John Shapley, 88 an early organizer of the study of the history of art and archelogy in this country, died of cardiac arrest Friday at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

Prof. Shapley, who taught and lectured for 58 years, held professorship at Catholic, Howard and George Washington universities and the old Federal City College here and Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore. He also organized a coordinated program of graduate study in art history among colleges and universities in this area.

His special interest was in early Christian and Byzantine art. From 1960 to 1963 he taught at the University of Baghdad in Iraq. He contributed to the six-volume "A Survey of Persian Art," and was decorated by the shah of Iran for his contributions to the promotion and understanding of Persian culture.

During the 1920s, while a professor at New York University, Prof. Shapley directed a project funded by the Carnegie Corporation that supplied study materials in art history to approximately 200 high schools and colleges here and in the British Empire. Such materials had never before been readily accessible in this country. The Carnegie project is considered to have been the foundation upon which the widespread study of art history and archeology in this country was based.

Called the Carnegie "sets," the materials consisted of more than 2,000 color art reproductions and about 200 books, most of them selected by Prof. Shapley. He also enlisted the help of other scholars in their preparation, but he himself wrote the caption material accompanying the reproductions.

Today the Carnegie sets, which can still be found in mimeographed form, are no longer in use. They have been supplanted by material prepared by the world's great museums and institution.

In 1912, while a student at the University of Missouri, Prof. Shapley assisted his teacher, John Pickard, in founding the College Art Association and The Art Bulletin. The CAA today is one of the largest organizations of art scholars and teachers in this country and The Art Bulletin, its publication, is still in existence. Prof. Shapley, who was editor of the Bulletin for 20 years, was largely responsible, through his own financial contributions, for its continuous publication during the lean years of the Great Depression.

Prof. Shapley was born on the family farm in Jasper County, Mo. He was schooled by his older sister in a one-room school house on the property and attended high school in neighboring Kansas. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1912 at the University of Missouri, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1913, he earned a master's degree from Princeton University, and in 1914, a doctorate from the University of Vienna.

He was also proficient in mathematics, and during World War I taught it to military personnel. His late brother, Harlow Shapley, was a professor of astronomony at Harvard University.

His wife, Fern Rusk Shapley, is a retired curator of painting here. While Mrs. Shapley was assisting Bernard Berenson, the eminent art historian, in Florence, Italy, Prof. Shapley arranged to have Berenson's work, "Drawings of the Florentine Painters," published in Italy by the University of Chicago, where he was teaching at that time. These three large volumes, consisting of 1,000 drawings by Italian masters and their schools, became available to art students for the first time for a price of about $25.

The Shapleys established their home in Washington in the early 1940s. Prof. Shapley and his wife, who retired in 1960 as curator of painting at the National Gallery of Art, often worked as a team and together published "Comparions of Art." They would have observed their 60th wedding anniversary on Sept. 19.

Prof. Shapley was a contributor to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Dictionary of Religion and Ethics and many other scholary publications both here and abroad.

He had served as president of the Byzantine Institute, associate director of the Iranian Institute, and was secretary of the Fourth Iranian Congress of Art and Archaeology.

He was honored by the Carnegie Corporation "for the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding" and was a longtime member of the Classical Society and Friends of the Folger Library.

He also was a member of the Hadji Baba Club, whose members share an interest in oriental rugs.

In addition to his wife, of the home in Washington, Prof. Shapley's survivors include two daughters, Dora van Wijk and Ellen Fish, both of Cheverly; a brother, Horace Shapley, of Jasper County, Mo.; four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.