Hermine Speier circa 1938. Courtesy G. Daltrop.
Hermine Speier at 70, in January 1967. Courtesy G. Daltrop.

Hermine Speier

Born in Frankfurt am Main in 1898, where she attended a private girls’ preparatory school (Victoria School, today called Bettina School), Hermine Speier (1898-1989) did not study archaeology at first, preferring instead to take classes in History, German Studies, and Philosophy. This all changed in the summer of 1919, when she attended her first archaeology lecture, given by Gerhard Rodenwalt at the Universität Gießen. Transferring to the University of Heidelberg, she later changed her major to archaeology (with a double minor in Classical Philology and Ancient History), graduating in 1925 while Ludwig Curtius was professor of archaeology there. Upon graduation, she worked as an assistant to Bernhard Schweitzer at Königsberg until 1928, when Curtius, then Director of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut at Rome, put her in charge of the photographic archive there (which was still under construction at the time of Speier’s appointment there). She left her job there in 1934, when Bartolomeo Nogara, then Director-General of the Vatican Museums, offered her the chance to build a photographic archive. This archive slowly grew over the years to include every exhibit in both the papal museums and palaces. In addition to her duties as curator of the photo archive, she also worked with archaeologist Filippo Magi on the Etruscan and Roman exhibits, as well as exhibits on Greek vases and those associated with specific excavations. She later retired from her position in 1967. Among her most distinguished publications are those of a horse-head from basement rooms of the Vatican Museums (in Lippold (ed.) Die Skulpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, 1956) and the excavations at the Basilica of St. Peter (in Herbig (ed.) Vermächtnis der Antiken Kunst, 1950). In addition, she was also editor of the important four-volume series festschrift for Wolfgang Helbig (Helbig: Führer durch die Öffentlichen Sammlungen Klassischer Altertümer in Rom, 1963-1972). In short, Speier’s remarkable career, in which she worked with the likes of such distinguished archaeologists as Curtius, Schweitzer, von Domaszewski, and Amelung, is best summed-up in her own words, written when she was 75 years of age: “The fascination involved in our work applies to two aspects of my life. The first was that of the actual job: a life with and for the artifacts. The other was the lively contact with the countless people who came to the Museum with questions, requests, problems, collegial exchanges, new discoveries, etc.; one cannot help but notice both.”

Author of biography: Georg Daltrop
Includes bibliography? Yes

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Keywords: Amelung, Archaeology, Bartolomeo Nogara, Basilica of St. Peter, Bernhard Schweitzer, Bettina School, curator, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut at Rome, Die Skulpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Vermächtnis der Antiken KunsEtruscan , Filippo Magi, Frankfurt am Main, : Führer durch die Öffentlichen Sammlungen Klassischer Altertümer in Rom, Gerhard Rodenwalt, Greek vases, Herbig, Hermine Speier, horse-head, Königsberg, Lippold, Ludwig Curtius, papal museums, photographic archive, Roman, Universität Gießen, University of Heidelberg, Vatican Museums, Vermächtnis der Antiken Kunst, Victoria School, von Domaszewski, Wolfgang Helbig.

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Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists
Published by the University of Michigan Press, 2004