Born at Stara Osota in Poland (now Ukraine) 1915, George Zarnecki received his MA from the Jagiellonian University of Cracow in 1938, and from 1936 to 1939 was a junior assistant in its Institute of the History of Art. His academic career was interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served as a lance-corporal, receiving both the Polish Cross of Valour and the Croix de Guerre for his bravery in France. Held as a prisoner-of-war from 1940 to 1942, he escaped, only to be interned in Spain, but finished the war with the Polish army in Britain. He joined the Courtauld in 1945, remaining on the staff until his retirement in 1982 by which time he had spent 20 years as the Institute’s Deputy Director. George Zarnecki died at the age of 92 in Septmber, 2008.
Zarnecki’s academic reputation is founded on the complete reappraisal of English Romanesque sculpture that his work brought about. His interests were appreciably more wide-ranging than this might suggest, and he published widely on European subjects (Gislebertus, Sculpteur d’Autun, is one his most quoted books). However, it is for his work on English Romanesque sculpture that he is best known. A flavour of his earliest work on this was captured in a series of three short books – English Romanesque Sculpture, Later English Romanesque Sculpture and English Romanesque Lead Sculpture – published by Alec Tiranti in the 1950s. In these one can find his first thoughts on sculptural compositions and workshops to which he was particularly drawn, and to which he returned on a number of occasions in later life; Herefordshire, Ely, the Lincoln west front. He subsequently went on to curate the Arts Council’s 1984 exhibition on English Romanesque Art: 1066 to 1200, and was the founder and early guiding spirit of the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland.