By all accounts, Clifford A. Truesdell III belonged to
another age. The former eminent Johns
Hopkins engineering professor spoke six languages (some
argue seven), read classical Greek and Latin,
was an expert on baroque music and surrounded himself with
beautiful objects from the 16th to 19th
A true Renaissance man, Truesdell shared with his
wife, Charlotte, an appreciation for the
classics, music and fine art. Visitors to the Truesdells'
residence in Baltimore's Guilford neighborhood
said that to enter the Palladian-style home, named Il
Palazzetto, was like stepping back in time — say
Europe circa 1815.
On Tuesday, an 18th-century George II mahogany
four-poster bed and an assortment of other
rare and valuable English furniture once housed at Il
Palazzetto will go up for auction at Christie's in
New York. The magnificent state bed, upholstered in
red-rose acanthus-patterned damask, is valued
between $200,000 and $300,000.
The following week, on April 16, Christie's will
auction the Truesdells' collection of Italian, Dutch
and Flemish furniture, a group highlighted by a Dutch
oyster-veneered olivewood cabinet valued up to
Other items up for sale include a pair of George II
giltwood console tables ($100,000 to
$150,000), a Victorian brass library telescope ($3,000) and
a George II giltwood mirror from 1735
that is valued up to $80,000. The Truesdells' entire
collection of European furniture and artifacts
could fetch in excess of $2.3 million for the estate.
Truesdell, who passed away at the age of 80 on Jan.
14, 2000, had during his life earned
international acclaim for his work in the field of rational
mechanics, the study of how materials
behave. He also was a pioneer in thermodynamics and is
largely credited with laying a mathematical
foundation for modern mechanical engineering.
Truesdell joined Johns Hopkins in 1961 and remained
one of its most prominent engineering
scholars until his retirement in 1989.
Among the auction items is this
Dutch oyster-veneered olivewood cabinet.
Photo courtesy of
He wrote or co-wrote 26 books and more than 200
papers, and edited journals for the field of
rational mechanics. He was a member of the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences and received
numerous professional awards, including the prestigious
A native of Los Angeles, Truesdell earned degrees from
the California Institute of Technology,
Brown University and Princeton. Before joining Johns
Hopkins, Truesdell's professional career
included stints at MIT, Indiana University and the Naval
He and his wife (who died in 2008) traveled
extensively, and apparently hosted parties even
Andrew Douglas, professor and vice dean for faculty at
the Whiting School
of Engineering, said
that dinners at the Truesdells' were always an event and
often became impromptu concerts.
Douglas said that in addition to hosting many of his
Mechanical Engineering colleagues in his
home, top musicians would regularly be on the guest list.
The Truesdells maintained close ties to the
Baltimore arts community, Douglas said, and musicians leapt
at the chance to play on or along with his
"One of my most memorable evenings with Charlotte and
Clifford was to hear cellist Anner
Bylsma play in their home," Douglas said. "Quite a treat to
meet someone of that stature and to hear
them in such an intimate setting. I remember Mr. Bylsma
asking me what rational mechanics was."
Douglas said that Truesdell loved to live as if he
were in the 16th century. He filled the house
with antique furnishings, candles and paintings of his wife
in classical settings. The only modern
trappings resided in the kitchen.
Douglas referred to Truesdell as a collector with a
keen eye. He is said to have amassed the
majority of his collection before he arrived at Johns
Hopkins but continued to purchase items
throughout his life.
"Clifford collected many things before they became
popular," he said. "For example, when
Australian opal was considered just a rock, he collected
some absolutely wonderful specimens. He also
collected art which was considered erotic in the '50s and
'60s but which later became acceptable to
display in serious collections."
Ray Bowen, president emeritus of Texas A&M University
and a former postdoctoral fellow at
Johns Hopkins who studied with Truesdell in the 1960s, said
that his mentor was a brilliant
mathematician who could offer insightful historical
perspective on a broad range of subjects.
Bowen said Truesdell's international reputation led
him to speaking engagements around the
world, in particular Italy, where he was later accepted to
the country's Academy of Science.
"I believe he gave his acceptance address in Latin,"
said Bowen, who kept in contact with
Truesdell until his former colleague's health began to fail
in the mid-1990s. "He wrote articles in Latin,
too. He had an unbelievable historical context."
Something of an eccentric, Truesdell often dressed for
parties in extravagant antique attire.
Bowen said he moved around parties like a rocket and could
inject himself into any conversation.
"He was a very unusual person," Bowen said. "He could
be intimidating, but once you got to know
him, you saw a very down-to-earth and kind man. People who
knew him, loved him. He was
extraordinarily kind and very helpful in my career."
As for his furnishings, Bowen said that Truesdell did
not treat them as museum pieces. He sat
in the 17th-century chairs, slept in the 18th-century bed
and would place a glass on the $10,000 side
"He lived inside that historical period. These pieces
were not on display. He used his furniture
and thoroughly enjoyed his possessions," Bowen said. "If it
were me, I probably would have put them in
a room and locked the door."
Despite the use, the items in the Truesdell collection
remain in immaculate condition. To view
the collection, go to
www.christies.com and search keyword "Truesdell."