von BOTHMER--Dr. Dietrich, 90, died peacefully in his sleep on Monday, October 12, in Manhattan. The Metropolitan Museum's of Art's legendary curator, archaeologist, and historian of classical art is survived by his devoted wife of 43 years, Joyce Blaffer von Bothmer; his son Bernard von Bothmer and his wife, Jane, of San Francisco; his daughter Maria Elizabeth Villalba and her husband, Jerome, of New York; and his five adoring grandchildren: Isabel, Victoria, and Charles Villalba, and Athena and Tatiana von Bothmer. Dr. von Bothmer was born on October 26, 1918, in Eisenach, Germany, and in 1938 was awarded the last of that year's two German Rhodes Scholarships before World War Two, allowing him to flee the Nazi dictatorship which he opposed and detested. At Oxford, he studied under Sir John Beazley, earning a diploma in 1939 in Classical Archaeology. Over the next thirty years, he worked closely with Beazley to build up the great works on Attic Black and Red-figure Vase-Painters that changed the way scholars thought about Greek art. And for the rest of his life, he was acknowledged as perhaps the finest connoisseur of Greek vase-painting in the world. While visiting museums in the United States in the summer of 1939 for what was meant to be but a three month stay, World War Two began, preventing Dietrich from returning to Europe. Through a network of generous scholarships and fellowships, he was able to continue his studies at the University of California, Berkeley (interrupted by a brief fellowship at the University of Chicago), where he earned his Ph.D. in 1944. Though not yet a citizen, Dietrich volunteered for the U.S. Army and fought heroically in the South Pacific. There he was awarded both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for carrying, while wounded, a fellow soldier back to safety five miles through heavily fortified Japanese lines. Subsequently, he received U.S. citizenship, and in 1946 was appointed a curatorial assistant in the department of Greek and Roman art at the Metropolitan, where he remained for 64 years until his death. He was named curator in 1959, department chairman in 1973, and in 1990 Distinguished Research Curator. In 1965 he began teaching at the Institute of Fine Arts, N.Y.U. Dietrich was the recipient of numerous awards and citations, including a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur; a member of the Academie Francaise (one of only two Americans to have this honor); an honorary fellow of Wadham College; and several honorary doctorates. The author of a number of standard monographs and hundreds of articles and reviews, he was a wonderful mentor to his students and a devoted teacher. We will all greatly miss his generosity of spirit, his piercing wit, his philanthropic ethos, his unparalleled intellect, his endless passion for Greek antiquities, his unquenchable thirst for knowledge, his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Western Civilization, his zest for verbal sparring, and his enormous joie de vivre. His passing has left a gaping hole. A true lion has been lost: a polyglot, a patriarch, a patriot, an optimist, a genius. Family will receive friends on Thursday from 2-4 and 6-8pm at Frank E. Campbell, 1076 Madison Avenue. Funeral services will be held at 11am on Friday, October 16, at St. James' Episcopal Church, Madison Avenue at 71st Street.
Published in New York Times on Oct. 14, 2009.