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Our directors

Our directors

Date from Date to Director
1876 1884 Sidney Colvin
1883 1889 Sir Charles Walston
1889 1892 John Henry Middleton
1893 1908 Montague Rhodes James
1908 1937 Sir Sydney Cockerell
1937 1946 L. C. G. Clarke
1946 1966 Carl Winter
1966 1973 Sir David Piper
1973 1990 Professor Michael Jaffé
1990 1995 Simon Swynfen Jervis
1995 2007 Duncan Robinson
2007 2012 Timothy Potts
2012 2018 Tim Knox
2019 Luke Syson

Our Directors - a timeline

  1. Sidney Colvin

    Art critic and writer, particularly for 'The Portfolio' and 'The Fortnightly Review'; Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum 1876–83; then Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, 1883–1912. Knighted in 1911. Friend and literary mentor of Robert Louis Stevenson.

  2. Sidney Colvin

    Art critic and writer, particularly for 'The Portfolio' and 'The Fortnightly Review'; Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum 1876–83; then Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, 1883–1912. Knighted in 1911. Friend and literary mentor of Robert Louis Stevenson.

  3. Sir Charles Walston

    Born into a Jewish family in New York in 1856, Walston was the director of Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum, the archaeologist who excavated Aristotle's tomb, and both an organiser of and competitor in the 1st Olympiad in Athens in 1896.

  4. John Henry Middleton

    Born in York on 5 October 1846, John Henry Middleton was the only surviving child of John Middleton and Maria Margaret, daughter of James Pigott Pritchett and his first wife, Peggy Maria Terry. As a child he travelled to Italy where he was initially educated. He acquired a love for Italy and its language which lasted throughout his life.

    On returning to Britain his parents settled in Cheltenham, where his father practised as an architect and where he attended Cheltenham College. In 1865, he was matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford.

    The following year, however, he suffered a severe depression accentuated by the sudden death of a close friend at Oxford. This led to him confining himself to his room for six years. During this time, through reading and study he laid the foundations of his extensive knowledge of art and archaeology.

  5. Montague Rhodes James

    Montague Rhodes James OM FBA (1 August 1862–12 June 1936) was an English author, medieval scholar and provost of King's College, Cambridge (1905–18), and of Eton College (1918–36). He was also Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (1913–15).

    Though James's work as a medievalist and scholar is still highly regarded, he is best remembered for his ghost stories, which some regard as among the best in the genre. James redefined the ghost story for the new century by abandoning many of the formal Gothic clichés of his predecessors and using more realistic contemporary settings. However, James's protagonists and plots tend to reflect his own antiquarian interests. Accordingly, he is known as the originator of the 'antiquarian ghost story'.

  6. Sir Sydney Cockerell

    Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell (16 July 1867–1 May 1962) was an English museum curator and collector. From 1908 to 1937 he was director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England.

  7. L. C. G. Clarke

    Louis Colville Gray Clarke, FSA (2 May 1881–13 December 1960) was a British archaeologist. He was Curator of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, 1922–37, and then Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge from 1937 to 1946. He was a fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

  8. Carl Winter

    Carl Winter (10 January 1906–21 May 1966) was a British art historian and museum curator. He worked at the Victoria & Albert Museum's collection of English watercolours and miniature portraits before moving to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in 1946 following the end of the Second World War.

    Winter was born in Melbourne,Victoria, Australia, the son of Carl Winter and his wife Ethel (née Hardy). He was educated at Xavier College and Newman College, University of Melbourne. He came to England in 1928 and attended Exeter College, Oxford.

    He married Theodora (née Barlow) in 1936; they had two sons and a daughter, but were divorced in 1953.

    He was appointed as an Assistant Keeper in the Departments of Engraving, Illustration and Design, and of Paintings, at the Victoria and Albert Museum 1931, where he worked with Basil Long, leading the department after Long's death in 1936. He was appointed as Deputy Keeper at the V&A in 1945, but moved to become Director and Marlay Curator at the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1946, and also a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained until his death in 1966. He published 'Elizabethan Miniatures' in 1943, and 'The British School of Miniature Portrait Painters' in 1948.

    Along with Patrick Trevor-Roper and Peter Wildeblood, Winter gave evidence to the Wolfenden Committee, whose report led in 1967 to the decriminalisation of sex between adult male homosexuals. He gave evidence anonymously as 'Mr White'. His testimony to the Committee has been portrayed on-screen in the BBC drama,'Consenting Adults'.

  9. Sir David Piper

    Sir David Towry Piper, CBE FSA FRSL (21 July 1918–29 December 1990) was a British museum curator and author. He was director of the National Portrait Gallery (1964–67), and director of the Fitzwilliam Museum (and Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge), 1967–73. He became Director of the Ashmolean Museum (and Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford) from 1973 to 1985. He was knighted in 1983.

    The second of three sons of Stephen Harvey Piper, Professor of Physics at Bristol University, Piper was born at Wimbledon and educated at Clifton College and St Catharine's College, Cambridge.

    He was Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford for 1966–7.

    In 1956, he prepared a descriptive catalogue of the Petre family portraits at Ingatestone Hall for the Essex Record Office.

    Under the pseudonym Peter Towry, Piper wrote a number of novels, including 'Trial by Battle' (1959), a story based on his experiences as a prisoner of war in Japan for three years during the Second World War.

    In 1945, Piper married Anne Horatia (1920–2017), daughter of Oliffe Richmond, classics professor at Edinburgh University. She was a novelist and playwright. They had three daughters – Evanthe, Ruth and Emma – and a son, theatre designer Tom Piper (born 1964).

  10. Professor Michael Jaffé

    Michael Jaffé, CBE (3 June 1923–13 July 1997) was born in London, and educated at Wagner’s and at Eton College. His undergraduate studies were delayed for four years by the Second World War, during which time he served in the RNVR. He went up to King's College, Cambridge, in 1945, studying History before changing to English, in which subject he got a First. He became President of the Marlowe Society, and was editor of 'Granta' while a student. After Cambridge, he studied art history at the Courtauld Institute, where he attended Johannes Wilde’s lectures and had access to the Seilern Collection; this was followed by research at Harvard on Rubens and his contemporaries.

    He became a Fellow of King's in 1952, holding the position until his death. He was appointed as the University's only Assistant Lecturer in Fine Arts in 1956, and began undergraduate teaching in the subject. He held the post for four years until going to Washington University in 1960, where he was briefly Professor of Renaissance Art until returning to Cambridge University in 1961, when he was appointed Lecturer in Fine Arts. In 1968 he was appointed Reader in History of Western Art, and he became Head of Department of History of Art in 1970, a position he held until 1973 and his appointment to the Directorship of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

    Jaffé married Patricia Milne-Henderson in 1964, and they had two sons and two daughters. Jaffé owned the country house Clifton Maybank near Yeovil in Somerset. He was appointed a CBE in 1989. He died on 13 July 1997. A bronze portrait bust of Jaffé by Elisabeth Frink is in the Fitzwilliam.

  11. Simon Swynfen Jervis

    Simon Swynfen Jervis, FSA (born 9 January 1943) was Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum from 1990 to 1995, and Historic Buildings Secretary of the National Trust from 1995 to 2002. He served as president of the Society of Antiquaries of London from 1995 to 2001.

  12. Duncan Robinson

    Duncan Robinson (born 27 June 1943) is a leading authority on British art from the eighteenth century onwards. He began his career as an assistant keeper in the Department of Paintings and Drawings at the Fitzwilliam Museum, between 1970 and 1976 and was then appointed Keeper of Paintings and Drawings. From 1975 to 1981, he was additionally a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge and a college lecturer.

    From 1981 to 1995, Robinson was Director of the Yale Center for British Art and an adjunct professor of art history at Yale University. During this time, he was additionally Chief Executive of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London.

    He returned to the Fitzwilliam Museum as its director in 1995, and, in 2002, was appointed Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Robinson retired as director of the Fitzwilliam in 2007 in order to devote more time to Magdalene College, his research and his teaching. He reired as Master of Magdalene in 2012.

  13. Timothy Potts

    Timothy Potts was educated at the University of Sydney (B.A. Hons.) and holds a D.Phil. in Near Eastern art and archaeology from the University of Oxford, where he was a research lecturer and British Academy Research Fellow in Near Eastern Archaeology and Art at Christ Church (1985–90). His research interests are Ancient Near Eastern art history, archaeology and history; museology; and the classical tradition in western art.

    Dr Potts acted as co-director of the University of Sydney excavations at Pella, Jordan, from 1982 to 1989. He worked at Lehman Brothers in New York from 1990 to 1994, following which he became director of the National Gallery of Victoria (1994–8). In conjunction with this directorship, he was Adjunct Professor at La Trobe University, and a Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He was the Director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas from 1998 to 2007, and the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum from 2007 to 2012.He is currently director of the J. Paul Getty Museum in California.

  14. Tim Knox

    Timothy Aidan John Knox, FSA (born 9 August 1962) was educated at Ratcliffe College, Leicestershire, and took a B.A. at the Courtauld Institute of Art. In 1989 he was appointed Assistant Curator at the Royal Institute of British Architects Drawings Collection. In 1995 he joined the National Trust as its Architectural Historian and in 2002 became that organisation's Head Curator. Among the projects with which he was involved were the restoration of the gardens of Stowe House, the acquisition of Tyntesfield and of the Workhouse in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, and the restoration of the Darnley Mausoleum in Cobham Park, Kent.

    From 2005 to 2013, he was Director of Sir John Soane's Museum in London, where he oversaw a restoration project of Nos. 12 and 14 Lincoln's Inn Fields, the two houses flanking the original house-museum created by the Georgian architect Sir John Soane. From 2013 to 2018, he was the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, and since March 2018, he has been Director of the Royal Collection, the private art collection of the British Royal Family.

  15. Luke Syson

    Luke Syson joined the Fitzwilliam Museum as Director and Marlay Curator in February 2019 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he had worked since 2012. During his time there he had oversight of the USA’s largest and most comprehensive collection of European applied arts and sculpture. In particular, he was involved in the complete refurbishment of the British Galleries, a $22m project that opened in January 2020.

    Prior to joining the Met, Luke was Curator of Italian Painting Before 1500 and Head of Research at the National Gallery in London, where he led the successful campaign to acquire Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks for the nation and curated the highly‐acclaimed Leonardo da Vinci – Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition of 2011. He was also one of the curators who organised the acclaimed Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum, where he was Curator of Medals, and had a leading role in the team that planned the new Medieval and Renaissance art galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

    Follow Luke on Instagram @lukesyson

    Image: © Megan Taylor

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