Skip to content

Beazley, J. D.

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Beazley, J. D.

    Other Names:

    • Sir John Davidson Beazley

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1885

    Date Died: 1970

    Place Born: Glasgow, Scotland, UK

    Place Died: Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): ancient, Ancient Greek (culture or style), archaeology, ceramic ware (visual works), Classical, Greek pottery styles, and pottery (visual works)


    Classical archaeologist; created the major index of Greek black-figure and red-figure pottery based on artistic styles. Beazley’s father was Mark John Murray Beazley (d. 1940), a London interior designer and Mary Catherine Davidson (Beazley) (d. 1918). After attending King Edward VI School, Southampton, he entered Christ’s Hospital and Balliol College, Oxford, where he was “much involved” (Boardman) with the poet James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915). Flecker wrote poetry dedicated to Beazley and the two enjoyed an aesthete lifestyle similar to their fellow Oxford student, Oscar Wilde. Another Oxford classmate, T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) (1888-1935), thought Beazley had the makings of a finer poet than scholar. However, Beazley was a brilliant scholar, taking firsts in classical moderations (1905) and literae humaniores (1907). He spent a year at the British School at Athens, under Richard McGillivray Dawkins (1871-1955), before returning to Oxford in 1908 as a student and tutor in classics at Christ Church. There he taught and inspired many students, among others Bernard Ashmole. Articles by Beazley on red-figure painters began appearing in 1910; his first on the Berlin Painter was published in 1911. During World War I, Beazley served in naval intelligence in London. In 1918 he published his book Attic Red-Figure Vases in American Museums which included a history of the genre and the artists’ works in the text. Beazley married Marie Bloomfield (d. 1967) in 1919, the widow of David Ezra, a casualty of the First World War. The domineering Marie took over all practical matters of his life, allowing Beazley to study Greek art completely. She also became an able photographer to assist his documentation of the objects. In 1925 Beazley succeeded Percy Gardner, who had trained him in Greek art, as Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art at Oxford. In that year, too, he published the first edition of what would be his major contribution to classical archaeology, in German, Attische Vasenmaler des rotfigurigen Stils, a categorical list of red-figure artist and their relationship to other artists. Throughout his career, Beazley would update these lists in newer editions. As a teacher, Beazley was famous for poetic flights, reading choruses of Aeschylus or Euripides to give the mood of a work of art. In 1927, the first of the Oxford fascicles for the Corpus vasorum antiquorum appeared. A second Oxford Corpus vasorum antiquorum was begun in 1931 written with E. R. Price and his former (and arguably his best) student, Humfry Payne. That same year he began publishing the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Attic Vase-Paintings in Boston with Lacey D. Caskey, a project that lasted until 1963. In 1932 he and Ashmole co-authored the survey volume Greek Sculpture and Painting. The English edition of his 1925 book of red-figure painters, Attic Red-figure Vase-painters, appeared in 1942. He was knighted in 1949. Beazley wrote his corollary book on black-figure painting, Attic Black-figure Vase-painters, in 1956. He retired from the Lincoln chair at Oxford the same year and was succeeded by Ashmole. The final version of his red-figure book appeared in 1963 as a three-volume work. In 1965 his personal archive was purchased by the University and, after his death, installed in the Ashmolean Museum as the “Beazley Archives.” He continued to write and update his volumes on Greek pottery the remainder of his life. Beazley’s increasing deafness in his final years isolated him from colleagues. He moved into the Holywell Hotel after Marie’s death in 1967. He died in Oxford in 1970. Beazley’s students numbered nearly all the important English-speaking vase specialists of the next generation as well as many other scholars. These included, among early students, Joan Evans, and V. Gordon Childe (1892-1957). Later students, in addition to Ashmole and Payne, included Dietrich von Bothmer and A. D. Trendall. Beazley considered the German scholars Adolf Furtwängler, Paul Hartwig and Friedrich Hauser his intellectual mentors. However, Beazley’s method was different from theirs. Using an approach first developed by Giovanni Morelli to attribute the specific “hands” (style) to specific artists, he looked at the sweep of classical pottery–major and minor pieces–to construct a history of workshops and artists in ancient Athens. His predecessor at Oxford, Gardner, purportedly distrusted the technique. The degree to which Beazley’s connoisseurship owes its origins to Morelli or Furtwängler has been debated. John Boardman postulates that it was Beazley’s friend and colleague at Cambridge, Andrew Gow (1886-1986), who introduced him fully to Morellian methods. Beazley had certainly read Furtwängler’s writings on Greek sculpture which used Morelli’s methods. An early review of Beazley’s Lewes House Gems (1920), anonymous but known to have been written by Gow, refers to the Morellian technique. Beazley’s earliest work on the Kleophrades Painter clearly owes its inspiration to Paul Hartwig (Oakley). Beazley used photographs, rather than published drawings, to construct his attributions of painters. He also drew many of the images personally for his archive. His articles first appeared (after an uncharacteristic piece devoted solely to iconography in 1908) in the Journal of Hellenic Studies in 1910 on individual red-figure painters. They form the beginning point for his classical pottery study. Although his books on Attic red- and black-figure painters are primarily lists, Beazley supplemented these by many articles on the stylistic analysis of the artists he classified. He was little interested in iconography. Critics of his method point out that much of his findings are based on his conjectural hypothesis of Attic workshops and schools.

    Selected Bibliography

    [complete bibliography to 1950:] A List of the Published Writings of John Davidson Beazley. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951; Attic Red-figured Vases in American Museums. (Red-Figured Vases in American Museums series). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1918; Attische Vasenmaler des rotfigurigen Stils. Tübingen: Mohr, 1925, English, Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1942, 2nd ed. 3 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963; Attic Black-Figure: a Sketch by J. D. Beazley. (Annual lecture on aspects of art, Henriette Hertz Trust of the British Academy, 1928). London: H. Milford 1928; Der berliner Maler. Berlin-Wilmersdorf: H. Keller, 1930, English, The Berlin Painter. Mainz: Verlag P. von Zabern, 1974; and Ashmole, Bernard. Greek Sculpture & Painting to the End of the Hellenistic Period. Cambridge, Eng.: The University Press, 1932; Attic White Lekythoi. (Charlton Lectures on Art, 1937). London: Oxford University Press, 1938; Potter and Painter in Ancient Athens. (From the Proceedings of the British academy, 30). London: G. Cumberledge, 1946; Etruscan Vase-Painting. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1947; The Development of Attic Black-Figure. (Sather Classical Lectures, 24). Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951; Attic Black-Figure Vase Painters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956; Select Exhibition of Sir John and Lady Beazley’s Gifts to the Ashmolean Museum, 1912-1966. London: Oxford University Press/Ashmolean Museum, 1967; Greek Vases: Lectures by J. D. Beazley. Kurtz, D. C., ed. New York : Oxford University Press, 1989.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 46, mentioned; Dictionary of National Biography 1961-1970: 84-86; Kurtz, Donna, ed. Beazley and Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Committee for Archaeology, 1985; [Beasley’s teaching style:] Barron, J. P. “Bernard Ashmole: Marble and the Greeks.” The Guardian (London), March 2, 1988; Calder, William. “Beazley, Sir John Davidson.” Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 135-6; Medwid, Linda M. The Makers of Classical Archaeology: A Reference Work. New York: Humanity Books, 2000 pp. 31-33; Boardman, John. The History of Greek Vases. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2001, pp. 131-133; Rouet, Philippe. Approaches to the Study of Attic Vases: Beazley and Pottier. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001; Oakley, John Howard. “Approaches to the Study of Attic Vases: Beazley and Pottier (review).” American Journal of Philology 124, no. 2 (2003): 307; Beazley Archive:; [obituaries:] The Times [London], May 7, 1970; von Bothmer, Dietrich. Oxford Magazine June 12 1970.


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Beazley, J. D.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: