University of Oxford, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3PA, UK
Sir John Davidson Beazley, CH, FBA (13 September 1885 – 6 May 1970) was a British classical archaeologist and art historian, known for his classification of Attic vases by artistic style. He was Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art at the University of Oxford from 1925 to 1956.
Beazley was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 13 September 1885, to Mark John Murray Beazley (died 1940) and Mary Catherine Davidson (died 1918). He was educated at King Edward VI School, Southampton and Christ's Hospital, Sussex. He then attended Balliol College, Oxford where he read Literae Humaniores. He received firsts in both the Honour Moderations and the Final Honour School. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1907. By 1908 Beazley had completed his undergraduate studies at Oxford and become a lecturer in classical archaeology under the University's first professor, Percy Gardner.
James Elroy Flecker (left) and John Davidson Beazley (right) around 1908
At Oxford James Elroy Flecker had an intimate friendship with Beazley, a year younger than himself. In 1907 Flecker dedicated his first published volume of poems to Beazley, and in 1911 Beazley published some of his own, which Flecker considered to be very fine, although modern poetry critics do not agree. At the end of 1907 they spent some months together in Florence, and they were together again in Italy on summer 1908.
After graduating, Beazley spent time at the British School at Athens. He then returned to University of Oxford as a student and tutor in Classics at Christ Church.
By the time Beazley had established his method in print Ned Warren, then in his 50s, was well known as a collector of classical antiquities. His interest in Greek vases had begun thirty years earlier, when he bought his first in Oxford. He too had published poems, and mutual interests brought the two men together. When Warren came to mainly live in Oxford after 1915, Beazley remained close to him. It is said that Beazley met Bernard Berenson under Warren's patronage. Warren's patronage certainly enabled Beazley to travel to the United States in 1914, and to publish Attic Red-figured Vases in American Museums in 1918. Dedicated to Warren and John Marshall, the book paid particular attention to the vases they had acquired for Harvard University, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
During World War I, Beazley served in military intelligence. For most of the war he worked in Room 40 of the Admiralty's Naval Intelligence Division, where his colleagues included his fellow-archaeologist Winifred Lamb. He held the temporary rank of second lieutenant from March to October 1916 when he was on secondment to the army.
In 1925, he became Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art at the University of Oxford, a position he held until 1956. He specialised in Greek decorated pottery (particularly black-figure and red-figure), and became a world authority on the subject. He adapted the art-historical method initiated by Giovanni Morelli to attribute the specific "hands" (style) of specific workshops and artists, even where no signed piece offered a name, e.g. the Berlin Painter, whose production he first distinguished. He looked at the sweep of classical pottery—major and minor pieces—to construct a history of workshops and artists in ancient Athens. The first English edition of his book, Attic Red-figure Vase-painters, appeared in 1942 (in German as Attische Vasenmaler des rotfigurigen Stils, 1925).
Beazley retired in 1956, but continued to work until his death in Oxford, on 6 May 1970. His personal archive was purchased by the University of Oxford in 1964. It was originally accommodated in the Ashmolean Museum, but in 2007 it moved into the Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies as part of the new Classical Art Research Centre.
Beazley was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) in 1927. In 1954, he was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Beazley was appointed a Knight Bachelor in 1949, and therefore granted the title sir. He was appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour in the 1959 New Year Honours "for services to scholarship".
In 1919, Beazley married the widow Marie Bloomfield Ezra, whose first husband had been killed in World War I. She died in 1967. His stepdaughter, from Marie's previous marriage, Giovanna Marie Therese Babette "Mary" Ezra married the Irish poet Louis MacNeice.
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