Richter, Gisela (1882–1972)

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Richter, Gisela (1882–1972)

English-born American archaeologist. Born Gisela Marie Augusta Richter in London, England, on August 15, 1882; died in Rome, Italy, on December 24, 1972; daughter of Jean Paul Richter (an art historian) and Luise Marie (Schwaab) Richter; received bachelor's degree from Girton College, Cambridge, 1905; studied at the British School of Archaeology, 1904–05; Trinity College, Dublin, Litt. D., 1913; Cambridge University, A.M., 1933, Litt.D.; never married; no children.

Archaeologist Gisela Richter was born in England in 1882, into a cultured family with a strong appreciation for art, literature, and classical beauty. Her father Jean Paul Richter was a well-known art historian with a special interest in Italian painting, and her mother Luise Marie Schwaab Richter both wrote and painted; her older sister Irma Richter , with whom she had a close relationship throughout their lives, would grow up to become a painter. The Richters lived in Florence, Italy, for the first ten years of Gisela's life, after which they moved to London, where she continued her education at Maida Vale High School. When she became a bit older, she and Irma often took trips to the museums of Rome and attended lectures on ancient art. By the time she was in her teens, Richter had become, in her own words, "enamoured of Greek and Roman art and decided to become an archaeologist."

Richter attended Girton College, Cambridge, where she found that she already knew much of what was being taught in the undergraduate archaeology classes but greatly enjoyed her courses in history and classical languages. During her last year at college, in 1904–05, she attended the British School of Archaeology in Athens, Greece, where she was the only woman in her class and was not permitted to live on campus. She received her bachelor's degree in 1905 for a thesis on Attic vases. A few months later, Richter traveled to the United States with American archaeologist Harriet Boyd Hawes , and took a temporary job helping to organize an exhibit on Greek vases at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This temporary post soon turned into a lifelong position; she would remain at the Metropolitan Museum until her retirement in 1948.

Named assistant curator of classical art in 1910, Richter was elevated to curator 15 years later. The museum's collections of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art were being steadily augmented during these years into world-class collections, and Richter was soon an acknowledged expert in all facets of archaic art aside from architecture. (She was awarded several graduate degrees on the basis of her writings.) Richter spent three months of each summer traveling in Europe, visiting with family and colleagues. In 1928, she was named the museum's purchasing agent; among the most important of her acquisitions for the museum was an early Greek marble statue of a young man, almost undamaged and at first suspected by some of being counterfeit. Richter published a number of highly regarded studies, including The Craft of Athenian Pottery (1923), Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks (1929), Kouroi (1942), and the popular Handbook of Greek Art (1959). She also wrote several publications for the Metropolitan Museum, among them Red-Figured Athenian Vases (1936), Handbook of the Greek Collection (1953), and Catalogue of the Engraved Gems, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman (1956).

After her retirement, Richter, who became an American citizen in 1917, moved with her sister to Rome in 1952. There she continued to research and write on archaic art, and to provide assistance and the benefit of her experience to younger researchers. She was granted a number of honorary degrees in recognition of her contributions to archaeology, and in 1968 received the gold medal of the Archaeological Institute of America. Richter published My Memoirs, Recollections of an Archaeologist's Life, in 1972, and died in her sleep that December. She was buried beside her sister, who had predeceased her, in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.


Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Gretchen Monette , freelance writer, Ferndale, Michigan