Art historian who raised the study of medieval iconography from an antiquarian interest to a scholarly discipline; b. Commentry, France, June 2, 1862; d. Châteaude-Chaalis, Oct. 6, 1954. Early medieval writers such as isidore of seville, bede, and rabanus maurus were used by Mâle to identify and interpret religious imagery and to assign symbolic or theological meanings accurately. Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century was the title of his dissertation (1899) and first published book (1902). This study won him immediate acclaim and a post at the Sorbonne as professor of medieval art. He published similar studies for the end of the Middle Ages (1908), the 12th century (1922), and the three centuries following the Council of Trent (1932). The last book dealt with the diffusion and continuity of Christian themes in the art of Italy, Spain, and Flanders, in addition to France. In 1924 Mâle left the Sorbonne to become director
of the French Archeological Institute in the Palazzo Farnese, Rome, a post he held until his retirement in 1937.
He expanded the comprehensive design of his earlier publications with volumes on The Early Churches of Rome (tr. D. Buxton, Chicago 1960) and La Fin du paganisme en Gaule, et les plus anciennes basiliques chrétiennes (Paris 1950). He was a member of the French Academy, a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, and a director of the scholarly journal Monuments et memoires.
Bibliography: m. aubert, in Monuments et memoires 48.2 (Paris 1956) 1–7.