Cecil L. Striker
Cecil L. Striker passed away in Philadelphia on January 9, 2024, at the age of 91. He was one of the most important architectural historians and archaeologists of Byzantine buildings, training many generations of students at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught from 1968 to his retirement in 2001.
Lee, as his friends called him, grew up in Cincinnati among Ohio’s most historical Jewish community that included whiskey brewers, Civil War heroes, sculptors, and medical pioneers. He studied art history at Oberlin College, where he played guitar in a jazz combo. After graduating in 1954, he enlisted in the Army Counterintelligence Corps serving in Munich for three years. He entered the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University and studied under Richard Krautheimer. In 1960, he returned to Germany for two years, this time as a a Fulbright scholar, to study Byzantine elements in Ottonian architecture. A fellowship from the American Research Institute in Turkey took him to Istanbul in 1965, where he carried out a survey of the Middle Byzantine church, the Myrelaion (Bodrum Camii), which became his doctoral thesis and first monograph. His academic career started at Vassar College in 1962 before joining the Art History faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, where he taught until 2001. His retirement was celebrated with a Festschrift whose title, Archaeology in Architecture (2005) captures the core of C. L. Striker’s conviction that the meticulous analysis of physical remains can transform our reading of buildings and, therefore, our understanding of global history.
In 1966, Lee embarked on a project to restore and study the Kalendarhane Camii in Istanbul, an abandoned Ottoman mosque. Twelve years later, in 1978, as the field work came to a close, Striker and his team had uncovered a Palaeologan church, and before that, a Latin Crusader church, then a Middle Byzantine sanctuary, an Early Byzantine one, and under them all, a Late Imperial Roman bath. The momentous discoveries at Kalendarhane of a 6th-century mosaic showing Christ’s Presentation in the Temple and some fragments of a mid-13th century fresco depicting the life of Saint Frances of Assisi, to mention only these two, led Striker deeply into art histories implicating both the Greek and Latin, Christian, Euro-Mediterranean worlds. Kalenderhane’s chronological, stratigraphic, and structural complexity gave Striker the arena to transform and reinvent the methods of Byzantine archaeology in the 20th century. His two-volume publication (1997 and 2007), a stirring study of late antique and medieval Mediterranean material culture, represents the epitome of excellence in the golden age of Byzantine archaeology, and an accomplishment unlikely soon to be matched.
It was at Kalenderhane that Lee Striker also met a German student of art history and languages who was passing through the excavations in a study abroad program. Ute and Lee married in Washington, D.C. in 1968. Their 55-years of marriage was a model relationship of intellectual partnership, generosity of spirit, cheer, and sociability. Ute pursued her own academic career as professor of Italian at Haverford College. Their house on Waverly Street became a center of an international intellectual community, proverbially known as the Byzantine Bed and Breakfast.
C. L. Striker taught, mentored, and supervised a generation of students in ancient, medieval, Byzantine, Islamic, and modern architecture, including students of architecture, art history, and historic preservation. He was an early adopter of computer technologies in archaeology, including the application of statistical analysis in the use of geometric principles in architecture. In 1974, he began pioneering work in the application of dendrochronology to dating medieval buildings. His Architectural Dendrochronology Project took him throughout ex-Yugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey where he redated many monuments, including the Heptapyrgion, the Byzantine citadel and Ottoman fortress on the acropolis of Thessaloniki. He was one of the first American scholars to travel to Albania after the collapse of the communist regime in 1991.
C. L. Striker has acted tirelessly to foster the centrality of art and archaeology in Byzantine studies—and put his conviction that the work of the medievalist must focus as much on material culture as the non-material (the religious, the literary, etc.) He frequently served as chair of Penn’s Department of the History of Art and helped design the university’s new graduate program in the art and archaeology of the Mediterranean world. As the founder of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers and president of the American Research Institute in Turkey, Striker pushed to open opportunities for scholars working in many fields. New universities in Turkey sought his advice. The Istanbul Metro and Bosphorous Tube Tunnel Project collaborated with him.
He is pre-deceased by his younger brother, Theodore, M.D. He is survived by his spouse Ute Striker, sister-in-law Carol Striker, nephew Robert L. Striker, and niece Laura Striker.