Sir John Boardman obituary


As a scholar, John Boardman, who has died aged 96, was capable of recite by coronary heart texts in Attic Greek, the type of the language utilized in historical Athens. However whereas learning classics at Magdalene School, Cambridge, he encountered two archaeologists whose work inspired him to use that aptitude to the examine of classical objects: Charles Seltman confirmed him cash, and Robert Prepare dinner vases.

To those he added carved gems, sculpture and structure, on all of which he turned a number one authority, and the creator of greater than 30 books.

On graduating in 1948, he took Prepare dinner’s recommendation to not examine for a doctorate, however to go to Greece and do a little analysis there. On the British Faculty in Athens for the following two years, in addition to travelling to locations together with Crete and Smyrna, he labored within the depths of the Athens Nationwide Museum on vases from the island of Euboea (the trendy Evvia).

The History of Greek Vases

The diagnostic pot form that he recognized enabled later archaeologists and historians to trace the paths of Greeks and Greek tradition to the east – Al Mina in Syria – and the west – Pithecusae, in the present day’s Ischia, within the gulf of Naples – and at many factors between.

The Greek islands and the diaspora across the Mediterranean got here to be recurring themes in Boardman’s work. In 1964 he revealed two books, The Greeks Abroad: Their Early Colonies and Commerce, and Greek Artwork, each of which went on to additional editions.

On his first go to to Greece he met Sheila Stanford, an artist, and after he had accomplished his nationwide service within the Intelligence Corps (1950-52) they married in Britain. He then returned to the British Faculty as assistant director (1952-55), and was given his personal dig, on the island of Chios.

His occasion of excavators and helpers there included Michael Ventris, the architect who shortly aftewards introduced his decipherment of the Linear B syllabic script as an early type of the Greek language, and Dilys Powell, the eventual movie critic of the Sunday Occasions.

Again in Britain, Boardman served as an assistant keeper on the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (1955-59). Its Solid Gallery, containing plaster casts of some 900 Greek and Roman sculptures, turned his most well-liked educational dwelling base, and he revealed a listing of its Cretan assortment (1961).

Engaged on one other, non-public, assortment of artwork objects within the Nineties gave him concepts about world artwork, its interconnections and goals. This led him to tell apart three major “belts”: a northern one, working from Siberia to North America, the place nomads favoured small gadgets, usually depicting animals; an city one, from China to central America, extra given to monumental structure; and a tropical one characterised by human kinds, notably of ancestors. He explored these concepts in The World of Historic Artwork (2006).

Different publications included Greek Gems and Finger Rings (1970); handbooks on Athenian black-figure and red-figure vases (1974 and 1975); a lecture sequence given on the Nationwide Gallery of Artwork in Washington and revealed as The Diffusion of Classical Artwork in Antiquity (1994); Persia and the West (2000); The Archaeology of Nostalgia: How the Greeks Re-created Their Legendary Previous (2002); quite a few catalogues, notably of gem collections, together with the royal one at Windsor Fortress; and excavation experiences from Chios and from Tocra, in Libya.

The Archaeology of Nostalgia: How the Greeks Re-created Their Mythical Past

After the Ashmolean appointment got here college posts at Oxford, as reader in classical archaeology (1959-78) after which Lincoln professor of classical archaeology and artwork (1978-94). As professor emeritus, he continued to work from places of work first within the Ashmolean and subsequently the classics college’s Ioannou Centre.

In 2020 he produced his autobiography, A Classical Archaeologist’s Life: The Story So Far. The final of its three elements focuses on a subject of “minor” artwork that he confirmed might be something however: Greek and Roman gems and finger rings. Known as merely “Gems, Bob and Claudia”, it particulars the work that Boardman did first with the photographer Bob Wilkins and later the curator of the Beazley Archive, in Oxford, Claudia Wagner. Along with her he co-authored Masterpieces in Miniature: Engraved Gems from Prehistory to the Current (2018).

Born in Ilford, Essex, John was the son of Clara (nee Wells), who had been a milliner’s assistant, and Arch (Frederick) Boardman, a clerk within the Metropolis. The household was not educational, however John was impressed by what he noticed on the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum when he visited them together with his father, who died when John was 11.

Whereas at Chigwell faculty, John skilled second world conflict aerial bombardment, of which he later had vivid recollections. He discovered the examine of Greek to be “magical”, and the college’s headteacher inspired him to use for a scholarship at his former Cambridge faculty.

Although his personal profession developed at a time when a doctorate was non-compulsory, Boardman went on to oversee huge numbers of graduate college students, scattered over a number of continents. He had a very acute and retentive visible reminiscence, was prodigiously environment friendly and properly organised in his educating – his lectures on Greek structure and sculpture had been a revelation – as in his analysis and writing, and welcomed the help supplied by digital expertise.

I first met him in his Ashmolean workplace, in 1969, eager for him to be my doctoral supervisor. Virtually the primary phrase he uttered was “Sparta”: not lengthy earlier than, he had revealed an account vastly bettering on earlier understanding of the sand, earth and relative courting of the artefacts discovered on the Artemis Orthia sanctuary website there. Like many others, I appreciated his meticulous requirements of archaeological remark and historic interpretation.

A classical pale amethyst ringstone from the first or second century BC, chosen to illustrate the cover of the book Masterpieces in Miniature
A classical pale amethyst ringstone from the primary or second century BC, chosen for example the quilt of the ebook Masterpieces in Miniature

Boardman as soon as wrote that he felt extra at dwelling intellectually exterior Oxford, certainly exterior Britain, and he was concerned with and recognised by establishments in Eire, mainland Europe, the US and Australia. For nearly three a long time he was on the board of the Basel-based Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (1972-99).

His actions in Britain had been nonetheless appreciable. He edited the Journal of Hellenic Research (1958-65) and was a delegate of the Oxford College Press (1979-89). On the Royal Academy in London from 1989 onwards he occupied what had initially been Edward Gibbon’s seat of professor of historical historical past. He was made a fellow of the British Academy in 1969, and knighted in 1986.

Whereas prepared to precise a view in severe educational controversies he was resolutely apolitical. Nonetheless, he took the view that Lord Elgin’s dubiously acquired assortment of sculptures from the Parthenon and different buildings in Athens bought by the UK in 1816 ought to stay in its entirety underneath the curation of the British Museum Trustees.

He acquired loads of assist from the publishers Thames & Hudson, and his final publication got here within the month of his dying, of their Pocket Views sequence. John Boardman on the Parthenon is a frivolously illustrated repackaging of the full of life textual content he had composed to accompany the black and white images of David Finn in the identical writer’s The Parthenon and Its Sculptures (1985).

Sheila died in 2005. He’s survived by their youngsters, Julia and Mark.


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