Women Crush Wednesday: Dr. Hilde Zaloscer

This week’s Women Crush Wednesday is an Egyptologist, Coptologist, and Art Historian who battled prejudice throughout her life. But she persevered and became and expert in her field. Her name was Dr. Hilde Zaloscer.

Early Life

Hildegard Zaloscer was born on the 15th of June, 1903 in the city of Tzla, then part of Austria-Hungary, and now located in Bosnia Herzegovina. She was the eldest daughter of an affluent Jewish lawyer and state official, Dr. Jacob Zaloscer, and his wife Bertha (nee Kallach). She had two younger sisters name Erna and Ruth.

At the end of World War I, her family had to flee to Vienna, the capital of Austria, when the Austrian monarchy collapsed. Here, Hilde finished her secondary education and studied art history and prehistory at the University of Vienna. She studied under Professor J. Strygowski, Josef Strnad and R. von Heine-Geldern.

She received her PhD in Art History in 1926. Her dissertation was “Die frühmittelalterliche Dreistreifenornamentik der Mittelmeerrandgebiete mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Denkmäler am Balkan” or “The early medieval three-stripe ornamentation of the Mediterranean areas with special consideration of the monuments in the Balkans.”

She received her PhD in Art History in 1926. Her dissertation was “Die frühmittelalterliche Dreistreifenornamentik der Mittelmeerrandgebiete mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Denkmäler am Balkan” or “The early medieval three-stripe ornamentation of the Mediterranean areas with special consideration of the monuments in the Balkans.”

After graduating Hilde couldn’t find any jobs that offered her any research opportunities. She gave tours of the art history museum and taught in higher education. From 1927 to 1936, she was the editor of the art magazine Belvedere.

Escape and Life in Egypt

Image of Hilde’s passport (?) from the exhibition about women who entered into marriages of convenience in exile

Unfortunately, an increase in anti-Semitism in Vienna forced her to leave Austria. Hilde emigrated to Egypt in 1936. There is evidence that undertook a fictious marriage with a native Egyptian to obtain Egyptian citizenship. It is unclear if this marriage took place before she emigrated or before she obtained the citizenship in 1939. I could also not find any evidence of the name of the man she “married.”

While this may sound a bit strange, according to some scholars there were 13 women who undertook these marriages to obtain citizenship and escape Nazi persecution. You can learn more about these other women here. Although it is not entirely clear, Hilde may have been ousted from the University of Vienna because of the changing world and her faith.

While in Egypt, she held several public lectures and courses in the artists association called Atelier. She also studied many of the Coptic monuments that were recently acquired by the Egyptian State Museum. I could not figure out if Hilde’s interest in Coptic studies began before or after she lived in Egypt. Nonetheless, in Egypt she was able to study many of these objects closer.

While in Egypt, she held several public lectures and courses in the artists association called Atelier. She also studied many of the Coptic monuments that were recently acquired by the Egyptian State Museum. I could not figure out if Hilde’s interest in Coptic studies began before or after she lived in Egypt. Nonetheless, in Egypt she was able to study many of these objects closer.

What is Coptology, you may ask? Coptoloy is the study of Coptic language, literature, and culture. Copts are an ethnoreligious group that are a Christian denomination and are mainly concentrated in Northern Africa and Egypt. Christianity was introduced in Egypt in 42 C.E. and the Coptic religion stems from that. What is most interesting about the Coptic religion, in regard to Egyptology, is that their language of the same name stems from the ancient Egyptian Demotic language. Coptic is know only typically spoken in the Coptic church (like Latin is spoken in some other Christian churches), but it is the only evidence of a spoken Egyptian language.

From 1946 to 1968, Hilde was a professor of art history at the University of Alexandria. This may be where she became a prominent and world-renowned expert in Coptic art. She returned to Austria in 1947 to try and continue her research but had to return to Egypt.

Later Life

After the Six Days War in 1967, many Jews faced more prosecution and expulsion in Egypt other Arab nations. Hilde was either expelled from Egypt or left the country with extreme difficulty. She temporarily live in Vienna from 1968 to 1970, where she could find no work at 65 years old.

Then she was invited as a visiting professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario for two years. After returning to Vienna, she finally obtained at job at her old university, University of Vienna from 1975 to 1978.

Throughout this period, she published many articles and books, as well as editing the Encyclopedia Coptica. There was apparently a barely existing library at the university which forced Hilde to use her own scientific method of investigation when conducting research. Though she had no direct contact with any of the objects she studied, Hilde developed a research path dericed from phenomenology, the study of the structure of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. “Thinking for yourself, looking for yourself, experiencing for yourself, led to new results.”

Hilde showed that with Coptic art was a mixture of the art of the Greco-Romans, the Byzantines, and the Pharaohs. In addition, she also devoted herself to the problems of modern art.

She died at the age of 96 on December 20th, 1999.

Legacy

The Memorial for the excluded, expelled, and murdered graduates of the Art History Institute

A memorial outside of the Institute of Art History at the University of Vienna is dedicated to the “excluded, expelled, and murdered graduates of the Art History Institute.” Hilde’s name is the last on the list, implying that she was one of the “excluded or expelled,” students. The memorial was designed by Hans Buchwald and inaugurated in October 2008.

And in 2018, Hilde was included in an exhibition about women who had marriages of convenience in exile to escape persecution. This was held at the Jewish Museum in Vienna. The stories of the women were presented by showing their portrait and their escape routes, with personal objects, documents, and videos about them. These show the before, during, and after their marriages. An image of Hilde’s display can be seen below and you can learn more about this exhibition as a whole here or watch this YouTube video (mind you this is in German).

Mock-up for Hilde’s portion of the exhibition

Awards

Hilde received multiple awards throughout her life, the majority of these I assume she received when she lived in Vienna near the end of her life.

  • The Golden Honorary Doctorate of the Vienna University
  • Theodor-Körner Prize, Austria
    • Set of annual Austrian awards bestowed by the Theodor Körner Fund in recognition of cultural and/or scientific advances
  • Adolf-Schärf Prize
    • An award for the Advancement of Science
  • Goldenes Verdienstkreuz des Landes Wien or the Golden Medal of Merit of the State of Vienna
    • An award given to people who have made great services to the State of Vienna through public or private work
  • Kulturmedaille der Stadt Linz or Cultural Medal of the City of Linz
    • An award given to those who have made special contributions to business, science, culture and humanity in the city of Linz, Austria
An example of the modern Golden Medal of Merit of the State of Vienna

Publications

The majority of her publications were in German or French. Here I have translated all the titles into English, but her complete list of publications can be found on her Wikipedia page. A few of her articles seem to have been published after her death.

  • 1926 – The early medieval three-strolling drama of the Mediterranean regions with special consideration of the monuments in the Balkans
  • 1946 – Le Greco
  • 1947 – Some considerations on the relationship between Coptic art and the Indies
  • 1953 – Thomas Mann’s “Doctor Faustus” and his models
  • 1953 – On musical composition in literary works
  • 1955 – The Woman with the Veil in Coptic Iconography
  • 1959 – The antithetics in the work of Thomas Mann
  • 1961 – Portraits from the desert sand
  • 1962 – Egyptian knitting
  • 1969 – From the mummy portrait to the icon
  • 1974 – Art in Christian Egypt
  • 1985 – The cry, sign of an epoch : the expressionist century: fine art, poetry and prose, theater
  • 1988 – There is no homecoming
  • 1991- On the genesis of Coptic art: iconographic contributions
  • 1993 – Egyptian textile art
  • 1997 – Visual evocation, autonomous work of art, ideograph
  • 1999 – On Egyptian death masks
  • 2004 – Scientific work without scientific apparatus
  • 2004 – The three times exile
  • 2004 – Art history and National Socialism

Sources

https://www.geschichtewiki.wien.gv.at/Denkmal_f%C3%BCr_Ausgegrenzte_und_Ermordete_des_Kunsthistorischen_Instituts

https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Monument_to_victims_of_Kunsthistorisches_Insitut,_University_of_Vienna_02.jpg

http://www.gabuheindl.at/en/overview/political-history/persecuted-engaged-married-marriages-of-convenience-in-exile.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copts

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coptology

Photo Sources

Photo of memorial – Wikimedia Commons (Herzi Pinki)

Image of document – https://www.univie.ac.at/geschichtegesichtet/h_zaloscer.html

Pictural of memorial – https://geschichte.univie.ac.at/de/artikel/denkmal-fuer-ausgegrenzte-emigrierte-und-ermordete-des-kunsthistorischen-instituts-der

Picture of memorial – https://www.geschichtewiki.wien.gv.at/Datei:Denkmal_f%C3%BCr_Ausgegrenzte_und_Ermordete_des_Kunsthistorischen_Instituts,_1090_Altes_AKH.jpg

Picture of her – https://www.univie.ac.at/biografiA/daten/text/bio/zaloscer.htm

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