Remembering Malcolm Bell III

Color photograph of three light skinned people in a room talking to each other
Malcolm Bell (center) at a reception following the Spring Concert at Villa Aurelia, 1990 (photograph from the American Academy in Rome, Institutional Archive)

Malcolm (“Mac”) Bell III (1970 Fellow, 1989 Resident), a widely admired archaeologist, a longtime field director of excavations at Morgantina in Sicily, and an international advocate for the protection of cultural heritage, died on January 7, 2024. He was 82 years old.

Bell was an expert in ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture and the history of city planning. He graduated from Princeton University with an AB in 1963 and earned his PhD there nine years later. During his doctoral studies he won a Fulbright fellowship to Italy (1968–69) as well as a two-year Rome Prize (1968–70), where he worked on his dissertation, “The Terracottas of Morgantina: 400–50 BC,” based on findings on the site of an ancient Greek settlement on Sicily.

After his sojourn at the American Academy in Rome, Bell began teaching at the University of Virginia in 1971 and served as chair of the McIntire Department of Art from 1978 to 1985. He also led his school’s excavations in Sicily, travelling annually for field work at Morgantina, where he oversaw the student work and hosted colleagues from around the world. His writing on the longstanding Morgantina Studies series, which he supervised, includes The Terracottas (1982) and The City Plan and Political Agora (2022).

Bell’s connection to Morgantina was so important that the town of Aidone honored him with its first ever honorary citizenship, in 2008. “It is a testament as well to the many excellent personal and professional relationships he has cultivated over the years,” wrote the archaeologist Sandra K. Lucore (2007 Fellow). Bell was instrumental in repatriating a mammoth statute, known as the Morgantina Aphrodite, which now lives in the Aidone Archaeological Museum.

color photograph of men and woman sitting on an ancient staircase in Tunisia
Malcolm Bell (top center) led a trip to Tunisia with Fellows in 1995. Top, from left: Laura Flusche, Leah Johnson, Richard Lim, Malcolm Bell, Pam Gorgone, Karl Kirchwey, and Katherine L. Jansen; bottom: Anders Wallace, Diana Minsky, Caroline Bruzelius, Anthony Corbeill, and Gary Hilderbrand

In addition to his Rome Prize, Bell received numerous other recognitions over his illustrious career, including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1989; two awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in 1976 and 1981–82; and an Andrew W. Mellon Professorship at the National Gallery of Art’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (1998–2000).

The Archaeological Institute of America bestowed its highest award, the Gold Medal, to Bell in 2016. In addition to his teaching and scholarship, AIA heralded Bell’s work combating the illicit excavation and smuggling of antiquities. “Catalyzed when he personally witnessed the widespread destruction of the site of Morgantina by illegal excavators,” his award citation reads, “Bell rose to the occasion and placed the problem front and center both in the international media and in the profession by organizing conferences, authoring scholarly and popular articles, and through diplomatic work behind the scenes. He provided essential leadership in crafting a bilateral agreement between Italy and the United States for the protection of cultural heritage, and scored an impressive series of victories in engineering the repatriation to Italy of works of outstanding importance from American collections….”

Bell was involved in the American Academy in Rome for many years. He was twice Professor-in-Charge of the School of Classical Studies during the 1990s and edited or coedited volumes 42–45 of the Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. AAR honored his legacy with a conference, “Maestro di color che sanno,” in 2006.

Bell is survived by his wife Ruth, his son Raphael, and his daughter Maggie Bell.

Press inquiries

Andrew Mitchell

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Maddalena Bonicelli

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