Visiting The Met?

Masks are strongly recommended.

Read our visitor guidelines

Perspectives Womens History

Anita Reinhard: A Trailblazing Curator of Arms and Armor

One of the first women curators in an American museum, Reinhard was a pioneer in her field.

March 20

Portrait of Anita Reinhard in front of the Temple of Dendur

Upon his founding of the Department of Arms and Armor in 1912, Dr. Bashford Dean (1867–1928) assembled a devoted staff of skilled curators, armorers, and administrators to help him grow and manage the first curatorial department in the United States dedicated to the arts of the armorer, swordsmith, and gunmaker. These men and women played a central role in establishing arms and armor as a discrete field of academic study and collecting in this country in the early twentieth century. Under Dean’s leadership, the department’s staff strategically and rapidly grew the department’s collections, mounted groundbreaking exhibitions, and produced an astounding amount of scholarship that today remains a bedrock in the field. 

Composite image of armor and a portrait of Anita Reinhard

Left: Armor for Field and Tilt, equipped for the German Tilt, from the Dos Aguas family armory in Valencia, Spain. Italian, ca. 1550–75. Steel, leather, textile, copper alloy, H. as mounted 69 1/2 in. (176.5 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of George D. Pratt, 1927 (27.159.1-.3, .5-.7). Photograph by Bruce Schwarz. Right: Portrait of Anita Reinhard from her U.S. Passport Application, June 13, 1923. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 2301; Volume #: Roll 2301 - Certificates: 307850-308349, 12 Jun 1923 – 13 Jun 1923

While many individuals who began their careers in the department during Dean’s years went on to achieve lasting renown in the museum world, others have received less recognition in the historical record. One such figure is Anita Reinhard (1887–1985), assistant curator from 1927 until 1947. She joined the department in 1919 as secretary to Dean and in 1927 was promoted to assistant curator, becoming one of the first women to hold a curatorial position in an American museum. While today the majority of art museum curators in the United States are women, Reinhard entered the field when few women were curators. [1] Reinhard’s achievement also places her among the vanguard of female curators of arms and armor, which included Ada Bruhn Hoffmeyer (1910–91).

Armor scattered in the Dos Aguas Palace in Valencia, Spain,

Armor scattered in the Dos Aguas Palace, Valencia, Spain, 1927. Department of Arms and Armor Archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photograph probably by Anita Reinhard

As a curator, Reinhard conducted research on objects and also secured important acquisitions for The Met, including the purchase of a portion of the Dos Aguas family ancestral armory, which required her to conduct negotiations in Spain. (This acquisition’s fascinating story and Reinhard’s central role in the saga are the subject of a recent lecture by Jonathan Tavares, curator of applied arts of Europe at the Art Institute of Chicago.) Reinhard also contributed to the production of several major Museum publications, made important discoveries through archival research in Europe, and following her career at The Met assisted the famous American collector Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch (1884–1976), whose collection comprises the core the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s holdings of arms and armor.

Various ephemera and correspondence photographed on a light gray background

Various correspondence between Anita Reinhard, Bashford Dean, Manuel de Soler, and Steven Grancsay regarding the dos Aguas acquisition, 1927. Department of Arms and Armor Archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NewYork. Photograph by Stephen Bluto

Reinhard’s background and work are eloquently summarized in an obituary, below, written by a colleague at The Met who knew her well, Curator Emeritus and Former Head of Arms and Armor Stuart W. Pyhrr. Sadly, this obituary has never been published. We are pleased to finally present it here for the first time.

In partnership with our colleagues in Thomas J. Watson Library, we have also made available online Arms, Armor & Heraldry: Essays in Honor of Anita Reinhard. This volume comprises twelve privately printed essays by luminaries in the arms and armor field, including A. V. B. Norman (1930–98), Claude Blair (1922–2010), and Nolfo di Carpegna (1913–96), written in recognition and celebration of Reinhard’s career and contributions to scholarship. Initially produced as a private book and never intended to be printed in numbers, the volume exists in very few copies.

Red book with the title "Arms Armor and Heraldry Essays in honor of Anita Reinhard" in gold letters

Anita Reinhard’s personal copy of Arms, Armor & Heraldry: Essays in Honor of Anita Reinhard. Photograph by Stephen Bluto

The scanned copy is particularly special because it was Reinhard’s personal copy, presented to her in 1981 by colleagues at the Ninth Congress of the International Association of Museums of Arms and Military History. Its editors, then The Met’s Head of Arms and Armor Helmut Nickel (1924–2019) and then Curator Stuart W. Pyhrr, describe the distinctive characteristics of the volume presented to her in the preface: 

This volume is one-of-a-kind. Its organization and binding are based upon a worthy model, the Miscellany of Arms and Armor presented to Dr. Bashford Dean in October of 1926. The manuscript was typed by Howard Sloan of the Arms and Armor Department and was bound by master bookbinder Arno Werner of Hadlyme, Connecticut. 

Reinhard kept the book and felt it should someday become part of the department’s library. She bequeathed it to the Museum, and it joined gifts of works on paper and clothing she made during her lifetime.

Black and white portrait of Anita Reinhard sitting down with an open book

Portrait of Anita Reinhard, 1977. Department of Arms and Armor Archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photograph probably by Harvey Murton

ANITA REINHARD (1887–1985)
Obituary written by Stuart W. Pyhrr, 1985

Anita Reinhard, a member of the Department of Arms and Armor at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1919 to 1947, died on December 15, 1985, at the age of ninety-eight. Although her contributions to the field of arms and armor have rarely been heralded, they are nevertheless of lasting importance and worthy of remembrance. She was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, on January 30, 1887, to Swiss-born parents, who were distant relations of the famous Reinhart family of Winterthur. From 1899–1902 she was a student in Legnano, Italy, and in 1905–07 she studied languages in Switzerland. Her linguistic ability was an invaluable asset in her museum work, which she began at the Commercial Museum in Philadelphia and continued at the Pennsylvania Museum (as the Philadelphia Museum of Art was first known). In November 1919 she accepted the position of secretary to Dr. Bashford Dean, curator of arms and armor at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her duties soon expanded to include the extensive bibliographical research related to the young department's collection. In 1927 she became assistant curator and thus one of the first women to achieve a curatorial position in an American museum.

While her work was scholarly by nature, it was not without adventure. In 1927 she went to Spain to negotiate the joint purchase of the arms and armor collection of the Marqués de Dos Aguas by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chicago collector, George F. Harding. The result was the acquisition of several important armors for the two American collections.

Composite of a closed burgonet and a garniture for Field and Foot tourney

Left: Closed Burgonet, from the Dos Aguas family armory in Valencia, Spain. Attributed to Kolman Helmschmid (German, Augsburg 1471–1532). German, Augsburg, ca. 1525–30. Steel, leather, H. 14 5/8 in. (37.1 cm); W. 9 in. (22.9 cm); D. 12 7/8 in. (32.7 cm); Wt. 7 lb. 10 oz. (3004 g). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of George D. Pratt, 1927 (27.159.18). Photograph by Stephen Bluto. Right: Garniture for Field and Foot Tourney at the Barriers, from the Dos Aguas family armory in Valencia, Spain. Italian, Milan, ca. 1575. Steel with gilding, brass, leather, velvet weave, and lace, H. 38 in. (96.5 cm); Wt. 38 lb. 13 oz. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. George F. Harding Collection (1982.2172a-o). Photograph courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago 

From 1928–29, Reinhard spent six months in Paris overseeing the printing of two Metropolitan Museum publications, Bashford Dean’s Catalogue of European Court Swords and Hunting Swords and Catalogue of European Daggers. These catalogues were exemplary publications of their kind, and the quality of their production was due in large part to her exacting standards. During World War II, she joined the other members of the Department of Arms and Armor in working for the war effort. She served on a government commission that identified the major historic monuments in Europe that were to be spared Allied bombing. The results of this commission’s work was summarized in the Report of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas.

After her retirement from the Museum in 1947 at the age of sixty, Reinhard traveled extensively in Europe to continue her research in arms and armor. Among her most important discoveries were five unpublished letters, found in the Archivio di Stato, Florence, that documented the Medici patronage of the Missaglia family, the leading armorers in fifteenth-century Milan. With characteristic generosity, she gave the information contained in these letters to Bruno Thomas and Ortwin Gamber for their publication L’Arte Milanese dellArmatura.

“While her work was scholarly by nature, it was not without adventure.”

In the mid-1950s, she became the assistant to Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch, the great American collector of arms and armor whose collection was bequeathed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1976. For over twenty years she kept the records for the growing Kienbusch collection and oversaw new acquisitions for its library. For the published catalogue, The Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection of Armor and Arms, she prepared the section on polearms, a subject long neglected by arms specialists. As a result of her careful descriptions and diligent research on almost two hundred shafted weapons, the polearms section remains one of the great strengths of the catalogue and a significant contribution to the field of arms and armor.

Portrait of Anita Reinhard in front of the Temple of Dendur

Anita Reinhard at the Temple of Dendur. Photographer unknown, 1980s. Department of Arms and Armor Archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In the last years of her life, Reinhard served as an adviser for the installation of the Kienbusch Collection in Philadelphia and continued to correspond with arms specialists, to whom she provided information, insight, and friendly help. In 1981, on the occasion of the Ninth Congress of the International Association of Arms and Military History in the United States, eleven of her colleagues from America and Europe honored her with a festschrift entitled Art, Arms & Heraldry: Essays in Honor of Anita Reinhard. Not intended for publication, this manuscript was offered as a private tribute to a specialist who had so generously helped several generations of students and whose work has made a lasting contribution to the arms and armor departments of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


[1] Mariët Westermann, Roger Schonfeld, and Liam Sweeney. Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey 2018. (2019). The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Ithaka S+R, the Association of Art Museum Directors, and the American Alliance of Museums, p. 6, 8. Return

About the contributors

Associate Curator