John Pope-Hennessy
Get John Pope-Hennessy essential facts below. View Videos or join the John Pope-Hennessy discussion. Add John Pope-Hennessy to your topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
John Pope-Hennessy

John Wyndham Pope-Hennessy
Born(1913-12-13)13 December 1913
London, England
Died31 October 1994(1994-10-31) (aged 80)
Florence, Italy
Resting placeCimitero degli Allori, Florence
EducationDownside School, Somerset
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford
OccupationArt historian and museum director

Sir John Wyndham Pope-Hennessy (13 December 1913 - 31 October 1994), was a British art historian and Director of the British Museum (1974 - 1976). He was a scholar of Italian Renaissance art. Many of his writings, including the tripartite Introduction to Italian Sculpture and his magnum opus, Donatello: Sculptor, are regarded as classics in the field.

Early years

Pope-Hennessy was born into an Irish Catholic family in Belgravia, London, to Major-General Richard Pope-Hennessy and Dame Una Pope-Hennessy (née Birch), who was the daughter of Arthur Birch, Lieutenant-Governor of Ceylon. He was the elder of two sons; his younger brother James Pope-Hennessy was a writer of note.


Pope-Hennessy was educated at Downside School, a Roman Catholic boarding independent school for boys, in the village of Stratton-on-the-Fosse in Somerset, followed by Balliol College at the University of Oxford, where he read modern history. At Oxford, he was introduced by Logan Pearsall Smith (a family friend from the United States) to Kenneth Clark, who became a mentor to the young Pope-Hennessy.

Life and career

Commemorative plaque to the Honorary Citizen, affixed to Palazzo Canigiani where he lived and died in Florence

Upon graduation, Pope-Hennessy embarked on what he referred to as his Wanderjahre, travelling in continental Europe and becoming acquainted with its great art collections, both public and private.

Between 1955 and 1963, Pope-Hennessy's Introduction to Italian Sculpture was published in three volumes, covering Gothic, Renaissance and High Renaissance and Baroque sculpture. It has been said of these that "few books have dominated their field of study so thoroughly, or for so long".[1]

Pope-Hennessy served as the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum between 1967 and 1973, and then as the director of the British Museum from 1974 until 1976. His nickname to staff was "the Pope".

Traumatised by the murder of his gay brother James in January 1974,[2] Pope-Hennessy left the British Museum after only two years as director. Initially he withdrew to Tuscany, but was enticed by an offer from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to head its department of European painting, and moved to New York. He combined this curatorial post with a professorship at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, and enjoyed mixing with the city's high society. His apartment was known to be lavishly furnished and he is said to have owned a large porphyry table.


Cimitero degli Allori, Firenze, Italy

Pope-Hennessy retired at 75 and moved permanently to Florence with his lover Michael Mallon (, at Palazzo Canigiani, where he died five years later. He is buried in the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori in the southern suburb of Florence, Galluzzo, Italy.

Selected works

  • A Lecture on Nicholas Hilliard, London, 1949
  • Introduction to Italian Sculpture. 3 vol. in 5. London, 1955-63
  • Donatello: Sculptor. London, 1993
  • Essays on Italian Sculpture. London, 1968
  • Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. 3 vol. London: HMSO, 1964
  • Italian Paintings in the Robert Lehman Collection, 1987, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, ISBN 0870994794; full text available online from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries

See also



  1. ^ Hall, James (Summer 2000), "A towering colossus", Art Quarterly, p. 58
  2. ^ "Queen Mary stiff and cold but no kleptomaniac" The Spectator, August, 2018

Further reading

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Ellis Waterhouse
Slade Professor of Fine Art,
Oxford University

Succeeded by
Douglas Cooper
Preceded by
Michael Levey
Slade Professor of Fine Art,
Cambridge University

Succeeded by
Sir Anthony Blunt

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



Music Scenes