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The Edgar Wind Lectures at Dumbarton Oaks, January 1940

Posted On December 17, 2014 | 16:25 pm | by jamesc | Permalink
James N. Carder (January 2015)


Edgar Marcel Wind (1900–1971).

Seventy-five years ago, on January 10–12, 1940, the iconologist Edgar Wind (1900–1971) delivered three lectures at Dumbarton Oaks on the topic of mysticism. The lectures were titled: “The Tradition of Christian Mysticism,” “The Survival of Pagan Mysticism,” and “Mysticism in El Greco.” Although Dumbarton Oaks would not officially open as a research library and collection until November 1940, the Blisses had begun to sponsor scholarly lectures already in 1939 and 1940 in order to establish an intellectual underpinning for the nascent institute in advance of its transfer to Harvard University. These lectures also included Henri Grégoire’s “Constantine and his Period as seen in his Monuments” in January 1939 and Sirarpie der Nersessian’s “Some Aspects of Byzantine Sculpture” in March of that year. Notes were taken at each of these lectures, and typed copies of the notes along with relevant correspondence and other documents are preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives.

In early 1940, the Blisses also seem to have been planning for a scholarly publication, the Dumbarton Oaks Papers. After delivering his three lectures, Edgar Wind wrote the Blisses on January 23:

I am working these three lectures into a paper which I hope will be ready before I leave, so that you can decide whether you want really to publish it as a Dumbarton Oaks Paper, which would please me enormously. But I don’t think you should decide before you have seen it.

This paper, however, appears not to have been finished, and it was not published in Dumbarton Oaks Papers, the first volume of which appeared in 1941. Indeed, on March 29, 1941, Wind wrote John Thacher, first director of Dumbarton Oaks:

I should settle down and write out the three lectures on ‘Mystical Imagery’ which I gave at Dumbarton Oaks. The first, demonstrating the tradition of Christian mysticism, requires some further study of pre-Augustinian theology. For the second paper—on the survival of pagan mysteries in imagery—I have the material fairly well in hand, but it requires sifting and revising. The third paper—on the mysticism of El Greco—is practically ready, except for the actual writing.

In his lecture on Christian mysticism, Wind discussed the Dumbarton Oaks ivory pyxis depicting Moses receiving the Law and Daniel in the lions' den (BZ.1936.22). In the notes taken at this lecture, Wind’s interpretation of the Daniel iconography is recorded as follows:

We see Daniel, two lions, angels, and Daniel is throwing up his hands. This is a mystical reference to resurrection and also to Crucifixion. The two lions represent the two thieves. According to St. Isidore, the mystical image of Daniel signifies the Crucifixion.