Arthur Kingsley Porter

Arthur Kingsley Porter (1883–1933) was an American archaeologist, art historian and medievalist. He was Chair of Harvard University’s Art History Department, and was the first American scholar of Romanesque architecture to achieve international recognition.[1] Porter disappeared in 1933, most probably a suicide. His most significant artistic contribution was his revolutionary studies and insights into the spread of Romanesque sculpture.[2] His study of Lombard architecture also remains the first in its class. He left his Cambridge mansion, Elmwood, to Harvard University, where it has served as the official residence of Harvard's President since 1970.[3]

Early life

Porter was born on February 16, 1883 in Darien, Connecticut, the third son born to a wealthy family that also kept a residence in New York City. Porter prepared at the Browning School in New York City, alongside classmate John D. Rockefeller Jr. He then attended Yale University, as had his father, Timothy Hopkins Porter, and his two older brothers, Louis Hopkins Porter and Blachley Hoyt Porter, several uncles and cousins. Porter had intended to study law. He had an experience while traveling in France and seeing Coutances Cathedral that made him interested in architecture.[4]


Psychiatrist Joseph Wortis reported in an interview: "Porter was a homosexual,
in the closet, who in the 1930s could not afford to come out with his
homosexuality. He fell in love with a young man, whom I knew, Alan Campbell,
and the young man spurned him and [Porter] went into a deep depression. He
had a summer home in Ireland and threw himself off the cliffs; his body was
never recovered. The bereaved widow, Mrs. Porter went to Havelock Ellis, who
was a friend of Kinglsey Porter, saying she wanted to use her wealth to do
something for the cause of homosexuality. Ellis, with whom I was in touch at
this time, suggested that the best investment would be in a person, not an
institution. In turn, he proposed me and I received the fellowship." [4a]


Arthur Kingsley Porter was the son of Timothy Hopkins Porter and Maria Louisa Hoyt, one of the first women to graduate from Vassar College.[5] When his parents married in 1870[6] they merged two of Connecticut's oldest and most influential families,[7] both having arrived in Connecticut in the early 1600s.

In a biography of Porter's life, it was said of the Porters:

All the literature consulted converged on one main point: the Porters of Connecticut combined economic privilege with the finest pedigrees in education.[8]

And of the Hoyt family:

The Hoyts of Connecticut had long established their position at the top of the social pecking order over centuries of diligent work and astute investment. In the late nineteenth century, the United States was admitting large numbers of Europeans who sought to make their fortune in the land of opportunity. It was therefore paramount to the survival of the oldest families that wealth was not the only requirement for admittance to the highest social strata. The Hoyts fulfilled all the criteria for being one of the most influential families in Connecticut, by possessing great wealth but also having an old family tradition that no amount of money could buy.[9]

The Porter family was known for being understated and private with matters having to do with the extent of their wealth.[10] A New York Times article in October 1924 reported on the largest taxpayers in that city, with Arthur Kingsley Porter and his brother Louis listed therein. The article exposed that Louis Hopkins Porter had paid more taxes in 1923 than the estate of John Jacob Astor IV, several Rockefeller family members, and the same amount as William Randolph Hearst.[11][12]

He married Lucy Bryant Wallace in 1912 in New York City; she acted as chief photographer for the pair from 1919 onwards. They eventually moved on to Italy, and then Greece and Spain, and finally to Ireland.

Arthur Porter disappeared at age 50, in July 1933. He was outside during a storm on Inishbofin Island, near Glenveagh Castle, his home in Ireland, and was presumed drowned.[13] His wife later told the coroner of her six-hour search with two local fishermen. The inquest concluded that he had probably died from misadventure.

Notable relatives

  • Cousin Noah Porter, Academic, author, and the 11th President of Yale College from 1871–1886.
  • Uncle Schuyler Merritt, Republican member of the United States House of Representatives representing Connecticut's 4th district for a combined 17 years. Merritt is also the namesake of the Connecticut Parkway that bears his name.
    • Merritt acted as a surrogate father to A. Kingsley Porter in his own father's later years [14]
    • Merritt was a mentor to Porter's niece, Joyce Porter Arneill, political activist and philanthropist [15]
  • Uncle Frederick Maxfield Hoyt, Yacht Designer, Naval Architect and Sailor. Hoyt was a member of the New York Yacht Club, and Navigator on the sailing yacht Atlantic (yacht) when she won the 1905 Kaiser's Cup Race and set a transatlantic sailing record that would stand for 100 years.[16] Hoyt was also a first-class passenger on the RMS Titanic in 1912. After placing his wife in Collapsible Lifeboat D, he ascended to the bridge to have a drink with his friend Titanic Captain Edward Smith (sea captain), before jumping into the water himself.[17]
  • Niece Joyce Porter Arneill, political activist and philanthropist, daughter of Porter's brother Louis Hopkins Porter. At 30 years old, Arneill was founder and first president of the National Federation of Republican Women,[18] the women's wing of the Republican Party in the United States. At age 31, Arneill was a Republican National Convention delegate in the 1940 Presidential Election.[19]

Yale and Harvard professorships

Porter held the title of Assistant Professor in the History of Art at Yale University from 1915 to 1917. In January 1916, he proposed giving the University $500,000 ($12 million in 2017 dollars) in order to establish an Art History Department. Porter laid out the very specific purposes for which the money was to be used[20]

To provide salaries for professors or instructors in the history of art in the academic department, as might be required. To provide for the running and overhead expenses of such a department, the purchases of equipment, slides, photographs, books, etc. Any residue to be used for the purchase of additional works of art to add to the collection of the Art School, and for the proper maintenance and housing of the same.

The University declined the offer, which could only be used for the purposes he set out.

Porter became frustrated at Yale's lack of openness to having a full department dedicated to the study of the History of Art and Architecture. In 1918 he left Yale to lead architectural preservation efforts by the French government caused by war damage and was the only American invited to join said commission.[21]

Porter began teaching at Harvard University in 1921. He and his wife bought Cambridge Mansion Elmwood that same year. He was appointed to the newly established William Dorr Boardman Memorial Professorship of Fine Arts in January 1925.[22] Porter taught at Harvard until his disappearance in 1933.

Porter left Elmwood to Harvard University in his will, as well as a trust for its maintenance. His widow, Lucy, left the University an additional $1,000,000 in her will ($9 million in 2017 dollars) to endow a Chair to be called the A Kingsley Porter Chair Professorship.[23] The medievalist Ernst Kitzinger was later appointed in 1967 as the first Professor.

Indiana Jones persona and the Sahagún sarcophagus

Porter has been called a ‘real-life Indiana Jones’.[24] He was unique in the academic community, given he was a multimillionaire in his own right, with his own European castle, and the means to travel extensively, often for more than a year at a time. He was so respected that the University let him do so.

Sarcophagus curse

While his overall station and manner of teaching, exploring, researching and writing certainly fit this ‘Indiana Jones’ profile, perhaps nothing made this a more fitting comparison than the incident with the Sarcophagus Commissioned by Count Pedro Ansùrez in 1093, for his young son Alfonso.

Porter came into possession of the sarcophagus, and took it to Harvard as a gift to the University's Fogg Museum, where it was prominently displayed. The Sarcophagus enabled Porter to prove his theory on the spread of Romanesque sculpture:

The lid of the sarcophagus was considered to be one of the finest examples of European sepulchral sculpture in existence from the Middle Ages. The discovery of the burial slab gave Kingsley the proof he had been searching for that Romanesque sculpture was practised in Spain during the eleventh century. The sculptured style of decoration on the coffin lid was a divergence from tomb construction of the time. It contained large figures representing souls that had passed into the other world, Evangelists and Archangels, all in human form. The figures were depicted with large bulging eyes and the Archangel Gabriel had long chiselled curls. Therefore, as an art object it was invaluable to archaeologists to further their knowledge of eleventh-century Romanesque Spanish sculpture.[25]

In 1931, the Duke of Alba discovered the Sarcophagus had been removed from Lèon and brought to Harvard by Porter. The Spanish Government became involved with the negotiations with Harvard, but before any deal was reached, Alfonso XIII of Spain was overthrown by a revolution, and so the slab remained on display at Harvard in 1931.[26] Negotiations resumed in 1933, and Porter consented for the Sarcophagus lid to be returned to Léon during that year.

For those who insisted on a supernatural explanation for Kingsley’s demise, then his disturbance of the tomb at Sahagún in 1926…and his mysterious disappearance would have been fodder for their belief in a medieval curse that had been unleashed on the unwary archaeologist. There was still one fact to emerge, involving the infamous sarcophagus slab, that was certainly uncanny: The sarcophagus lid that had enclosed the tomb of Alfonso Ansúrez in 1093 was finally returned to its rightful place on 8 July 1933 – the day of Kingsley’s disappearance.[27]


  • Blachley Lodge, on Noroton Hill, Darien, CT, where Porter was born
  • Elmwood
    Elmwood, Cambridge, MA
  • Glenveagh Castle, Ireland
    Glenveagh Castle (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
    • Porter purchased Glenveagh Castle and its surrounding 30,000 acres in 1929. After his disappearance, Lucy Porter sold the property to Henry Plumer McHilhenny, one of Porter's former students from Harvard.[32]

Achievements and selected works

Porter wrote 293 works that were published in 934 publications, in seven languages, with 7,452 library holdings.[33] Porter's photographic collection contains 35,000 photographs and 11,700 negatives, pertaining to every aspect of medieval art.[34] Photographs taken by Porter are held in the Conway Library of art and architecture at The Courtauld Institute in London.[35]

  • Medieval Architecture: Its Origins and Development, with Lists of Monuments and Bibliographies (2 volumes, Baker & Taylor, 1909)
  • The Construction of Lombard and Gothic Vaults (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911)
  • Lombard Architecture (4 volumes, 1915-1919)
  • The Seven Who Slept (Boston: Marshall Jones Company, 1919)
  • Romanesque Sculpture of the Pilgrimage Roads (10 vol., 1923) – "his most well known and contentious work"[according to whom?]
  • Spanish Romanesque Sculpture (2 volumes, 1928)
  • The Crosses and Culture of Ireland (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1931)


  1. ^ Romanesque Architecture and its Sculptural Decoration in Christian Spain, 1000–1120. Toronto: University of Toronto, Toronto Press, Toronto, 2009. January 2009. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8020-9324-0.
  2. ^ "Porter, A. Kingsley". Jahn, Johannes, ed. Die Kunstwissenschaft der Gegenwart in Selbstdarstellungen. Leipzig: F. Meiner, 1924, vol.1. pp. 77-93; Porter, Lucy K. 'A. Kingsley Porter.' in Medieval Studies in Memory of A. Kingsley Porter. vol. 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939, pp. xi-xv; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, mentioned pp. 39, 49, 85; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 125 mentioned; Nercessian, Nora. "In Desperate Defiance: A Modern Predicametn for Medieval Art." Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 7-8 (Spring/Autumn 1984): 137-146; Ehresmann, Donald L. Architecture: A Bibliographic Guide to Basic Reference Works, Histories and Handbooks. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1984, nos. 533, 535; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l'histoire de l'art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 258-260, 544-545; The Dictionary of Art; Seidel, Linda. "The Scholar and the Studio: A. Kingsley Porter and the Study of Medieval Architecture in the Decade Before the War." in The Architectural Historian in America: A Symposium in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Founding of the Society of Architectural Historians. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1990, pp. 145-58; Mann, Janice. "Romantic Identity, Nationalism, and the Understanding of the Advent of Romanesque Art in Christian Spain." Gesta 36 no. 2 (1997): 156-64; Brush, Kathryn. "The Unshaken Tree: Walter W. S. Cook on German Kunstwissenschaft in 1924." Zeitschrift des deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft 52/53 (1998/99): 28; Crow, Thomas E. "The Intelligence of Art." The Intelligence of Art. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999, pp. 6-10; Seidel, Linda. "Arthur Kingsley Porter (1883-1933)" in Medieval Scholarship: Biographical Studies on the Formation of a Discipline. Volume 3. New York: Garland, 2000, pp. 273-86; Petro, Pamela. The Slow Breath of Stone: a Romanesque Love Story. New York: Fourth Estate, 2005; Cahn, Walter. "Romanesque Art, Then and Now: A Personal Reminiscence." in Hourihane, Colum, ed. Romanesque Art and Thought in the Twelfth Century: Essays in Honor of Walter Cahn. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2008, pp. 32-33. 21 February 2018.
  3. ^ "Widow of Archeologist Wills Million to Harvard". The New York Times. 7 November 1962.
  4. ^ Glenveagh mystery: The life, work and disappearance of Arthur Kinglsey Porter. Merrion. 2012. p. 53. ISBN 97819089281084a

    4a. Chapter 1 “The Man Who Was Analyzed by Freud”: Joseph Wortis on Freud,

    Freudians, and Social Justice, Interviewed by Todd Dufresne, in Defresne, ed.,

    Against Freud: Critics Talk Back (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), pages 14-15. See also: Lucy Costigan, Glenveagh Mystery: The LifeWork and Disappearance of Arthur Kingsley Porter (Merrion Press (January 1, 2013).

  5. ^ "First Students - Vassar College Encyclopedia - Vassar College".
  6. ^ Day, Clarence (1907). Decennial record of the class of 1896, Yale College. Printed for the Class at the De Vinne Press. p. 524.
  7. ^ Glenveagh Mystery. Merrion. 2012. pp. 15–16.
  8. ^ Glenveagh Mystery. Merrion. 2012. p. 29.
  9. ^ Glenveagh Mystery. Merrion. 2012. p. 30.
  10. ^ Glenveagh Mystery. Merrion. 2012. p. 52.
  11. ^ "New York -- Its Big Income". The New York Times. 25 October 1924.
  12. ^ "Income Tax Returns Made Public". The New York Times. October 24, 1924.
  13. ^ TIMES, Special Cable to THE NEW YORK (10 July 1933). "A. Kingsley Porter Drowned Off Ireland; Archaeologist Lost From Boat in Storm". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Glenveagh Mystery. Merrion. 2012. p. 42.
  15. ^ Lady, Western (10 October 2010). "Colorado Federation of Republican Women History 1938 to Present: Our First President". Colorado Federation of Republican Women History 1938 to Present.
  16. ^ "Century-old Transatlantic Record broken by two boats". New Atlas. 1 June 2005.
  17. ^ "JUMPED FROM SINKING SHIP". Encyclopedia Titanica. 28 August 2003.
  18. ^ TIMES, Special to THE NEW YORK (25 September 1938). "MRS. ARNEILL HEADS REPUBLICAN WOMEN; New National Federation Elects Denverite President". The New York Times.
  19. ^ "Convention History".
  20. ^ "Records of Arthur Twining Hadley as president of Yale University".
  21. ^ The slow breath of stone: A Romanesque love story. London: Fourth Estate. 2005. p. 74. ISBN 9780007445806.
  22. ^ "Harvard Advances Edgell and Morize". The Daily Boston Globe. 28 February 1925.
  23. ^ "Widow of Archeologist Wills Million to Harvard". The New York Times. 7 November 1962.
  24. ^ Glenveagh Mystery. Merrion. 2012. p. 230.
  25. ^ Official Register of Harvard University Containing Report of the President of Harvard College and Reports of Departments for 1932, 1933, 31, 3. 5 February 1934. p. 309.
  26. ^ "Collections and Critiques | News | The Harvard Crimson". 12 December 1935.
  27. ^ Glenveagh Mystery. Merrion. 2012. p. 215.
  28. ^ "Birds of Passage (Collection)/The Herons of Elmwood".
  29. ^ Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. "Birds of Passage".
  30. ^ "Harvard University Archives, HUG 1706.105, Arthur Kingsley Porter Papers Correspondence, Correspondence re. Purchases of Elmwood, Letter from Dr Francis L. Burnett, 205 Beacon Street, Boston, MA, 1 February 1923, re. the letting of Elmwood". 1 February 1923. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  31. ^ Glenveagh Mystery. Merrion. 2012. p. 110.
  32. ^ "Glenveagh Castle – Cruelty, Cowboys and Celebrities". Daily Scribbling. 15 June 2014.
  33. ^ "Porter, Arthur Kingsley 1883-1933".
  34. ^ Ackermann, J. 'The Visual Arts Collection: Manifold Resources', in L. Todd and M. Banta (eds). The Invention of Photography and Its Impact of Learning: Photographs from Harvard University and Radclff College and from the Collection of Harrison D. Horblit. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Library. 1989. p. 170.
  35. ^ "Who made the Conway Library?". Digital Media. 2020-06-30. Retrieved 2020-11-19.