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Robert Ousterhout (1950–2023)

Robert Ousterhout (Ph.D. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) was Professor Emeritus of History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. He was Professor of Architectural History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he taught for more than twenty years before joining the History of Art faculty at Penn in January 2007. A recognised specialist in Byzantine architecture, his research focused on the documentation and interpretation of the vanishing architectural heritage of the eastern Mediterranean. His fieldwork concentrated on Byzantine architecture, monumental art, and urbanism in Constantinople and Cappadocia.

Ousterhout was the author of numerous books, including The Architecture of the Kariye Camii in Istanbul, Dumbarton Oaks Studies 25 (Washington, D.C., 1987), Master Builders of Byzantium (Princeton, 1999, 2nd ed, paperback, University of Pennsylvania Museum Publications, 2008), reviewed by the late John Julius Norwich, The Art of the Kariye Camii (London-Istanbul, 2002), A Byzantine Settlement in Cappadocia, Dumbarton Oaks Studies 42 (Washington, DC, 2005); and The Byzantine Monuments of the Evros/Meriç River Valley (Thessaloniki: European Centre for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments, 2007), with Charalambos Bakirtzis. He also edited the exhibition catalogue Kariye: From Theodore Metochites to Thomas Whittemore; One Monument, Two Monumental Personalities (Istanbul: Pera Museum, 2007), with H. Klein and B. Pitarakis; Studies on Istanbul and Beyond: The Freely Papers (University of Pennsylvania Museum Publications, 2007). Visualizing Community: Art Material Culture and Settlement in Byzantine Cappadocia (HUP (2017), was reviewed by Prof Henry Maguire in Cornucopia 56. His latest book was Eastern Medieval Architecture: The Building Traditions of Byzantium and Neighbouring Lands.(OUP, 2019)

At UIUC he was honoured as University Scholar (1992-95), Outstanding Faculty in the College of Fine and Applied Arts (1991, 2002), and Associate at the Institute of Advanced Study (1993-4, 2006). He has also held Fulbright and Dumbarton Oaks fellowships. He was elected President of U.S. National Committee for Byzantine Studies (2002-06).

Ousterhout taught courses in Byzantine art and architectural history. He served as the Director of the Center for Ancient Studies.


  • Asia has Claims upon New England

    From Issue 65

    When the mania for all things Assyrian suddenly took hold in the United States in the 19th century, it opened a bizarre chapter in American cultural history. By 1865, no fewer than 55 giant reliefs from a fabled palace in Nimrud had landed in New England. Robert Ousterhout tells the story

  • The Marvellous Eye of the King’s Artist

    From Issue 63

    Three centuries ago Cornelius Loos, Charles XII’s military draughtsman, captured the atmospheric grandeur of Ayasofya’s interiors with panache and precision. Robert Ousterhout lingers over Loos’s peerless drawings

  • Adventures in the Wild, Wild East

    Robert Ousterhout spies the wonders of Anatolia through the eyes of early Western travellers

    From Issue 59

    Robert Ousterhout spies the wonders of Anatolia through the eyes of early Western travellers

  • Sicily’s golden age

    Dazzling Byzantine mosaics in Palermo

    From Issue 58

    To understand the cosmopolitanism of Constantinople in medieval times, head for Palermo, says Robert Ousterhout. Be dazzled there by the most glorious Byzantine mosaics to survive from the 12th century, in a chapel built by George of Antioch, ‘emir of emirs’, admiral and prime minister to the first Norman King of Sicily. Its Baroque frescoes pale by comparison

  • The City of a Thousand and One Churches

    From Issue 56

    Today a ghost town in the middle of nowhere, a thousand years ago Ani was a bustling commercial city where East and West converged. By Robert Ousterhout. Photographs by Brian McKee

  • Terrifying Beauty


    From Issue 50

    Justinian’s soaring edifice inspires the same awe today as it did in visitors a millennium ago who wondered if this were Heaven or Earth. Setting out on a tour of the city’s best-preserved Byzantine churches, Robert Ousterhout still senses an air of the miraculous in Ayasofya

  • Socialite, Traveller, Scholar, Spy…

    The Istanbul diaries of Gertrude Bell

    From Issue 48

    The Istanbul diaries of Gertrude Bell, now available online, reveal her astonishing transformation from socialite to scholar and political observer. By Robert Ousterhout

  • Byzantium: Mystery and Imagination

    From Issue 32

    Not all Byzantium is buried: in addition to its twenty-odd surviving churches and sundry ruined palaces and fortifications, if you look around any grand imperial mosque, you will inevitably find columns, capitals and other marbles borrowed from its Byzantine predecessor. Robert Ousterhout investigates.

  • Byzantium’s Legacy

    A Patchwork Paradise

    From Issue 50

    Byzantine Istanbul is elusive; much of its past lies buried. But, says Robert Ousterhout, the visitor can piece together a vivid if impressionistic picture of the city by exploring its glorious surviving churches, its monasteries and monuments, and by examining its wealth of archaeological treasures. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • Divine Restoration

    The Zeyrek Camii – rescuing a Byzantine masterpiece

    From Issue 36

    By the mid-1990s the Zeyrek Camii was in a state of alarming decrepitude. Now that the Byzantine masterpiece has been rescued, what lessons have been learnt? For Robert Ousterhout, who was closely involved in the restoration, the old ways are always the best. Photographs by Jürgen Frank

  • Digging the Dirt…

    On an Archaeological Scandal

    From Issue 46

    America’s first archaeological adventures in the Ottoman Empire combined good intentions with diplomatic ineptitude and outright skulduggery. The wrong man was rewarded for groundbreaking discoveries. As those early excavations come under the spotlight with an exhibition and a new book of photographs, Robert Ousterhout and Renata Holod recount the bitter rivalries, the culture clashes – and the crucial role of the artist Osman Hamdi Bey

  • Gorgeous Georgian

    The churches of Tao-Klarjeti

    From Issue 42

    Robert Ousterhout is agog at the remarkable Georgian churches of the Tao-Klarjeti, the two medieval Georgian principalities between Kars and the Kaçkars

  • Drama in the Round

    The mosaics and frescoes of the Kariye Camii

    From Issue 27

    The dramatic mosaics and frescoes of Istanbul’s Kariye Camii, or Church of the Chora, blew away the stiff conventions of Byzantine art. Their energy leaves Giotto looking staid. But they are now in danger of turning to dust. The powerful pictures on these pages are from a book by Robert Ousterhout, who fell in love with the church 25 years ago. Here he makes an impassioned case for preserving this 14th-century masterpiece.

  • On the Road to Ruins

    John Henry Haynes, Central Anatolia

    From Issue 44

    John Henry Haynes was the father of American archaeological photography. Many of his images are the only record of a vanished Anatolian heritage. On the centenary of his death, Robert Ousterhout pays tribute.

  • Byzantium in Turkey?

    From Issue 40

    Robert Ousterhout reviews the Royal Academy’s blockbuster ‘Byzantium 330–1453’ and reports on two stunning archaeological exhibitions in Istanbul

  • Santa: Get a Life

    From Issue 38

    Robert Ousterhout reviews Santa: A Life: The Epic Journey from Saint to Santa Claus by Jeremy Seal

  • Beware Falling Idols

    From Issue 34
  • Water Over the Bridge

    From Issue 42
Buy the latest issue
Issue 66, December 2023 Turkey’s Centenary Issue
£ 15.00

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