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CORNELIUS VERMEULE 1925-2008
Dave Fanning forwarded this December 9th New York Times article on the death of Cornelius Vermeule, author of Numismatic Art in America. -EditorCornelius C. Vermeule III, who over four decades as curator of classical antiquities at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston built a reputation for astute acquisitions, prodigious scholarship and exuberant eccentricity (his office had a working model of Cyprus’s national railroad), died on Nov. 27 in Cambridge, Mass. He was 83.
Dr. Vermeule (the last syllable is pronounced “mule”) took charge of Greek and Roman art in 1956 and breathed life into a classical department then rivaled in the United States only by that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He added new lighting, new cases and a new, eager staff; dreamed up popular exhibitions like “Romans and Barbarians”; acquired hundreds of treasures; and even donated important artifacts himself.
“He blew through those musty old galleries like a fresh wind,” Michael Padgett, curator of ancient art at the Princeton University Art Museum, said in an interview Thursday.
In an interview Friday, Carlos A. Picon, head curator of Greek and Roman art at the Met, lauded Dr. Vermeule’s success in working with his staff to produce what he called an unmatched body of literature on Boston’s classical collection. Dr. Vermeule’s own bibliography listed 800 works and filled 60 printed pages.
As a collector, Dr. Vermeule landed prizes like an exquisite Minoan gold double-ax, and two large fifth-century B.C. kraters, a type of ancient Greek jar. Jerome J. Pollitt, a professor of classical art and archaeology at Yale, said Dr. Vermeule had understood the provenance of art in uncanny detail, especially that from England’s country homes.
“It was almost as if he had been alive since the 17th century,” he said in an interview Friday.
Dr. Vermeule’s personal style bristled with an idiosyncrasy reminiscent of those old-style gentlemen curators who intimately knew their entire collection, hobnobbed with museum trustees, courted rich donors and disdained talk of trivialities like salary. (He drew the line at disdaining pay, explaining that he had too many mouths to feed, particularly those of his Dalmatian dogs, each named for a Roman emperor or empress.)
He favored a single frayed suit, a tie depicting Mickey Mouse as a pharaoh and beat-up white sneakers with black spots in honor of his Dalmatian pack, numbering a half dozen at its peak.
Dr. Vermeule’s own gifts to the museum, including a significant Etruscan statue, were often given under pseudonyms, one being Sir Northwold Nuffler.
Cornelius Clarkson Vermeule III was born on Aug. 10, 1925, in Orange, N.J. He started collecting ancient Roman coins at 9. He interrupted his studies at Harvard to serve in the Army as a Japanese interpreter, then returned to earn his bachelor’s degree in 1949 and master’s in 1951. The University of London awarded him a doctorate in 1953.
To read the complete article, see: Cornelius C. Vermeule III, a Curator of Classical Antiquities, Is Dead at 83 (www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/arts/design/09vermeule.html?
Wayne Homren, Editor
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