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Hackenbroch, Yvonne Alixlocked

  • Anthony Philips

Hackenbroch, Yvonne Alix (1912–2012), museum curator and historian of jewellery, was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on 27 April 1912, the second of three daughters of Zacharias Max Hackenbroch (1884–1937) and his wife, Clementine, née Schwarzschild (1888–1984). Her father was one of Frankfurt's leading art dealers while several members of his wife's extended family were in the antiques trade, having mainly descended from her maternal great-grandfather, one of the most renowned dealers of them all, Selig Goldschmidt, an adviser to the great Frankfurt collector Baron Mayer Carl von Rothschild.

Yvonne Hackenbroch was born into the Jewish intellectual and artistic milieu that flourished in Frankfurt before the First World War. Fluent in German, French, English, and Italian, she was drawn to art history. Indeed, while still at school she produced a booklet about the Guelph treasures. This extraordinary group of medieval religious silver and metalwork was sold between 1929 and 1935 by Duke Ernst August II of Brunswick-Lüneburg to her father together with other Frankfurt and New York dealers. They in turn sold it on to private collectors and museums around the world, most notably the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. The remainder of the collection was purchased in 1935 by the Prussian state, a sale that at the time of her death was the subject of a restitution lawsuit on the grounds that it had been forced.

In the early 1930s Hackenbroch studied the history of art at Munich University both as an undergraduate and as a postgraduate. For a Jew it was, of course, at times difficult to be in the town where the Nazi movement had developed and she was the last of her faith to gain a doctorate there before the Second World War, in December 1936. Many years later, following her retirement, the university honoured her with a Festschrift.

Following her father's death Hackenbroch moved to London, where she was part of the team that excavated and catalogued the Sutton Hoo treasure discovered in 1939. Once war was imminent she worked at the British Museum helping to pack up and store large parts of its collection.

In 1946 Hackenbroch went to Toronto as the expert responsible for the collection of Renaissance art given by Viscount Lee of Fareham to the Canadian people in appreciation of their help in the war. Three years later she moved to New York to become curator for Judge Irwin Untermeyer, the distinguished collector and trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art whose collections were eventually to enrich that museum. She subsequently joined the museum, becoming consultative curator of sculpture and decorative arts. Between 1956 and 1963 she published in five volumes her catalogue of the porcelain, furniture, tapestries, bronzes, and silver in the Untermeyer collection, an indication of the very considerable depth and breadth of her knowledge of the decorative arts.

In 1979 Renaissance Jewellery, Hackenbroch's magnum opus, was published. Based on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century designs, paintings, and inventories, it was an ambitious attempt to categorize such jewellery by country of origin and date and was packed full of information based on a formidable amount of original research. It should be remembered that, at this date, virtually all jewellery in the Renaissance manner was accepted as period, as any study of the literature and museum and auction house catalogues of the time will attest. By chance the publication coincided with the discovery in the Victoria and Albert Museum's library of some one thousand drawings by the nineteenth-century master faker Reinhold Vasters of Aachen for jewelled and enamelled gold Renaissance-style mounts and objects. This and subsequent work on the Parisian jeweller Charles André, Vasters's contemporary, revealed that a number of jewels of the more than one thousand illustrated in her book were nineteenth-century Renaissance-style pieces. Typically she set out to set the record straight with a detailed, lengthy, and invaluable study of Vasters's life and work published in the Metropolitan Museum Journal in 1984–5. Her last major work, Enseignes: Renaissance Hat Jewels, was published in 1996. This literary output was accompanied by numerous articles in art publications.

On her retirement from the museum in 1987 Hackenbroch moved back to London. Both there in her flat in Hyde Park Gardens and previously in that off Fifth Avenue, New York, she was a wonderful hostess presiding over a never-ending stream of intimate lunches and dinners for those in the art world. These seemed to be effortlessly arranged in spite of a busy day researching at the Warburg Institute or the Metropolitan Museum Library. They were the equivalent of an art salon adapted to twentieth-century living. She died, unmarried, in her flat at 31 Hyde Park Gardens, Bayswater, London on 7 September 2012, four months after celebrating her 100th birthday.


  • Daily Telegraph (20 Sept 2012)
  • New York Times (2 Nov 2012)
  • The Silver Society Journal, 38 (2012), 180–81
  • Jewellery History Today, 16 (winter 2013), 13
  • ‘Heirs of Jewish dealers claim one of Germany's great medieval collections’, Art Newspaper, 254 (Feb 2014), 8–9
  • A. Philip, ‘Yvonne Hackenbroch’, Society of Antiquaries website,
  • personal knowledge (2016)
  • private information (2016)
  • d. cert.