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Updated 9:00 AM October 13, 2004




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Nathan Thomas Whitman

Nathan Thomas Whitman, 79, died Aug. 28 at University Hospital. He was professor emeritus of the history of art.

A native of Rome, N.Y., Whitman received a bachelor of arts in French literature, summa cum laude, from Bowdoin College in 1946; his A.M. in fine arts from the Harvard Graduate School in 1947; and his doctorate "with great distinction" from Harvard in 1955.

In his four decades at U-M (1950-90), Whitman served with distinction in a wide range of capacities within the Department of the History of Art, including as chair from 1979-82. He also was director of the Honors Program (1955-62), departmental bibliographer (1959-64 and 1983-86), master of arts adviser (1964-68), director of graduate studies (1968-71), director of the program for departmental undergraduate majors (1972-78) and acting master of arts adviser (fall 1983 and 1986-87).

Within the University at large, he served as a member of the Fine Arts Division Research Committee of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies (1963-68) and chaired the Rackham committee to review the doctoral program in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning (1987).

A specialist in the art and architecture of the Renaissance and Baroque Italy and France, Whitman was the author of a wide range of articles for professional journals and a book on the 17th century draughtsman Raymond Lafage (Nijhoff, The Hague, 1962).

In 1983, he co-curated with his former student, Professor John Varriano of Mount Holyoke College, an exhibition of papal medals, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The exhibition was shown at the Museum of Art, at Mount Holyoke and at the University of Chicago. Accompanying the exhibition was a rich scholarly catalogue that stands as the benchmark publication in its field.

Whitman's numismatic interests and collecting also extended into the realms of ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine coinage and Napoleonic commemorative medals.

A master teacher from the level of the introductory survey to the graduate seminar and an inspiring mentor for doctoral candidates, Whitman established an indelible reputation as one who summoned a high degree of excellence from students. At a symposium held at the University in his honor on his retirement in 1990, returning and current students alike spoke with awe of the brilliance of his scholarly insights, the ways in which he sparked their intellectual response, and the wry humor that leavened his teaching and advising.

To every activity Whitman brought his wisdom, integrity and profundity in the realm of ideas. He was an omnivorous reader, drawing both the popular and the arcane into the web of his intellectual curiosity. Mercurial in temperament, his tastes in classical music favored both the structural rigors of Bach and the shifting moods of Wagner and Mahler. Whitman's unique presence and multiple accomplishments brought an enduring legacy to the University.

A mass of Christian burial was held Sept. 3 at St. Mary Student Parish, with the Rev. Thomas Firestone officiating. Interment was at Forest Hill Cemetery.

Surviving Whitman are his wife, Gretchen, and his sister, Ann, of Bridgewater, Mass.

The Record accepts obituaries from University departments, family members and funeral homes acting on behalf of the family. All obituaries must be for active or retired faculty and staff members.

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