Date born: 1902
Place Born: Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
Date died: 1968
Place died: Knoxville, TN
Byzantinist and Dumbarton Oaks scholar. Underwood’s father was a Presbyterian missionary in Puerto Rico when his son, Paul, was born. He graduated from Princeton University in 1925 with a B. S. in architecture, continuing for a master of fine arts degree in architecture from Princeton in 1928. Underwood initially practiced architecture in New York until the Great Depression of the 1930s caused commissions to cease. He traveled to Greece, making a personal study of the classical and medieval monuments. Underwood returned to the United States and Princeton in 1935, where medievalists had emerged as the leaders of the department of art and archaeology there. He married Irene Jarde during this time. In 1938 Underwood joined the faculty of Cornell University, teaching art history courses. His earliest articles, one on the iconography of a pilgrim staff-part of the catalog of the Museo San Marco–and another on the Bernini towers for St. Peters, reflect the range of area characteristic of his Princeton mentor Charles Rufus Morey (q.v.). By his own admission, teaching was not his forte and in 1943 he received a fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard University’s early medieval study center near Washington, DC. The Senior Scholar in Residence, Albert M. Friend (q.v.) enlisted Underwood’s help in 1945 to write a comprehensive study of the decoration sources for the destroyed Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. He was appointed assistant professor in 1946. Underwood moved to Instanbul in 1949. The following year, 1950, the head and founder of the private Byzantine Institute, Thomas Whittemore (1871-1950) died suddenly and Underwood took over as Field Director assisted by Ernest Hawkins (q.v.), who had been Whittemore’s second-in-command. At that time, the group was engaged in uncovering the mosaics of Hagia Sophia. Underwood became an assistant professor at Dumbarton Oaks in 1951. As director of field work, he completed the Hagia Sophia work and then supervised the excavation and restoration of the church of Kariye Djami in Istanbul, again begun by Whittemore, with a team that included in addition to Hawkins, A. H. S. “Peter” Megaw (q.v.) There the team uncovered important Byzantine frescos and mosaics. Dumbarton Oaks gradually took over the research from the Institute, initially paying the salaries of the team. Though Kariye Djami became his life interest, Underwood also participated on the exploration and restorations of the Fethiye Djami (Church of the Pammakaristos), the Zayrek Djami (Church of the Pantokrator) and the Fenari Isa Djami (Church of the Theotokos of Contatine Lips). He was made full professor at Dumbarton Oaks in 1960. In 1963 Dumbarton Oaks assumed full responsibility for the field work, which Underwood continued to oversee as chair of the “Committee on Field Work.” He published his Istanbul research in the three-volume The Kariye Djami beginning in 1966. The Princeton University Press Bollingen-series book was awarded College Art Association’s Charles Rufus Morey award. He completed a fourth volume on Kariye Djami shortly before his death.
Underwood’s early research publications were iconographic, reflecting the approach of Princeton’s faculty. His major work on Kariye Djami though largely descriptive, contains analysis of the decoration in broader context.
Home Country: United States
Sources: Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 59 cited; Constable, Giles. “Dumbarton Oaks and Byzantine Field Work.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 37 (1983): 172; [obituary:] “Paul A. Underwood, Byzantium Expert.” New York Times September 27, 1968, p. 47; Kitzinger, Ernst. “Paul Atkins Underwood (1902-1968).” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 23 (1969): 1-6.
Bibliography: The Kariye Djami. 4 vols. New York: 1966-1968; “Notes on the Work of the Byzantine Institute in Istanbul: 1954.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 9 (1956): 291-300; “Notes on the Work of the Byzantine Institute in Istanbul: 1955-1956.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 12 (1958): 269-287; and Hawkins, Ernest. “The Mosaics of Hagia Sophia at Istanbul: The Portrait of the Emperor Alexander: A Report on Work Done by the Byzantine Institute in 1959 and 1960.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 15 (1961): 187-217.