Simson, Otto Georg von, 1912-....

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Otto Georg von Simson (1912-1993), historian of medieval and Renaissance art and architecture, served on the faculties of the University of Chicago's Department of Art and Committee on Social Thought from 1945-1957.

Born to a distinguished German family of Jewish and Catholic heritage, Simson grew up in the home of his grandfather, the chemist and industrialist Franz Oppenheim. Simson studied art history in Freiburg, Berlin, and Munich; his dissertation on Rubens, Zur Geneaologie der weltlichen Apotheose im Barock, besonders der Medicigalerie des Peter Paul Rubens, was published in 1936. In the same year, he married the princess Aloysia Alexandra von Schoenburg-Hartenstein (known as "Louise" or "Lulix"). He worked at the Courtauld Institute Library, and as an editor of Hochland, a Catholic literary periodical published in Munich.

In 1939, Simson fled Germany for the United States, under the pretext of visiting American art museums. His wife and children followed. Simson taught at Marymount College and St. Mary's College before University of Chicago President Robert M. Hutchins offered him a position on the Committee on Social Thought in 1945. He also joined the faculty of the Department of Art. In the interdisciplinary Committee on Social Thought, Simson served as Executive Secretary under the leadership of John U. Nef, and edited Measure: A Critical Journal. He became a full professor in 1951.

During his time at the University of Chicago, von Simson produced his two major works: The Sacred Fortress: Byzantine Art and Statecraft in Ravenna was published in 1948. The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture and the Medieval Concept of Order followed in 1956.

In 1946, Simson urged Robert M. Hutchins to assist German and Austrian scholars through the solicitation of donations and distribution of material aid. This proposal led to the formation of the Committee for Aid to German and Austrian Scholars, which Hutchins himself chaired. German and Austrian scholars began to turn to the committee as a means of seeking job opportunities in the United States; this secondary function of the committee evolved into a student and faculty exchange program between the University of Chicago and the University of Hamburg.

In 1957, Simson returned to Germany, where he served in positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the University of Frankfurt, and in UNESCO. He became Director of the Kunsthistorisches Institut of the Freie Universitaet in Berlin in 1964, where he remained until 1979.

From the guide to the Simson, Otto G. von. Papers, 1944-1957, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

Role Title Holding Repository
Place Name Admin Code Country
Architecture, Gothic
Art, Byzantine
Art historians


Birth 1912

Death 1993-05-23





Ark ID: w6fj2qcr

SNAC ID: 12740588