Architectural historian James Ackerman, the Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Fine Arts Emeritus, died Saturday in Cambridge. He was 97.
A World War II veteran who discovered a lifelong passion for Renaissance architecture while stationed in Italy, Ackerman was an acclaimed scholar of Renaissance history and the theory of architecture.
“His books were all milestones in the field — books that seem as perfectly balanced as the buildings they interpreted,” said Joseph Koerner, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of the History of Art and Architecture, adding that Ackerman’s mastery as a teacher matched his intellectual genius. “He inspired generations of undergraduates and trained many of America’s leading scholars and museum professionals.”
Born in San Francisco, Ackerman studied the history of art and architecture at Yale University before serving as part of the Intelligence Corps for the U.S. Army, translating German command messages in Italy. After the war, he was assigned to secure archives at Certosa di Pavia, a monastery in northern Italy.
Back on American soil, Ackerman received his Ph.D. at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, then had a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. He returned to the United States to teach at the University of California, Berkeley, and joined Harvard’s faculty in 1960, becoming chair of the Department of Fine Arts three years later.
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Dr. Ackerman joined SAH in 1952 and was made a Fellow of the Society in 2009.