Art History Remembers Frank Horlbeck

Frank R. Horlbeck passed away peacefully on January 14, 2019, only two weeks short of his 95th birthday. He is being mourned and remembered by family, friends and former students around the United States, as well as by friends around the world, particularly in England, Greece, Sweden and Australia. Horlbeck was born on January 28, 1924, in Whiting Indiana. He received his BSc in Chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1949 and then took an MA in Art History from the same school two years later before pursuing a PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. He achieved his goal in 1957 with a dissertation titled, “Decorative Painting in English Medieval Architecture.”

He became an assistant professor of art history at UW-Madison in 1958 and retired a full professor in 1995. His 36 years of service to the university included three stints as chair of the Department of Art History. He served on many important university committees and for a term as president of the Friends of the Libraries. A dedicated teacher, he mentored countless undergraduates, and his PhD students went on to professorships at schools such at Baruch College, CUNY Graduate Center, UW-Whitewater and the University of Oregon and to careers in museums. Horlbeck’s two greatest passions were architectural photography and a collection of Victorian molded jugs. For about 40 years he divided his time in summer between sojourns in England and Mt. Athos in Greece along with trips around Europe and beyond to visit and photograph great architectural monuments. Late in his life, his contributions as photographer and collector were recognized in two exhibitions — Holy Mountain: Icons from Mount Athos and Photographs by Frank Horlbeck and What’s in a Jug? Art, Technology, Culture — both of which were organized by art history classes and hosted by the Chazen Museum of Art.

“Frank Holbeck’s passing is a great loss to our community,” says professor Thomas Dale. “He was a passionate teacher and photographer who taught countless students the introductory survey of Ancient and Medieval Art as well as more specialized courses on the art and architecture of the British Isles, Scandinavia and the Byzantine empire.”

Horlbeck has left a marvelous collection of slides to the art history department, including his unparalleled archive of images of English parish churches. The Chazen is preparing to receive his donation of his jug collection, a monetary bequest and various antiques and works of art.

“Generations to come will benefit from access to his photographs of medieval art and architecture, including the areas of his own particular interest — medieval English parish churches and the Orthodox monasteries of Mt. Athos in northern Greece — as well his incomparable collection of Victorian molded Staffordshire jugs,” says Dale. Funeral Services will be held on February 23 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Chazen Museum of Art. Checks should be made payable to the UW Foundation-Chazen Museum of Art Fund with “in memory of Frank Horlbeck” on the memo line, and mailed to US Bank Lockbox 78807, Milwaukee, WI 53278; electronic donations can be made at