Brieger, Peter H.

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Born Breslau, Germany; died Toronto
Department of Art

Art History/Medieval Art 

“University of Toronto professor and early Courtauld Institute scholar. Brieger was born to Oskar Brieger, MD (d. 1914), an otolaryngologist and Hedwig Lion. He grew up in this affluent family under the tutelage of a governess, surrounded by books, and a summer home where his father had built a home theater for family drama productions. Their furniture was designed by Hans Poelzig (now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge University). As a child, he attended the St. Maria Magdalena Gymnasium. After receiving his abiture in 1916, he fought for Germany in World War I where he was wounded in Flanders. After the armistice in 1919, Brieger studied various humanistic disciplines at the universities in Breslau and Munich. He finally settled up on art history, studying under Wilhelm Pinder (q.v.) and, more significantly for him, Paul Frankl and Heinrich Wölfflin. Between 1922-1927 he was an assistant under August Grisebach at Breslau. He received his Ph.D. in art history in 1924, writing a dissertation under Grisebach on Baroque art. It was partially published in 1926. Between 1927-1928 he researched at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome. He became a privatdozent at Breslau under Grisebach, writing his habilitation on 19th-century history painting in Germany in 1927 (published in Berlin in 1930). Brieger continued as a privatdozent under Dagobert Frey between 1930 and1933. In 1931 he married Barbara Ritter, an historian. In 1933, anticipating the Jewish persecution in Nazi-Germany, Brieger left for Paris. He was officially classified a "non-Aryan" by the Nazi government (his family came from Jewish lineage) in 1934, when he finally fled to London. There, he secured work on the Atlas of Medieval Art and Architecture in England, being produced at the Courtauld Institute. The Institute conducted classes largely with temporary appointment faculty, of whom Brieger was one. His years in London turned his attention toward English medieval art, and he remained a medievalist for the rest of his career. In 1936 he moved to Canada seeking permanent employment. There he taught art history at the University of Toronto, rising through the ranks: lecturer and then associate professor, finally professor in 1947. In 1957 he wrote the volume English Art, 1216-1307 for the Oxford History of English Art, edited by Thomas Boase. He chaired the department between 1965 and 1969. Brieger was a visiting member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ for the 1964-1965 year. After retirement in 1969 he edited a facsimile edition with Millard Meiss and Charles S. Singleton (1909-1985) on Dante manuscripts. He was a part-time professor at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto until 1973. He contributed to the National Gallery of Canada exhibition, "Art and the Courts: France and England from 1259 to 1328" in 1972.
Brieger is considered "a pioneer in Art History as an academic discipline in Canada" (Eleen).”


Wollesen, Jens T., Eleen, Luba. In Memoriam: Peter Henry Brieger. Toronto: Department of Fine Art, University of Toronto, 1991.

Refugee Academics