Morey, Charles Rufus

Morey, Charles Rufus (1877-1955), chairman of the Department of Art and Archaeology from 1924 to 1945, was a scholar who reminded some people of a prosperous banker, others (as one colleague put it) of a good bishop ``respected by the mighty and loved by the poor.''

With his A.B. and A.M. from the University of Michigan and three years' experience as Fellow of the American School of Classical Studies in Rome, Morey came to Princeton in 1903 as a fellow in classics. Three years later, he accepted the invitation of Allan Marquand to become a Wilson-appointed preceptor in art history. In his thirty-nine years in the department, Morey not only helped establish the budding discipline as a respected field of learning but, as Professor Erwin Panofsky has pointed out, was one of those responsible for the fact ``that the contribution of American scholarship has left its imprint on the history of art all over the world.'' His books, Early Christian Art and Medieval Art, both published in 1942, rank at the top of his voluminous bibliography. One critic thought that in Early Christian Art ``Morey alone provided a theory comprehensive enough to guide research,'' and found his ``union of theoretical breadth and minute observation of particulars . . . extremely rare in English writing on art.''

Morey taught renaissance and modern art as well as his specialities, practicing his own precept that his faculty should be knowledgeable in all fields. Demanding much of co-workers, he gave much. When called to another university, his price to Princeton for refusing was a sabbatical every seventh semester for his faculty to study abroad. He increased endowment for his department by ``soaking the rich,'' apparently with their cordial approval. In his publications grateful acknowledgement of his graduate students' research built their self-confidence and pleasure in their work (exuberantly expressed by them in a hymnal parody: ``He cited me . . . His faithful slave I'll ever be. For in his book he cited me.'') His faith in his younger faculty led to long lists of recommended promotions which, it is said, once caused the dean of the faculty, Robert K. Root, to exclaim: ``ALL Rufus's ducklings are swans!''

Ambition for his department never limited his concern for the University, for art history, or for humanism in general. He was an active, at times formidable, participant in faculty meetings. In 1932 he distributed at one meeting a booklet printed at his expense, A Laboratory-Library, describing ``a workplace for students as well as teachers rather than a storehouse for books.'' Thus he planted the seed for some unique and widely copied features of Firestone Library, built fifteen years later to serve the University generally in ways that the Marquand Library had so well served art historians. Similarly he helped develop New York University's Institute of Fine Arts and the Institute for Advanced Study's School of Humanities, endeavors cited by Panofsky as evidence that Morey ``could not prevent the force of his personality from acting upon his surroundings much as the force of gravity operates in the physical world.''

There were numerous other manifestations of this force. Morey originated the Index of Christian Art in 1917 and later initiated and directed the Vatican's catalogue of Christian art. For seven years he guided a consortium of five institutions (including Princeton) in a joint excavation of Antioch, and he supervised the ensuing publications. He helped found and nurture the College Art Association and its publication, The Art Bulletin. Finally there were the five years (1945-1950) he spent as Cultural Affairs Officer at the United States Embassy in Rome.

During his tour of duty in Rome, he was credited with healing more war wounds than would have been possible for a professional diplomat. Using army trucks and naval vessels, he reopened the flow of journals, books, and photographs between Italy and America before the usual postal channels were operating. Aided by former students, some still in uniform, he located and restored to Italy paintings, sculptures, even whole libraries, which the Nazis had removed. He drew Roman archaeological and historical institutions into a union that helped their depleted staffs become effective once again. In spite of great difficulties, he even met the Metropolitan Museum's request for a loan of two statues (one a Michelangelo) for its Diamond Jubilee. Finding Lloyd's premiums exorbitant, Morey resolutely shipped the precious packages uninsured, commandeering a fleet of MP's on motorcycles and the battleship Missouri for their transportation.

This was the same man who, lecturing one night at the Morgan Library, became so absorbed in a hitherto unnoticed detail of one of his slides that he ceased talking until the director sent up a note inviting him ``to share his thoughts with his audience.'' His style -- in thought, action, and personal relations -- was total involvement. As a teacher, one of his strongest motivating influences was his obvious distress when students failed, his real delight when they succeeded. In soliciting contributions to his projects he responded genuinely to the interests of others (even to the point of admiring one prospect's dog, which had just bitten him) before drawing them toward his own concerns.

Panofsky spoke for many when, in commenting on Professor Morey's fundamental goodness and strength of character, he wrote:

``No one can number those who . . . owed to him their place in the world, their scale of values, their sense of direction in life. No one who knew him can forget the brief, warm smile that could suddenly illumine his strong, often stern-looking face and give confidence to the timid and courage to the troubled.''

Martha Lou Stohlman


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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