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Jens T. Wollesen: In Memoriam

posted by CAA — Jul 23, 2012

The following obituary was submitted by Jill Caskey, associate professor in the Department of Art at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, and PhD coordinator for the school’s Centre for Medieval Studies.

Jens T. Wollesen, a professor and a specialist in the art of medieval Italy and Cyprus, died in Toronto on April 22, 2013. He received his BA from the University of Hamburg, his PhD from the University of Heidelberg, and his Habilitation from the University of Munich before traversing the Atlantic to join the Department of Art at the University of Toronto in 1985. For the rest of his life Wollesen remained firmly anchored to Toronto, where his contributions to the pedagogical and scholarly missions of the university took many forms. At various times he directed the undergraduate and graduate programs in art and also served on the Art Committee of the University of Toronto’s Victoria University, where he was a fellow.

Wollesen’s work probed several salient issues in medieval art, from the devotional function of panel paintings to images of everyday life. Among his many articles and books are the influential Die Fresken von San Piero a Grado bei Pisa (Bad Oeynhausen, Germany: Theine, 1977), Pictures and Reality: Monumental Frescoes and Mosaics in Rome around 1300 (New York: Peter Lang, 1998), and Patrons and Painters on Cyprus: The Frescoes in the Royal Chapel at Pyrga (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2010). He had recently completed a second book on Cyprus, entitled Acre or Cyprus: A New Approach to Crusader Painting around 1300.

Wollesen could discourse equally on Asian painting, contemporary art, and the medieval artists and patrons who commanded most of his scholarly attention. His intellectual range and curiosity served him well in the classroom. Literally thousands of undergraduates first encountered the discipline of art history in his legendary Intro lectures at Toronto. He garnered legions of fans in such adventurous courses as “The Body: An Exercise,” “The Practice of Art History,” and “Is There Crusader Art?” Wollesen flourished outside the classroom and study as well as within: he was an accomplished painter and photographer, and a passionate sailor who commanded the waves of Lake Ontario at the first sign of spring.

He is survived by his wife, Elena Lemeneva, and his children, Leon Wollesen, Hanna Wollesen, Christina Wollesen, Victor Wollesen, and Kate Wollesen.

Filed under: Obituaries