the creators of Christian icons, Grabar explained, "Their role can be compared to that of musical performers in our day, who do not feel that their importance is diminished by the fact that they limit their talent to the interpretation of other people's work, since each interpretation contains original nuances." He left St. Petersburg in November 1917, a few days after the Bolsheviks seized power in the October Revolution, and completed his studies at Odessa, Ukraine, in 1919.
Grabar realized it would not be possible for him to pursue his career in what was becoming the Soviet Union and he left for Sofia, Bulgaria in January 1920. He spent three years surveying the medieval monuments of the country for the National Museum, often in "harsh conditions". He took many trips through the countryside, often by donkey or on foot.
He moved to Strasbourg, France in 1922, first teaching the Russian language. He married Julie Ivanova (whom he had met in Bulgaria) in 1923; she was a medical doctor. He earned a Ph. D. at the University of Strasbourg in 1928, and taught art history there until 1937. He wrote his books in the French language, but many of his more than 30 titles were translated into English and other languages.
From 1937 to 1958 he became the center of a school of young art historians, as a Director of Studies in Christian Archaeology at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (1937-1946) and as a professor at the Collège de France (1946-1958).
In 1958 Grabar moved to the United States, becoming a central figure at the Dumbarton Oaks Institute of Harvard University. He was a research professor at Dumbarton Oaks from 1950 to 1964. In 1961 he gave the A. W. Mellon lectures in the Fine Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, published as Christian Iconography: A Study of Its Origins (1968). He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He died in Paris on October 3, 1990.
Andre Grabar's papers are part of the Dumbarton Oaks collection.
- L'Eglise de Boiana (1924)
- La peinture religieuse en Bulgarie (1928)
- Recherche sur les Influences Orientales dans l'Art Balkanique (1928)
- La Sainte Face de Laon (1936)
- Martyrium (1943, 1946)
- La Peinture byzantine (1953)
- Byzantine Painting: Historical and Critical Study (1953. Geneva: Skira)
- L'Iconoclasme (1957)
- Early Medieval Painting from the Fourth to the Eleventh Century: Mosaics and Mural Painting (1957. New York: Skira)
- Ampoules de Terre Sainte (Monza, Bobbio) (1958. Paris, C. Klincksieck) (The standard monograph, with 61 photographs and 70 pages of commentary.) (See Leroy review, below.)
- Romanesque Painting from the Eleventh to the Thirteenth Century (1958. New York: Skira)
- Byzantine and Early Medieval Painting (1965. New York: Viking Press)
- The Beginnings of Christian Art, 200-395 (=Arts of Mankind; 9) (1967. London: Thames & Hudson)
- Christian Iconography: a Study of its Origins, A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1961. (1968. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U.P.)
- Leroy, Jules, Review of André Grabar Les Ampoules de Terre Sainte, Syria. Archéologie, Art et histoire, Vol 36, 1959 (in French)
- "The figure (…) is an allegory of Christ as the shepherd" André Grabar, "Christian iconography, a study of its origins", ISBN 0-691-01830-8
- Lawrence S. Cunningham; John J. Reich (2009). Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities. Cengage. p. 167.
There is another reason that Byzantine aesthetics seem so changeless over the centuries. From the time of Justinian (and even more so after controversies of the eighth and ninth centuries), Byzantine art was intimately tied to the theology and liturgical practices of the Orthodox Church...Because of the innate conservatism of the theological tradition, innovation either in theology or in art was discouraged.
- Maguire, p. xii
- Gilbert Dragon. "André Grabar: 26 juillet 1896 - 3 octobre 1990" (PDF). Collège de France. Archived (PDF) from the original on 28 December 2010. Retrieved January 19, 2011.
André Grabar tint école à Paris, où il forma de nombreux historiens de l'art français, yougoslaves, bulgares, grecs, et où il initia à l'étude des documents figurés tous les archéologues ou historiens de Byzance de ma génération.
- "Dictionary of Art Historians: André Grabar". Lee Sorenson. Retrieved 2011-01-20.
The Johns Hopkins medievalist Henry Maguire (b. 1943) characterized Grabar's methodology as synthetic, weaving theology, liturgy and political ideology into his studies of Byzantine art in contrast to the formalistic research of earlier historians. The renewed interest (and accessibility) in the art and monuments of eastern Europe after World War II helped Grabar's work reach a vast scholarly audience, particularly in the United States which was undergoing a methodological shift. The role of the cult in the formation of Christian art; the interrelationship with the Islamic world with the west and general relations between East and West were the hallmarks of his scholarship.
- "Andre Grabar". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. October 9, 1990. Retrieved January 19, 2011.
He wrote more than thirty books on the early and medieval art of Crete, Italy, France, Bulgaria, and Turkey. He gave the A. W. Mellon lectures in Fine Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1961. They were later turned into a book, Christian Iconography: A Study of Its Origins.
- Alfonso A. Narvaez (October 9, 1990). "Andre Grabar, 94 Professor and Expert on Byzantine Art". New York Times. Retrieved January 19, 2011.
- "Institutional Archives". Dumbarton Oaks Research LIbrary collections. Retrieved January 19, 2011.
- Maguire, Henry. 'André Grabar, 1896-1990', in Dumbarton Oaks Papers; 45 (1991), pp. xii-xv JSTOR