Anthony Cutler

Oral History Interview with Anthony Cutler, undertaken by Gudrun Buehl and Alice-Mary Talbot at the Dumbarton Oaks Guest House (Fellows’ Building) on August 14, 2009. At Dumbarton Oaks, Tony Cutler was a Research Fellow (1975–1976), a Fellow (1982–1983, and 1989–1990, and 1998–1999), and a Visiting Scholar (2013–2014) in Byzantine Studies.

GB: Actually, I have a suggestion now because I mean we have questions but I think we really – and we’ll ask questions but it’s not an interrogation to any of us, of course not. We want really to, of course, talk to you and hear your recollections and your memories and maybe re-sort it a little bit so we go maybe chronologically through –

AC: Trouble is, I am an art historian so my awareness of time ends in the fifteenth century. So, don’t ask me what year something happened in.

AMT: No, we have dates for you so we can tell you when you did what.

GB: And although we are talking about Dumbarton Oaks and we are here at Dumbarton Oaks I thought that if you would not mind, if you would like to give us a little bit kind of a backup on your life, about becoming a Byzantine artist, or just an art historian because I know that you have had early in your life stays in Italy. You went to Naples in the 50s, you went then to Yugoslavia in the early 60s. And I was kind of wondering about this early interest –

AC: The early days.

GB: – in discovering what, that’s my question – cultures, history, a specific institution in Naples? Did you – ?

AC: Oh, it goes back even before that. My conversion to being a Byzantinist was at school, at St. Paul’s in London, where my history teacher was Phillip Whitting, whose name you may not know, but he was then one of the great collectors of Byzantine coins. And in a class of about eight or ten people I was really the only one who got turned on to his coins. And we both loved cats. That was another thing we had in combination. Have you met the new cat?

GB: I’ve heard about him.

AC: It’s a wonderful cat, wonderful cat. Anyway, and so perhaps as a result of our mutual interest in cats or coins, I don’t know, he recommended me for a scholarship to go to Cambridge, which I won and I went up to Trinity and then worked for reasons I still don’t understand on modern Italian history. I think I once told you this. And I was working on what in a sense would be the master’s thesis equivalent, was art under fascism and I had a terrible supervisor. Terrible in the sense that he was extremely narrow. A man named Denis Mack Smith, who’d written a famous biography of Garibaldi and Cavour and I hated that. Because I was a member of Trinity, Steven Runciman took me under his wing. Runciman was a Fellow of Trinity and sort of reinforced what Phillip Whitting had taught me. And Runciman really taught me to write. I mean, Runciman as you know was a great stylist, what everyone thinks of his historiography – and Alexander used to thunder against Runciman – but anyway he really thought me to write and I think to think historically. So, it had all happened long before I went to Naples. And in Naples, this was six years, seven years perhaps after the war. And Naples was an open city, Naples was a catastrophe, even that long after the war. And there was nowhere to live. I was attached to something called the Istituto Croce which was a political institute at the University but there was nowhere to live because so many buildings fell completely, shattered. And so, they put me to live in a Casa delle Studente, a student house, which was a woman’s house. There was still complete sexual segregation. And there was I, this lone, timid Englishman in this house full of non-apprentices. There must be a technical term.

AMT: Novices.

AC: Novice. Male and female. Okay, novices. And it was very, very strange experience. It was so strange even for the mother superior that she decided that the only way to balance things was to get more men to stay in the house, other people, Italians from the institute. And it was a total surreal experience because all of these young men were communists, they were members of the CPI and the only thing they would use Naples for was not for studying but for going to the bordellos. And when I say Naples was a disaster, it really was. People were on the street offering their sisters or daughters for packs of cigarettes. And the bordello was the great purpose of the week I’d never been to a bordello and they dragged me along. I’m not going into that. But not only were the living conditions appalling but it was freezing because the houses in Naples were not heated and the temperature was much I suppose like it is today but without any heat. So, I fled. I said I can’t stand this anymore so about four or five months into my fellowship at the Institute I went to Sicily. And there began this romance which continued even thus, last night in a sense. And all that Whitting had taught me and Runciman, you know, who wrote this famous book on the Sicilian Vespers, had taught me kind of flooded back and was made real by my experience of these churches and palaces and so on and so on. And this was the first place I’d ever seen where there were lemons actually growing on trees. And this to me was a sort of revelation. It was an ecstatic experience and so I spent the rest of the year in Sicily, bumming around, going walkabout and never went back to Naples. This is pre-D.O. Almost before anything else. I forget what your question was.

GB: I was kind of wondering if these early stays in an environment which could have brought you closer or actually in contact with the Byzantine realm, if that was influential to your later choices.

AC: It was determinative, not just influential. And then I came back to England and there were no jobs for academics at all, especially for Byzantine art historians. As I told you I was taught by Runciman, so the only art historian was David Talbot Rice at Edinburgh and I wasn’t going to go the hell up to Edinburgh. But Rice was very kind, very gentle. Did you ever meet Talbot Rice?

AMT: No. Even though people think we’re related I never even met here.

AC: Really? Wonderful, wonderful man. Not a great art historian but a very nice man, and he arranged for me to get another fellowship – I mean these were the days one went from fellowship to fellowship – in Belgrade. And so, I went to this Institute of Art History at Belgrade University to work with a man named Svetozar Radojčić whose name is still legendary in Serbia. Except that we had a problem that I didn’t – in those first weeks or months – didn’t understand Serbian and he didn’t understand English. So, we had this series of surrealist conversations in which I spoke very bad Italian to him and he spoke even worse French to me. So, the level of communication, somehow, was absolutely fundamental. But when we understood each other well enough he said to me and my wife, I was recently married, you shouldn’t be here sitting in your damp basement in this flat – they gave us in basement in Belgrade – you should go out into the field. And so Aalo and I took, actually brought a horrible little English car with us from London and spent four or five months touring the monasteries of Serbia and Macedonia and this too was a formative experience. It was my first encounter, outside of Sicily, it was my first encounter with Byzantine art in the flesh, if I may put it that way. And conditions were terrible but Aalo was prepared to put up with them. And then having done that I came back and was admitted to Emory and wrote a dissertation, a sort of comparative study, dreadful thing, absolutely. And I’m appalled to find that this is in the library here. So, a comparative study of Italian and Serbian uses, in quotes, of Byzantine art. But this was sort – Rob Eddington, he said, yes long afterwards, he’d tell me it’s a terrible book but you inspired the idea of appropriation in me and it was really sort of the germ of the whole idea of – I’m sure he didn’t use the word but Rob’s –

AMT:  Yeah. So, tell me, you described how there was virtually no art historians in England but why the United States and not some place else?

AC: Simply because there were art historians. At Emory there was no Byzantine art historian and the art history department was virtually nothing and so I actually did my Ph.D. in a section in something called Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts where my advisers were Bob Scranton, who was a classicist but was a classicist who was mostly interested in late antique and Byzantine things, and very interesting. And a medievalist, medieval English historian named George Kupno. And they were the two people who signed off on my dissertation even though neither knew anything about what I was writing about. Those were the easy days. I mean, I got lots of friendship and no useful advice from either of them and hence the miserable quality of this dissertation. But then they asked me to stay on and teach medieval art history at Emory and I did. Until one day the Chairman at Penn State rang me up and said just like, I’m looking for a medieval architectural historian. I said, well you’ve got the wrong chap, I’m not an architectural historian.  He said, yeah but you published this article in JSAH, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, about the modern American uses of Hagia Sophia as a model. And I said, yeah but that just a one-off, that was a caprice and he said, well they published it, that’s good enough for us. Would you like a job here?  I thought what the hell do I want to go to Pennsylvania for? Anyway, he prevailed upon me to go up to University Park, which in those days, this was long before an interstate highway ran through Pennsylvania and Aalo came and we drove over this cow track. I mean it was a road like the roads were in Yugoslavia and arrived at this enclave of culture, I suppose you could say. And I gave my talk to a totally bewildered audience of Penn State undergraduates and graduate students and there was no reception afterwards, which I thought was very strange. I mean there are certain ways of doing these things, not always as nice as it is here but – He said, okay, come home, we’ll have a drink. So, Aalo and I sat there sipping these malted whiskey and in the middle of the conversation he said, I asked you, do you want a job? I said, well I answered that, I don’t want a job in Central Pennsylvania where it takes hours just to reach anywhere. And he said, well how much are they paying you at Emory? So, I told him and he said, I’ll double it and this was without any faculty consultation at all. I didn’t meet a dean, I didn’t meet a president, I was just appointed on the spot. And in the good old days they would even pay for the removal of one’s library and I already had a huge Byzantinist library and they paid for that and we went off. I asked for one semester’s delay because I’d promised Aalo that we would go to Gotland in the Baltic Sea where there are traces at least of Byzantinizing wall paintings and we spent a marvelous semester on Gotland. And then I took up the job at Penn State and except for visiting professorships I’ve been there ever since. This was – I can’t even – you may have the C.V. I don’t know, I can’t remember the year.

AMT: ‘67.

AC:  ’67, yeah, that’s about right.

AMT: Forty-one years.

AC: And so far they haven’t even offered to buy me out, which I’m sure the dean would love. I mean she can hire three assistant professors with what they pay me.

GB: You knew exactly what they were looking for, and you at that time were already specialized in Byzantine art history, which of course, teaching there as the professor of art history is not what you would do exclusively but you have since then really developed, of course. You at that time were not a specialist in ivory, you had a different –

AC: No, I was a painting man. I’d worked on mosaics and wall painting in Sicily and then in Gotland and so on. And Grabar, André asked me if – he said we need a volume in the series. It was still then his series, the Bibliothèque des Cahiers Archéologiques – would I do the volume on what we then called Aristocratic Psalters and I was savvy enough even though I was a fairly new boy to understand that in America success or at least progress was written in terms of publications. So, I agreed to do this and the result was that infamous book called The Aristocratic Psalters in Byzantium which John Lowden, a very young man at that time, quite properly panned in a review in the Art Bulletin because John – who knows more about Byzantine manuscripts I think than certainly any British art historian alive – John had had the insight, the revelation that these old distinctions between the marginal psalters, the Corrigan territory, and the aristocratic psalters, that this was a completely artificial firewall between them and that the whole corpus needs to be looked at as a corpus. This was the point of John’s review and he’s absolutely, absolutely correct and nobody nowadays, maybe Kathleen still talks about marginal psalters, but she may be the only one who does. And it was only when I developed in the course of that research an allergy to parchment, I don’t know if I told you I’m allergic to parchment.

AMT: Literally?

AC: Yes, literally.

AMT: Really?

AC: My skin itches now whenever I touch parchment, and so I had to find a new field.

AMT: Before we get to the ivories we just want to finish up a topic. I think we’re now approaching the moment when you must have first had encounters with Dumbarton Oaks.

AC: Yes.

AMT: So, could you tell us, did you first come here for a symposium? Or why did you first come here?

AC: I came first because Runciman wrote a note to Kitzinger and he said, there’s this boy who’s coming to the States, and you might be interested in him. And Kitzinger very nicely sent me a note, which I think I still have, to Emory, inviting me to come up here and a few weeks or months, I can’t remember. Later there came one of these copper plate invitations to a symposium. This was in the grand old days when one was invited.

GB: By invite only. Oh yes, certainly.

AC: And I remember this extraordinary experience so thoroughly un-American, at least in terms of my experience, of lunching. I don’t remember anything about the symposium but what I remember is sitting on the terrace eating lobster newburg, which was served to us, and of course I was living in Georgia at the time, I was highly sensitive to these things, which was served. I remember the hands coming in front of me which were in white gloves and above the white gloves you could see a black wrist and we were served in this way. I once told Angeliki his story as a way of criticizing the god-awful box lunches that she had instituted, then being served at the symposium, which were really terrible and I can’t remember whether we paid for the box lunches but I certainly did not pay for my lunch. Because those were the old elitist days where who attended the symposium was invited guests, and it was a very restricted list, and I felt very, very deeply honored and I mean that sincerely to be present, to be invited and to listen to these great men. I’m not sure if it was at that symposium or one of the two first visits, maybe I’m conflating things. I came – yes, I know, I know. Kitzinger invited me to a symposium and this is a bit muddled in my mind but I got on the train in Atlanta to come to Washington, and unless I am making a bad mistake Georgia was on a different time zone from Washington. It wasn’t this sort of slice thing that it is now, and I arrived an hour after the symposium began and walked through the corridor and one of the housemen – well, you turn left and I turned left too soon and it was completely dark and there was a voice with a strong German accent mumbling in the background obviously reading a paper. And I walked into the back of the screen and so fought my way out to one side or another when I thought that people in the Music Room would be casting stones at the intruder, and instead Otto Demus, who was one of the most civilized art historians I’ve ever met, stopped in the course of his paper, smiled at me and said welcome, Dr. Cutler. It was incredible.

AMT: What a difference.

AC: And that was how I entered the big world.

AMT: Probably literally in the spotlight with projectors shining on the screen.

GB: This actually makes me wonder if you would like to describe a little bit this atmosphere of exchange of symposium at that time and, of course, I know nowadays. What was the scholarly exchange? Was it very formal? Was it very encouraging for young, promising scholars entering this circle? How did you feel?

AC: It was not encouraging at all. It was not encouraging at all. I mean one was made painfully conscious of the hierarchical system and on that occasion, I think Kitzinger made no bones about being shocked I was an hour late, he had personally invited me, invited me to the symposium, I had been stupid enough to arrive an hour late. This was my fault, it was offensive. I mean did you ever know Kitzinger? He was absolutely sort of punctilious, yes. And to him this was the sin against the Holy Ghost, not to have arrived on time. And I remember early that evening after the afternoon papers he summoned me to his room, which was where Glenn Ruby used to – you remember?

GB: His office.

AC: Where Glenn’s office was. That was Ernst’s office at the time. And because Kitzinger’s approach to art history was utterly opposed to mine, I mean he was the style analyst par excellence, very good at that except I was totally unsympathetic to that approach, he was totally unsympathetic to mine then novel contextual, historical approach. I mean, I really wasn’t – except to some extent by Radojčić – I was trained as a historian I was not trained as an art historian. And I think still, still that must show because I know that a number of art historians, who shall remain nameless, but you know the name of one of them, this lady in Germany, who think I do art history without the history of style, without considering the stylistic qualities and indeed to a large extent I do and this is very connected to ivory where I insist that notions of style or aspects of style, style itself as a concept is grounded in the material object, in carving technique and so on and so on. And style is part of what Marx would call the superstructure, and so Ernst and I never, never got on at all. And then we had at most half an hour’s conversation and I was told by others that when one had this kind of entry level interview with Kitzinger it lasted about two hours and it was a very, very serious conversation. But we had enough to talk about for twenty minutes before we realized we were on totally different pages, and he didn’t know what to make of my contextual approach, my interests, and my training as a historian. And so he pushed me off to Milton Anastos, who was up in the new studies. They don’t exist –

AMT: We still use those, yes.

AC: Okay, good. And Anastos and I had a much more interesting conversation than I had with Kitzinger, and Anastos said well, I don’t fully understand what you do but I’m going to put you on the list of potential Junior Fellows. You must still apply but I can assure you if you – He didn’t put it this candidly, but in essence it was clearly this hierarchical system that I speak of – it depended upon favoritism, it depended upon being accepted as a member of the elite or not.

AMT: And who your teacher was.

AC: And who your teacher was. Indeed, indeed. Very much so. Sorry, I’m misrepresenting this because that was a later stage. You did not apply in those days, you were invited to apply and Kitzinger who then, I mean as opposed to the growing size of the administration now, Kitzinger himself, Kitzinger and Fanny did all the correspondence themselves and Kitzinger apparently had written a letter to me when I was in Yugoslavia inviting me to apply for a Junior Fellowship. But that letter never reached me because I was in Belgrade and he had written “Anthony Cutler,” which of course to somebody who reads only Cyrillic was an absolute nonsense. And I was waiting, and Aalo and I would go down to the post everyday waiting for this letter, and I would say “Cutler” and they would look up kappa, alpha, tau etcetera and then it finally turned out much later that the letter to me was filed under Sutler, so I never got a Junior Fellowship here, to cut a long story short.

AMT: So, then you finally got a fellowship in the mid-70s. It was called a Visiting Fellowship.

AC: Probably.

AMT: And you were working on the Aristocratic Psalters, the book.

AC: Right. Yeah, I think that’s it.

AMT: So, that was your first goal.

AC: In the field of manuscripts, I think some articles. I’d published some articles on numismatics and a couple on paintings but that was the first real encounter with – And if you think about it now – the cheek, the nerve of writing a book about illuminated manuscripts if you’ve never even published an article on illuminated – but anyway Grabar was so encouraging and so protective and so on.

GB: Yeah, you mentioned Grabar before, we heard from you about the invitation from Kitzinger. So, you were already kind of connected, I mean I say this with the nowadays understanding that you’re connected, networking and Dumbarton Oaks as an institute has to encourage it because the specialized research in this institute – understand and encourage that build up of networking. At that time you kind of had already had your relationships to people like André Grabar before arriving here.

AC: Yes. Certainly before the mid-70s or whenever this first fellowship was.

GB: Yes. But you knew about Dumbarton Oaks as an institution before, of course, because of the work which has been done and published here.

AC: Of course. Right.

GB: And André Grabar?

AC: Well, Grabar had this very ambivalent attitude towards Dumbarton Oaks and especially towards Weitzmann, and even Grabar and Kitzinger did not get on very well. These were the days in which, perhaps because the pie was so small, I don’t know why, but it was much more personal. It was much less objective. Judgments on one’s work were as much personal as they were professional or objective. And a great deal depended upon not who you know but, and you put your finger on it a moment ago, that is who taught you, who trained you. And of course, the dislikes carried over were to the students. It was a very European atmosphere even here. It was absolutely non-democratic and it was highly judgmental. And it was predicated upon the existence of this pantheon group which was Kitzinger, Denys, Sessions, Ihor Ševčenko, so on. And that was about it. I mean they ruled the roost and they shaped our studies for good and ill, I think.

GB: While you were here ’75–’76 as a Fellow, here living on site, where did you live, by the way? At that time there was no Fellows’ Building.

AC: There was a Fellows’ Building, but there was no La Quercia, of course. Where did we live?

AMT: You lived on Wisconsin Avenue?

AC: That’s right. Dumbarton Oaks as a slum landlord. This is one of my favorite stories. Gary was here at the time and Aalo and I and our cat lived in one apartment and Gary and whatever Gary’s wife name is, I can’t remember her name.

AMT: Ilana.

AC: Ilana. Yes. Lived next door or perhaps two flats down and it was terrible. It was awful. It was like being back in the basement in Belgrade. For example, we saw seepage in the ceiling and Aalo was very, very nervous having endured Yugoslavia and having that battle, having endured the Russians and Italians. And she said, I don’t like this, let’s go. And I said, no, no look this is ridiculous, Harvard University looks after this place and I’m not going, this is a wonderful, marvelous library and so on. And one day I came back, walked up to McLean Gardens and Aalo was sitting on the floor outside the flat sobbing. And I said what happened and the door was opened and the entire ceiling had collapsed on our cat, on all of our clothes and everything. And I mean McLean Gardens should –

AMT: Oh it was McLean Gardens not Sherry Hall?

AC: No, no. McLean Gardens. Sherry had its own problem, mostly little crawly ones.

AMT: Yes, I lived there too.

AC:  And Sherry Gardens...

AMT: Was your cat killed?

AC: It wasn’t killed but it was totally – it eventually had to be put down because it had been, if one could say emotionally shattered, but it had destroyed its – We essentially lost our cat because of the collapse. I nearly lost my wife because of the collapsed ceiling, but anyway. I spent some time in Sherry Hall, which I actually liked even though there were cockroaches. And I liked it most because Julia – did you ever know Julia Warner?

GB: No.

AC: Julia is one of the great – I hope she figures largely in the oral history.

AMT: Well, she doesn’t very much because mostly the only person who would have known her would have been Ševčenko.

AC: I see. Well, Julia, I can’t go into details or background, was one of the most civilized persons, certainly the most civilized editor I have ever come upon. And she was responsible almost single handedly for D.O.P. There was no editorial board, Ernst decided what went into D.O.P. and what didn’t. And he and Fanny Bonajuto and Julia really ran the place. There was one – and Fanny was Ernst’s sort of assistant. Together they handled all of the correspondence, all of the Byzantine correspondence, they ran the show. And then in another, in the stratosphere there were people like John Thacher and so on and so on. But I had very, very little to do with them. Although at one point Thatcher called me in, very near the seed of my interest in ivory, he was about to acquire, I forget which ivory it was. Maybe it was the cutout –

GB: That was earlier. ’37.

AC: ’37. Okay. Anyway, he wanted my opinion on this. I didn’t at that time know, I knew almost nothing about ivory carving. But Thacher liked to talk to people about objects he was acquiring.

AMT: But now tell me by 1975–1976 when Kitzinger was gone it was what? Giles hadn’t quite come in yet.

AC: Giles hadn’t come. Bill Loerke was there.

AMT: William Tyler was the Director and Bill Loerke was still the Director of Studies. So, it was already a very different era.

AC: It was very different. And –

AMT: Ševčenko and Cyril had left.

AC: Right. And Cyril would drop in on occasion but he was established in London. It was totally different. And it was rather unpleasant, frankly. I’m not sure this should go on camera. Maybe I won’t tell this story. But people were very nasty about Loerke and somebody who must remain nameless said well, if they’re going to appoint a truck driver as Director of Studies, what do you expect? And Bill Loerke was a kind of massive man with thick wrists and so on and so on. Very opposite of Ernst’s svelte – It was rather unpleasant. But the old ways still persisted. And one of the nicest people I knew was here in the 70s, was Alexis De Boeck, who was a painter even though he was I suppose technically a House Man. I don’t know. But he was very supportive in his own way. And I don’t mean this in a kind of fake, modern sense. He actually supported my work and the work of others. And he brought us our mail to the office everyday and he would come in and say, is there anything you’d like from the library? And he didn’t mean upstairs, he meant the Library of Congress. And if there was something you wanted from the Library of Congress he would go down to the Library of Congress twice a week and bring it to you. And in those days – and he would handle your outgoing mail and your incoming mail and there was none of this stuff about you’ll have to make the trek down to whatever the 31st Street or – So, it was a very different world still in the 70s and then the scourge of god, Giles Constable, moved in and cleaned it all out. You know, democratized it in ways both very useful and also to some extent silly. And it was in those days under Giles that we finally got our first copy machine. I think I told you once how Giles said to me, “the monks said you needed to have a Xerox machine, why do you need one?” Okay. All this was – And then he had other strange ideas. The strangest was that the House Men should eat with us, which of course we didn’t mind. But the House Men hated it, they wanted to be down in the basement and that I suppose that social experiment in social engineering lasted about a year. But it was Giles who for good and ill really modernized, transformed Dumbarton Oaks. 

GB: That must have been the early ‘80s already, is that right?

AMT: No, he was – it was’76 to ’84 that Giles was here.

GB: Yeah, I mean that was then your second fellowship.

AMT: Yes, exactly.

GB: Yes, and you were here ‘82?

AC: I have no idea of the years, I’m afraid.

AMT and GB: ’82–’83.

AMT: Towards the end of Giles’ tenure.

GB: Yeah.

AMT: So, he’d already made the major changes, like renovating this building, putting in air conditioning, which was a fabulous –

AC: Yeah, which also caused huge problems.

AMT: But that made it possible to have summer fellowships and all.

AC: That’s right.

AMT: It wasn’t for years in the institution that we had air conditioning.

AC: You heard the story. I mean my favorite story about the air conditioning was Kurt and Josepha Weitzmann living upstairs here. I don’t think in connection with symposium but in those days speakers at the symposium, and this I think still is a good idea even if it’s financially impossible now, scholars were invited to stay for three months or so and converse with the other paper givers. And so that people weren’t giving papers unheard of or unseen or unknown to their fellow speakers. But the whole thing had been a product of collusion, and I used that in a positive sense, in the three months cooperation would be nice, in the three months before the symposium. So, the symposiums themselves were of a totally different order. But anyway Weitzmann was here and one day I came back here and Josephita was standing in this room screaming. She was a small, very large lunged, powerful little Russian woman and was incomprehensible especially when she was screaming. And she said, what I finally understood, they are killing my coat and they were killing the coat by virtue of the air conditioning, and she demanded that throughout the Fellows’ Building this new fangled thing be switched off. And of course, because the hierarchy to some extent still maintained when Weitzmann wanted the air conditioning off, off the air conditioning went. So, everybody roasted that September or whatever. But Weitzmann’s whole relationship with Dumbarton Oaks is very – and they both left and Josephita said, do you know where Princeton is? And of course I knew where Princeton was. You have a car, Anthony, don’t you? Tomorrow you will drive us to Princeton. And so I drove them to Princeton and was not allowed to have any air conditioning in the car at all. And I was amazed at how this great man lived in Princeton. I mean this doesn’t concern the history of Dumbarton Oaks, but it’s sort of interesting. In this incredibly austere flat on National Street. I guess it was a three- or four-bedroom flat. Most of the bedrooms were full of books. And they would eat at a really horrible place which Gary knows much better than I do.

AMT: The Annex.

AC: The Annex, yes. You know the Annex, and you’ve been to the Annex.

AMT: I’ve been there.

AC: But I mean it’s okay for you and me to eat there but for the Weitzmann –

AMT: They ate there everyday.

AC: Everyday. And I was quite astonished. I don’t know quite what I expected, but I did not expect them to eat lunch or dinner, whatever it was, at the Annex. So yeah, I’m just rambling.

GB: No, actually, of course, talking about Weitzmann and again I have to come back to ivory.

AMT: It leads perfectly.

AC: Well, let me say. Before you move on to ivories let me just tell you. I was talking about the relationship between the great men in the field. And after Grabar asked me to do the aristocratic psalters I went to Weitzmann to look at his photographs, which in those days – nasty black and white photographs, most of which he’d taken himself – in the famous cage at Princeton. And because I was doing this for Grabar, Weitzmann would have absolutely none of it. And I remember later he mellowed but I remember him looking me in the eye saying I can’t stop you, but I’m not going to help you. Because Gary and Herb and Massimo, perhaps, I’m not sure, but his pupils were to possess the field of Byzantine manuscripts. And here I was an eloper, intruder, interloper from outside and anyway he never helped at all. I don’t know that he ever actively obstructed anything that I was doing but he was a very tough man in those days, very tough indeed. Anyway, sorry.

GB: That was almost my question because I was about to ask you about Weitzmann and your waking interest at this time in ivory. If you had any exchange in this respect, if there was something, yeah, could you see him working and developing his materials still at that time working for Dumbarton Oaks actually, of course, on the ivory –

AC: I did, except –

GB: – or did you miss each other in a way in this respect?

AC: Did we what?

GB: Did you miss each other in the ivory theme? Had he been done at that time that you started or was it – ?

AC: I could talk to Weitzmann a bit more about ivories because before he took on the D.O. project he had – you know he did his thesis on ivories with Goldschmidt and was then deep into manuscripts. So, ivories were in a sense neutral territory and we could talk about ivories except again as with – and this is probably my fault, certainly the fault of my training. It was totally autonomous sort of activity. I mean Weitzmann invented the idea that all Byzantine ivories depended directly on Byzantine manuscript illumination, which is a proposition for which there is indeed very, very little support. And I saw no reason why, it seemed to be absurd that men who sit working with their hands at the work bench would have a copy of Genesis beside them. And so I rejected his underlying thesis entirely. And I must say I think that if any book in the D.O. catalogue series should be rewritten it should be that ivory catalogue. I think it’s a catastrophe because it doesn’t take account of history. And the classic example is the so called Cantacuzene pyxis which Weitzmann got entirely wrong, and then Nicolas came along and showed how it should be dated and the context in which it applies, and Nicolas and I helped each other on this. And Nicolas got it right and Weitzmann had it completely wrong. But the method of argumentation concerning the pyxis is the method that runs through that entire volume. And if anything, any D.O. catalogue shows its age it is that. I mean you may think that Ross’s catalogues, they do indeed show their age but they are not hopeless in the way that I regard that ivory volume.

GB: Well certainly because of the incredible step forward and the change of approach in thinking with regards as you said to the manufacturing process of the carving that is not at all of course on his mind.

AC: Right.

GB: That was what you developed. And that actually put forth in the ‘80s, of course. I do have a specific question about the early ‘80s. Maybe you can just – the ‘80s called you back to work on the Dumbarton Oaks ivories.

AC: But there was one you must know, if you’re interested in my personal history, there was one intervening experience of mine that made all of the difference and permanently created this gulf between the Weitzmannian approach and the Cutlerian: that Grabar was at the time – Oleg, I hadn’t even met Oleg at that time – Grabar introduced me in Paris to a man named Gragiu, Emile Gragiu, who was an ivory carver and I went in day after day week after work to Gragiu’s studio and watched him carving, cutting up tusks and carving ivory and after time he made me do my own sawing of tusks. And this is where this kind of material, this basis that I have, came from and I learned virtually everything I know about ivory from Gragiu and absolutely nothing from Kurt Weitzmann, I must say that. Sorry. But that is for me a very important stage.

GB: Oh, yeah, it’s interesting because you described your being educated or in the beginning being a historian and now seeing you interested in the proper raw material.

AC: I think it’s part of history.

GB: Oh, it is part of history. And it should be part of art history. It is not and I now understood quite well that it is indeed the basic study of art history. But that was not the Weitzmann approach, indeed. In a way it was better with where the pieces were and not really what they were made of. And that’s why for example bone/ivory question did not really pick up. But you came back or you worked on the Dumbarton Oaks ivories specifically with this point of view and then the book in 1984 was published.

AMT: And we wanted to ask, was that in connection with an exhibit too?

AC: See, well, I can’t remember whether that or the exhibit came first. But I remember that exhibit was in the corridor. And Philip Grierson, who is a good friend, was quite shocked at the labels which I had written. In those days, one wrote one’s own labels, which he dismissed as totally generalizing. He wanted labels that talked about the specific object rather than grandiose generalizations about the variability of ivory or the nature of ivory. He wanted – I mean Philip was much more of a focused historian than I am, and focusing on the single phenomenon and he liked the little book but he didn’t like the exhibit at all. But there were these wonderful, wonderful objects with nobody, in my view, having said anything useful about them. So, it was a – and nobody was working on ivory. Bob Bergman was the only person who had worked, I think the only person, maybe a couple of others. But the field of ivory, at least in my point of view, was virgin territory. And I saw that and decided to shift from these nasty bits of animal skin that made my skin itch and work on these beautiful –

AMT: And I just read this morning in the introduction to this craft of ivory that Joe Mills was involved –

AC: Joe Mills. Indeed.

GB: Photographs. Well, we could go on. Because this was for you the first step into shifting the research interest and develop them well and really master and listening to Oleg about the collections but I think because of following the chronology you have been in the ‘80s, in the early ‘80s –

AMT: Yes, but for another major event at this talk. And I want to shift the conversation to Alexander Kazhdan who arrived at Dumbarton Oaks in 1979 and I was sort of amazed today to be reminded that your article that you co-authored with Alexander on continuity and discontinuity in Byzantine history appeared in ’82, so that was amazingly sort of soon after he arrived in the United States. And before you’d had your fellowship here it seems. So, I wonder how you first got to meet Alexander and what led you so quickly to this kind of collaboration.

AC: A lot of questions in that. I mean, I presume, I can’t remember, I was visiting here, which in those days I used to do on a very regular basis. And in that room there sat next to him at lunch and I spoke a little Russian and Musya in those days didn’t speak any English at all. And because I spoke a little Russian and because in some ways we were similar persons because he was a historian. I think this was – I was much closer always at D.O. to the historians than I was. I mean Alexander looked after me from that angle. The historians have always been I won’t say kinder, but more sympathetic to my approach. And Cecil too. And so we soon found that even though he was vastly more knowledgeable than I was, that we shared sort of a sympathy of approach. And you’ve heard this story, when the dictionary was just a gleam in his eye, he uttered the famous remark which I’ll never forget. “Tony, you write the art history, I can do everything else.”

AMT: And that’s how it all started.

AC: That’s how it all started. And then we discovered that certain people like Alice-Mary, and Nancy, and Gary in those days before Nancy, were indispensable.

AMT: Those were also the days when he thought that Giles could call up the NEH and they could hand over a million dollars.

AC: Right. Good Russian system. And then I would sleep in the basement of his house, which was also a way of our coming together. His mother was alive and I’ve told this story when I wrote something about Alexander in D.O.P. I can’t remember when.

AMT: For his festschrift.

AC: For the festschrift, that’s right. God, you know my bibliography better than I do. I mean his mother was alive and his mother was an extraordinary person with whom I spoke French at least. She spoke some sort of French. But she would get up at six o’clock in the morning and do gymnastics on the floor directly above the basement in which I was sleeping. And as you know well, I lie in bed a lot in the morning. I’m not used to people making noise at six thirty in the morning. Anyway –

AMT: Could you tell us a little bit more on your observations of the genesis of the dictionary, because you were certainly in on the ground floor with that. And you said that he thought of it initially, perhaps joking, that it was a two person endeavor and it grew tremendously. How did it develop in your early conversations, do you remember?

AC: It was a good deal of friction because in the light of my training I wanted to write the art historical articles historically. I think the adjective or adverb is important there and he wanted to keep, he wanted to do all the history and really didn’t recognize beyond knowing that say that the paintings of Nerezi could be dated to 1164 by description. He really didn’t think of art as having anything to do with history. And here was when I first drafted articles for his approval, was writing articles which were essentially historical. And in those days there was much speculation about who was the patron of Nerezi for example and I would wander into things I still know nothing about and depend on you for topography and so on. And so there was a good deal of friction and this persisted in fact. But it was a creative friction, it wasn’t a personal antipathy, it was a professional –

AMT: Well, this was while you were actually writing the articles. Before that when you were conceiving of –

AC: Well, we had to write – I can’t remember.

AMT: I’m sure you were involved in that, I know you were involved in that.

AC: I was involved but I can’t separate the stages. At some point, probably after you took over, we had to write draft articles of interest for the NEH or something like this.

AMT: For the application.

AC: And I had refused to do these in the way that art history was ‘til that time being done. And this brings up one of the memories that may or may not interest you. When I was – it was my first or second fellowship here, I can’t remember. When Otto was here, Otto applied to the NEH for billions of dollars to do San Marco and for some reason which I can’t remember I coincidentally had been asked to read his proposal. I can’t remember if it was an official invitation of the NEH or whether he had asked me to read. I think perhaps the latter, he’d ask me to read his proposal for the research and the book that he wanted to do and the book he was going to write. I didn’t like his approach at all, which was essentially the Kitzinger approach. It was art history, stylistic history, without paying any real attention to Phonecian history and so on and so on and I was young enough and stupid enough to tell him I didn’t like it. And I did this. He asked me to put this on paper so in a gingerly fashion I wrote my critique of his proposal. I guess this was before it went in. And I gave it to him and he came to my office where Glenn Ruby, and he said Tony, thank you for this. And I said, well I’m sorry I had to be so critical. And he said incredibly, well it was a little harsh. I had totally destroyed the foundation of his work and the claims that art history could do this sort of work, non-historical, autonomous fashion. And he said it was a little harsh but he didn’t ask me to rewrite it.

AMT: And he got the fellowship.

AC: And he got the – but that was not the thing I submitted then to NEH. I wrote a much gentler, still somewhat critical, but he got this huge fellowship to do it. And I think hired Irina to help, I’m not sure. Anyway, sorry. That was it. But it seemed important to get that in because Otto was very much a figure in this circle. I mean, Demus and Buchthal were really sort of the Byzantine gods, the other part of Parnassus, who would come here. And again this is an old man’s memory, but I remember Buchthal coming from I suppose New York or London I’m not sure at the time and being refused entry at the door by one of the House Men and Hugo, who’s very, very susceptible to slights, was rather upset that he’d been denied entry to Dumbarton Oaks. And I went to the House Man and I said, I tried to explain this is Professor Buchthal who’s one of the senior Byzantine art historians, you must let him in. And the guard – and I think this was during Giles’ regime. Giles has just instituted what must have been the first security steps, which is why people who were not known to the guards could not get in. And Buchthal was so rare a visitor that he was not known. But he was very upset that he was not admitted. And after a flurry of telephone calls to Giles’ office, of course, Buchthal was in. I don’t know why – you were saying something that had come to that.

AMT: Well this was all started with Kazhdan.

GB: And the NEH.

AMT: Yeah, the NEH. That’s it, the NEH.

AC: Right, right. Yeah.

AMT: But I remember the meetings we had, especially in the earlier days of the dictionary, where we had tremendous arguments with Alexander about all kinds of things. He had a great difficulty dealing with a democratic approach to meetings and trying to achieve consensus and he just wanted his ideas and he finally just got so fed up he finally would just not come to the meetings.

AC: I think I remember that.

AMT: And said, you all, then just come tell me what you just said. Just got fed up.

AC: I think I remember that.

AMT: Just a waste of my time to sit here and listen to you all argue, he said.

AC: Well, time to him – he had almost a sort of very puritanical attitude towards time. And when he said, “you’re wasting my time,” “oh it’s a waste of my time.” This was a moral charge. And I remember going to the house after dinner or if I was invited to dinner, he would spend twenty minutes of trivial conversation with me and then still in that living room there he would take out a book. He was learning English and he taught himself English essentially from reading Bernard Malamud and he was reading The Natural and he asked me once, he didn’t understand what the word naturals meant, so I explained this is a term in baseball, etc etc. But he would not waste a minute. The time between dinner and bed was to be spent reading, and silly people like Musya and Tony could chatter but he was going to read. And he had this extraordinary attitude towards time. Time was a commodity which could not be wasted. But you share that in some ways. I always remember having lunch here with you and coffee afterwards and you allowed yourself perhaps five maybe ten minutes for coffee and then whiz back to the office. And I wanted to sit and smoke a pipe, and I did indeed sit in this building smoking a pipe until Philip one day said, that’s disgusting, get out of here or something.

AMT: I wanted to ask about another collaboration which evolved out of a Dumbarton Oaks relationship and that is John Nesbitt and the book that you two did. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

AC: That was purely my initiative but again is rooted in this desire to write history instead of art history as it is understood. And I got this invitation, I don’t know which Italian recommended me to do this book, but I was not going to do this without somebody who knew at least aspects of material culture, seals and so on. And I wanted somebody, and Nicolas was the only other person I knew who could do it as a historian and he was of course too busy, so I asked John to collaborate on this. In balance, I don’t remember that John did very much, but anyway it was an important association. And it wasn’t until twenty years later after publication of that book that Massimo Bernabo informed me that the Italian translation was a catastrophe and that it doesn’t say at all what John and I wanted it to say. And the book is now duly forgotten although of course like all sacred artifacts it’s buried up there somewhere in the stacks. Unfortunately, it’s still available but it’s a book of which I’m – when I read Italian now I am deeply ashamed because it quite often says the exact opposite of what I intended.

AMT: Maybe you should publish the English version.

AC: Well, the thing that Spieser and I did together was an attempt in a way, though we were chronologically limited, it does correct some of the grosser errors of the Italian edition.

GB: I was starting to ask a question if you were allowed to smoke your pipe in the garden. And that just came to my mind because one thing I remember you once had told us that you were highly annoyed with the interdisciplinarity you experienced here in Dumbarton Oaks when you were walking with – for example through the gardens of Dumbarton Oaks and this brings me back to the question of your fellowships and your co-Fellows and what you remember. That’s a very broad question but maybe you can try recollecting some of these kinds of talks and conversations that you had with co-Fellows, of course.

AC: I mean the point about the fellowship was and maybe still is was that we really were Fellows, and I mean that not in terms of scholarly intercourse but in terms of human intercourse. The only Fellow with whom I had scholarly intercourse was I think Paul Magdalino and we actually wrote an article together while here on the Lincoln College Typikon but it was not, maybe I don’t know. You would know this much better than I would. It seemed to me that the talks, the 5:30 talks on Tuesdays or Fridays or whatever it was in which people spoke about their disciplines, about their specific work, that this was sort of pointless. Because everybody was focused and was really a narrow specialist and there really was no – I forgot what Jan called it last night where he translated your word Diskurs as conversation or something last night.

GB: Yeah, yeah, I think it was.

AC: It was very strange. I – conversation, I didn’t know what the hell. Anyway, those 5:30 talks were really just this sort of beckoning for Alexander and Angeliki to go at each other using the poor hapless fellow in his talk as a sort of starting point. But they didn’t serve any purpose. But coming back to the fellowship, it was in terms of human contact that they were enormously valuable. And I remember in the evenings with Joachim and Marlene and Margaret and I and a couple of other people would go and have picnics in the evenings in the garden. This was really, this was our new paradise. This was an enchanted time in my life. And then this was all upset by Judy Siggins. Because in those days there were no hours and the guards, the few night guards wandering around, would come over and be civil and talk to us and so on. And then Giles and the hatchet lady instituted these terrible policies, which Alexander made it his business to thwart or attempted to thwart. And the story that I tell when I wrote the introduction to the festschrift volume D.O.P about the swimming pool – did you ever see that? I don’t remember if it was you or Henry or Angeliki but somebody struck out –

AMT: No, it wasn’t me.

AC: No, I don’t think it was you. Somebody struck out – I wrote a paragraph because it seems to me what is missing in festschrift is the human dimension. And I told a story, the anecdote of a party at which you were for Alexander’s sixty-fifth birthday. I’m not sure. We had some wonderful – with his bathtub vodka, and we were drunk out of our minds. Maybe you’d gone home by then. But at midnight or 12:30 or something he said, we’re going swimming. So, we went down to the pool and it was of course locked. So, Alexander duly climbed over the wall and we all followed and we were falling in the pool. Everybody was drunk out of – but it was sort of an heroic occasion in that we were celebrating I don’t know his seventieth birthday or sixtieth birthday. I have no idea what it was. And then in the middle of our sport Judy arrived, having been summoned by the guards to drive us out. And this really seemed, this was the end of that era. And then – this was a seminal date like 9/11 or something. Then D.O. changed. A steep change happened at D.O.

GB: Well which brings me to one of the last points that looking backwards at a very important change was in ’69 when the Blisses, Mildred Bliss, died. And you didn’t know Mildred Bliss then –

AC: Yes. Well, no I mean I –

GB: Mildred actually on this –

AC: Oh, well you want the same old story again?

GB: Sure. Because it’s not the same old story to new ears.

AC: Okay. That’s true. When one came as a visitor to D.O. invited by say Kitzinger or whoever there were no obligations other than that you had to have tea in the Founders’ Room, which I call it. It probably has some other name now.

AMT: It’s still called that.

AC: It’s still called that, okay. And I was told that this was de rigueur and that – growing up as a proper Englishman I had been taught you do not address Her Majesty until she addresses you. And the same ethos prevailed at tea in the Founders’ Room, and that is was a terrible experience to engage in a conversation with Mrs. Bliss and if humanly possible you should try to avoid. And for thirty-five minutes or so I managed to avoid it and go “phew,” and I slithered along the wall as inconspicuously as possible. I guess there were already bookshelves there but I slithered along the bookshelves and began to open the door to go out of the Founders’ Room and I heard the voice from the dais at the other end, or from the throne at the other end. Dr. Cutler, you might not know who I am but I know who you are. And so I was summoned back into the presence to have this completely vacuous conversation about her – fortunately, I could divert the conversation to ivories and objects, which saved us a little bit, and she would say things like “don’t you like my icon?” “Yes, m’am, I think it’s a very fine piece. Of course it is.” This crazy conversation, I mean – it’s almost as if these objects had been made for her rather than she had acquired them through the power of capital and such. Grabar was very contemptuous of her taste or her choice. And he said she picks things for their beauty. I remember he used beauté very contemptuously, he wasn’t interested in beauté. Anyway, so that was my – maybe I met her once again after that but indeed it was, it’s a liquid, the past.

GB: Yeah, the Founders’ Room at that time, you mentioned that maybe there were shelves.

AC: I think there were bookshelves, I can’t remember.

GB: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know when these bookshelves –

AMT: I believe they were put in by Giles Constable. That was turned into a reading room.

GB: Yeah, he was then – it was really –

AC: You’re right. This was much more like a boudoir or something like that.

GB: – that there was really an official tea hour in their private –

AMT: I remember having tea with her in the study so that it must have had a different tradition for different times.

AC: Oh, really? Maybe. I don’t know. Was that before? I don’t know when I –

AMT: It was when I was a Junior Fellow, so it was between ‘66 to ‘67.

AC: And this was one-on-one tea?

AMT: No, it was the Fellows having tea.

AC: But tea was still an institution.

AMT: It was still an institution. She would come once a week for tea. At that point she was really declining but she would come maybe every Friday afternoon. And I remember it being in the study the year I was there. But it makes perfect sense it was in the Founders’ Room at another point.

AC:  I mean that’s why the name seemed to me so enduring, so appropriate. This was the room in which I was, the second in which I remember. My dear, I have to go out and smoke.

GB: Yes, perfect, because we have a four o’clock. I think we had quite an intensive –

AMT: We covered a lot of ground.

GB: Thank you. 

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