In Memoriam

Francesca Weinmann, 1932–2011

By Prof. George A. Wanklyn / Created 2011-04-01

It is with a real sense of great personal loss that I tell you, members of the AUP community, of the death of Francesca Weinmann.  She died in Paris, at the Institut Curie, in the early morning of Friday, 4 March.  Francesca – who much preferred the Italian form of her name to the Françoise she was given at birth – had been treated for a few years for breast cancer.  She taught at t0he American College in Paris, which subsequently became The American University of Paris, from 1972 to 1999.  Francesca founded the Art History department, and was asked by Dean Carol Maddison Kidwell to create the major in Art History, ACP’s first major.  In 1982, Francesca was given the first Board of Directors Distinguished Teaching Award.  Upon retirement, she became Associate Professor of Art History Emerita.

Very shortly after I met Francesca, who was chair of the Art History department when I was hired to teach my first course there, in 1982, I asked her what her nationality was.  “European!,” she immediately replied.  She was born in Switzerland, and her mother was a Swiss Protestant.  Her father was a British subject, of German Jewish origin.  She 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 going to The Institute of Fine Arts of New York University for her graduate studies.  English was Francesca’s fourth language, in fact, after French, German and Italian.

Francesca developed many courses during her ACP/AUP years, exploring the origins of art, and the art of Antiquity, that of the Middle Ages, and the Early Italian Renaissance and the Northern Renaissance.  During most of her time as a faculty member, she was teaching eight courses a year, in addition to chairing her department.  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, and right to the very last days of her life.  The book is scheduled for publication in June, by Aperion Books, with the title The Path Towards Beauty.

Francesca had a powerfully strong personality, and many of her students 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 her former students, who stayed in regular contact with her.  During the last phase of her illness, she was being visited and helped by a team of devoted friends – almost without exception, these were former students and faculty colleagues.  Among the last people to visit Francesca, when she was hospitalized, were Waddick Doyle, who lived near Francesca’s apartment at les Gobelins, and me.

After Francesca retired from AUP, she spent more and more time in her beautiful house and beloved garden on Lake Como.  When she was 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 she assumed as a passionately engaged volunteer, but she put as much energy and conviction into it as she had invested for decades of semesters in her Art History courses.

As Waddick 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 her book which is the fruit of many years of deep reflection and hard work.

While she was being treated these past few years by her doctors in Paris and Italy, she maintained great optimism, and virtually unbounded confidence in their capacity to care for her.  Francesca 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, a quarter of a century ago.


George A. Wanklyn is Associate Professor of Art History and European and Mediterranean Cultures