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Gardner, Percy

    Full Name: Gardner, Percy

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1846

    Date Died: 1937

    Place Born: Hackney, London, Greater London, England, UK

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

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): Ancient Greek (culture or style) and numismatics


    Oxford historian of Greek art and numismatics. Gardner was the son of Thomas Gardner, a stockbroker, and Ann Pearse. Gardner graduated from Christ’s College Cambridge in 1865, after a unsuccessful attempt working at the stock exchange. He attended the City of London School until fifteen when he left to enter his father’s business. Gardner was unsuccessful, however, and entered Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1865. Much behind his classmates, he read philosophy on his own, obtaining ranks in classical studies (the classical tripos) and in the moral sciences in 1869. He was appointed an assistant in the department of coins and medals at the British Museum in 1871. Together with Reginald Stuart Poole and Barclay Vincent Head he wrote the first collections catalogs for Greek coins in British Museum (1876, 1877, 1879, and 1887). Gardner was awarded a fellowship at Christ’s Church in 1872. His enthusiasm for scholarship cost him his marriage to Agnes Reid (d. 1933), in 1874. Gardner’s interest in coinage was highly art-historical. His Numismatic Commentary on Pausanias co-authored with Friedrich Imhoof-Blumer (1838-1920) in 1887, demonstrated how the study of numismatics could aid the study of ancient sculpture. Gardner traveled to Greece in 1877 with the vase scholar Charles T. Newton to evaluate excavation of Mycenae at Olympia of Heinrich Schliemann. His observations, even today an important primary document for Schliemann scholarship, were published in The Academy 21 and 28 (April 1877). Upon his return, he championed the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, assuming the first editorship of the Journal of Hellenic Studies between 1879-1895. That same year, 1879, he was appointed to the Disney Chair of archaeology at Cambridge, which he held until 1886. His Types of Greek Coins appeared in1883, the first of the modern account of classical numismatics is still consulted today. Numismatic Commentary on Pausanias appeared in 1887. In 1887, too, Gardner move to Oxford University, elected to the recently established Lincoln and Merton professorship of classical archaeology. There, Gardner worked hard for the admission of archaeology as a discipline, something which came slowly given the University’s priority on teaching rather than research. Gardner’s privately-printed 1889 pamphlet, Classical Archaeology at Oxford related his frustrations in some detail. He established an archaeological library with Arthur J. Evans. His Oxford years saw the books that characterized him as an art historian, including A Manual of Greek Antiquities, co-written with Frank B. Jevons (1858-1936) in 1895, The Sculptured Tombs of Hellas in 1896, The Grammar of Greek Art in 1905 and A History of Ancient Coinage 700-300 B.C. in 1918. His Greek art book was republished in 1914 as The Principles of Greek Art, long a staple for students of the subject. A longer castigation of his university’s lethargy at becoming a research center for archaeology, Oxford at the Crossroads, was published in 1903. His final publishing years were given over to his Christian faith, beginning in 1899 with his treatise, Exploratio evangelica. After his retirement from Oxford in 1925, his final contribution to art history, New Chapters in Greek Art appeared in 1926. At Oxford, Gardner struggled to make research–and not pedagogy–the core of his efforts. He supervised the repairing the Arundel marbles in the University Galleries from clumsy earlier restorations, built an archaeological library, and assembled a collection of classical sculpture casts. He left the department of archaeology at the Ashmolean Museum with an international reputation for Greek-vase and Roman studies. He was, in the words of Martin Robertson, “largely responsible for introducing the study of Greet art in Oxford.” His most lasting contribution was the scholars he helped trained for succeeding generations, among them, J. D. Beazley, who succeeded him as Lincoln Chair in 1925. He also wisely advised Bernard Ashmole to pursue archaeology as opposed to classics (Honour Mods.), and thereby launching that scholar’s brilliant career. Gardner led the notion, vogue for his time, that Greek art of 600 B.C. to 300 B.C. was the acme of ancient achievement and that Roman art was but degenerate derivative. He brought historic rather than strictly aesthetic principles to the study of Greek art and feared the specialization of classical art studies, e.g., portraiture scholars. His books today are outdated because of newer finds, yet remain valid by their fine attention to detail and plain writing. Gardner’s genuine Christian devotion also led him to publish numerous books on the historical aspects of the church. Although benevolent to women students in his classes, he steadfastly fought against their full admission to the University. His youngest brother, Ernest A. Gardner, was also a classical scholar and art historian, and his sister, Alice Gardner, an historian.

    Selected Bibliography

    The Parthian Coinage. London: Trübner & Co., 1877; Catalogue of Greek Coins. Thessaly to Aetolia. London: The Trustees of the British Museum, 1883; Classical Archaeology at Oxford. Oxford: Horace Hart, 1889; New Chapters in Greek History, Historical Results of Recent Excavations in Greece and Asia Minor. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892; and Jevons, Frank Byron. A Manual of Greek Antiquities. London: Charles Griffin, 1895; Sculptured Tombs of Hellas. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1896; Oxford at the Crossroads: a Criticism of the Course of Litterae Humaniores in the University. London: A. and C. Black, 1903; A History of Ancient Coinage, 700-300 B.C. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1918; New Chapters in Greek Art. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926.


    Dictionary of National Biography, 1931-1940 supplement, 306-308; Toynbee, J. M. C., Major, H. D. A., and Boardman, John. “Percy Gardener.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Gardner, Percy. Autobiographica. Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1933; Hill, G. “Percy Gardner, 1846-1937.” Publications of the British Academy 23 (1937): 459-469; Robertson, Martin. “Bernard Ashmole, 1894-1988.” Publications of the British Academy 75 (1989): 314; An Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1996, pp. 478-9; mentioned, Boardman, John. The History of Greek Vases. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2001, pp 132.


    "Gardner, Percy." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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