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College Mourns Passing of Former Art History Head Hellmut Hager

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Hellmut Hager

Dr. Hellmut W. Hager, longtime Art History faculty member and head of the department from 1972 until 1996, died Tuesday, Nov. 10. Dr. Hager taught Italian and German Baroque and Rococo architecture from 1971 until 2001, retiring as professor emeritus. An Evan Pugh Professor—Penn State’s highest honor for a faculty member—he was renowned for his contributions to international journals, conferences and research, especially his work related to the 17th-century Italian architect Carlo Fontana.

“Hellmut Hager provided strong leadership for the Department of Art History for nearly a quarter of a century,” said Dr. Craig Zabel, associate professor and current head of the department. “He paid particular attention to the development of a robust scholarly profile for the department through the careful mentoring of faculty, fostering a successful doctoral program, and initiating the publication of the Papers in Art History from The Pennsylvania State University, which eventually published eleven substantial volumes.”

Volume VIII of the Papers was published in honor of Dr. Hager on the occasion of his 66th birthday in 1992. An Architectural Progress in the Renaissance and Baroque: Sojourns In and Out of Italy, edited by Penn State Art History alumna Dr. Susan Scott, now a professor at McDaniel College, and Henry Millon, then dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., was published in two parts and included a total of 34 essays on architectural history.

Dr. Hager, who was made Academician of San Luca in Rome, earned his Ph.D. in art history at the University of Bonn, Germany, and later served as scientific assistant at the German Library for Italian Art in Rome (Bibliotheca Hertziana). He was a visiting professor at Penn State for a semester in 1968 before joining the faculty full time three years later. In 1978, he was named a Fellow of Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, and in 1990, was awarded the title of Distinguished Professor.

One of the most significant academic projects carried out under his direction was the organization and realization of an exhibition, Architectural Fantasy and Reality, of architecture competition drawings from the Accademia di San Luca, which took place at what was then the Museum of Art at Penn State, and later traveled to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design in New York. A lecture series accompanying this successful exhibition brought to Penn State a number of the most prominent scholars in Baroque architecture. Those lectures were published as the first volume of the Papers in Art History in 1984.

The catalogue for the Architectural Fantasy and Reality exhibition, edited by Dr. Scott, was among the most significant publications of the 1980s in the field of Baroque architectural history.

“The catalogue was the product of Dr. Hager's superb teaching of research methods, and his dedication to the results that were possible in working with graduate students,” said Dr. Scott. “…This is just one of the amazing accomplishments that we owe totally to Dr. Hager's marvelous dedication to his research, his teaching and his students.”

Dr. Hager’s major publications include Loyola: Historia y Arquitectura (co-author); Carlo Fontana: The Drawings at Windsor Castle, with Allan Braham (London); Filippo Juvarra e il concorso di modelli del 1715 bandito da Clemente XI per la nuova sacrestia di S. Pietro (Rome); and Carlo FontanaUtilissimo Trattato dell'Acque Correnti (Roma, 1696), edited and with a critical introduction by Hager (Rome). He edited the manuscript in the Museo di Roma by Carlo Fontana for his book on the Colosseum in Rome (1725), again with a critical introduction. In addition, he published numerous articles in scholarly journals, symposia and museum catalogues.  

According to Dr. Scott, Dr. Hager led her to fall in love with architectural history, and he continues to influence her own teaching to this day. “Hellmut focused his classes on the images—slides in those days—and he never used notes. … His rigorous seminars taught us the research methods we needed to become architectural historians and the teachers that most of us ultimately became,” she said. “Dr. Hager was a permanent influence on my life; not a day goes by in any of my classes that he does not appear in one way or another to remind me of the joys of our profession.”

Fellow alumna Gillian Greenhill Hannum, professor of art history at Manhattanville College, had similar sentiments. “Dr. Hager’s passion for Baroque art and architecture was infectious. … More than 30 years later, I still find myself referring to him and sharing his examples when I lecture on Baroque architecture and sculpture.” 

Photo courtesy of Susan Scott