posted by CAA — Apr 13, 2011
George A. Wanklyn is associate professor of art history and European and Mediterranean cultures at the American University of Paris in France.
It is with a real sense of great personal loss that I write about the death of Francesca Weinmann, who passed away at the Institut Curie in Paris in the early morning of March 4, 2011. Francesca—who much preferred the Italian form of her name to the Françoise she was given at birth—was being treated for a few years for a particularly vicious form of breast cancer.
Weinmann taught at the American College in Paris, which subsequently became the American University of Paris, from 1972 to 1999. More than just a professor, she founded the Art History Department after Dean Carol Maddison Kidwell asked her to create the major in art history. In 1982 Weinmann was awarded the first Board of Directors Distinguished Teaching Award. Upon retirement, she became associate professor of art history emerita.
Shortly after I met Francesca, who was department chair when I was hired to teach my first course there in 1982, I asked her about her nationality. “European!” she immediately replied. Born in Switzerland in 1932 to a Swiss Protestant mother and a father who was a British subject of German Jewish origin, Weinmann grew up in the north of Italy, in the village of Loveno on Lake Como. She received her early education in Loveno and Como and then studied in Paris, receiving a licence from the Institut d’art et d’archéologie of the Sorbonne before attending the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University for her graduate studies. English was Francesca’s fourth language, in fact, after French, German, and Italian.
Weinmann developed many courses during her ACP/AUP years, exploring the origins of art and the art of antiquity through the Middle Ages to the Italian and Northern Renaissance. During most of her time as a faculty member, she taught eight courses a year, in addition to her duties as chair. She also developed a course on aesthetics, and her sustained reflection on the nature of beauty in art produced a book, on which she was working in her retirement—right to the very last days of her life. Aperion Books has scheduled The Path towards Beauty for publication in June.
Weinmann had a powerfully strong personality: many of her students, who were also mine, have told me how scared they were, initially, in her presence. But this most demanding teacher developed bonds of the greatest affection and loyalty with a large number of them, who stayed in regular contact with her. After retiring from AUP, she spent more and more time in her beautiful house and garden on Lake Como. When in Paris, she continued to teach a number of young people, relatives of former colleagues and students, who were interested in the history of art. This was something Weinmann assumed as a passionately engaged volunteer, but she put as much energy and conviction into the work as she had invested for decades of semesters in her art-history courses.
During the last phase of her illness, a team of devoted friends—almost without exception former students and faculty colleagues—regularly visited and helped her. While being treated these past few years by her doctors in Paris and Italy, Francesca maintained great optimism and unbounded confidence in their capacity to care for her. She had asked to be buried in Loveno, next to her mother, in the small cemetery she showed me the first time I stayed at her house—something like a quarter of a century ago.
Among the last people to visit Francesca, when she was hospitalized, were Waddick Doyle, who lived near her apartment at Les Gobelins, and me. Doyle has said, “She will be remembered with affection, respect, and love. She made a great contribution to our institution. She will live on in her students and colleagues.” And, I would add, in the forthcoming book that is the fruit of many years of deep reflection and hard work.