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July 28, 2000

Princeton Professor John Rupert Martin dies at 83

PRINCETON, N.J. -- John Rupert Martin, an emeritus professor of art who was an authority on the painter Peter Paul Rubens and had a large student following during his 40 years of teaching, died Wednesday night in Princeton.

The cause of death was Alzheimer's disease, his family said. He was 83.

Prof. Martin's major contribution to art history was his monograph The Ceiling Paintings for the Jesuit Church in Antwerp (1968), which was selected as the first volume in a definitive catalogue of Rubens' work.

He also wrote The Decorations for the Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi, a later volume in the Rubens series, for which he received the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award of the College Art Association. The award recognized "the most distinguished work of scholarship in the history of art published by an American or Canadian during 1972."

"John Martin was a leader in his field of scholarship; a demanding and resourceful scholar who was extraordinarily interested in the world of art and who actively participated in the (Princeton University) art museum," said Peter C. Bunnell, a professor of art and archeology.

Although he began as a medieval art historian, Prof. Martin became a specialist in painters of the 17th and 18th centuries. His book Baroque (1977), a general study of 17th -century art, has become a textbook standard that is still used in classrooms today.

Charles Scribner III, an art historian and editor of Simon & Schuster's Scribner imprint, said Prof. Martin's scholarship elevated Baroque art. "A generation earlier, they disparaged Baroque as frothy, not quite serious. It was considered an art of extravagance and of bombast.

"John Martin really made of the Baroque a serious field of study and a field of study that would appeal to other disciplines," Scribner said.

Prof. Martin was born on Sept. 27, 1916 in Hamilton, Ontario. He received his B.A. degree in 1938 from McMaster University in Hamilton. He earned the degree of Master of Fine Arts at Princeton in 1941, and taught for a year at the State University of Iowa before enlisting in the Canadian Army in 1942.

During World War II, he served with the Third Canadian Division and attained the rank of major. One of his many assignments during the war included a brief stint as a historian. Barbara J. Martin said her husband was recruited to record the Division's invasion of the Normandy Coast.

"He studied all the plans and he landed on D-Day with his little jeep and his driver and a typewriter, she said. "He went from headquarter to headquarter seeing what happened."

After the war, Prof. Martin returned to Princeton as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and received his Ph.D. in 1947. He joined the faculty that year as assistant professor. He was named a Bicentennial Preceptor in 1952 and was promoted three years later to associate professor and finally to professor in 1961.

Prof. Martin was known as a dynamic speaker who had a way of holding his audience's attention. As many as 300 students would sign up for his Baroque survey course. Often, the classroom was full of spectators.

"Jack was a much beloved undergraduate teacher whose course enrollments in Baroque art have not been equaled since he retired" in 1987, said Professor Patricia Fortini Brown, chairwoman of the art and archeology department.

Scribner said his former professor's lectures always seemed spontaneous and fresh. Prof. Martin had a way of pausing, looking at a painting and then turning to the class with a question like, "There, do you see it?" as if something were being discovered for the first time and the whole class sharing in the important moment, Scribner said.

"He was a great scholar but he was really in his element as a teacher," said his daughter, Hilary Martin. "He was an extremely animated lecturer and people were just riveted. He leapt around, had a great moustache like Rubens' and was very dashing."

Prof. Martin lectured at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he also served on the Visiting Committee to the Department of European Paintings. He was president of the College Art Association of America from 1984 to 1986, and served as editor-in-chief of Art Bulletin from 1971 to 1974.

Other accomplishments included appointments as Senior Fellow of the Council of the Humanities in 1961, McCosh Faculty Fellow in 1964-65, Frederick Marquand Professor of Art and Archaeology in 1970, and chairman of the art and archaeology department from 1973 to 1979. Prof. Martin also was a member of the American Philosophical Society and was given the honorary degree of doctor of Letters by McMaster University in 1976.

In addition to his wife, Prof. Martin is survived by his daughter, Hilary Martin, and his grandchildren, Amanda and Trevor Foskett; all of Ardmore, Pa.

The family is planning a private funeral service in Canada and a memorial service at Princeton University in September. In lieu of flowers, the family would prefer memorial contributions to the Marquand Library at Princeton University, McCormick Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544.


Note to editors: A photograph of Prof. Martin is available at