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Middleton, J. H.

    Full Name: Middleton, J. H.

    Other Names:

    • John Henry Middleton

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1846

    Date Died: 1896

    Place Born: York, England, UK

    Place Died: Kessarevo, Bulgaria

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): archaeology


    Museum director and archaeologist. Middleton was the son of the architect John Middleton (1820-1885) and Maria Margaret Pritchett (Middleton). He traveled to Italy with his family where he was initially educated and then Cheltenham, England, where he attended Cheltenham College and then Exeter College, Oxford beginning in 1865. The following year, however, he suffered a severe depression, precipitated by the death of a close friend, and remained at home, privately reading art and archaeology in solitude for nearly six years. During this time he became addicted to morphine, prescribed by his doctor, as a remedy for insomnia. Middleton recovered enough to begin serious world touring, including Salt Lake City and the Rocky Mountains of the United States; Mexico, Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, and north Africa. In Morocco where he secured entrance to Great Mosque by posing as an Islamic pilgrim. He returned to England and apprenticed in architecture under Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), and then as a partner in the firm of his father in Westminster. At his father’s death in 1885, he liquidated the firm to begin life as a professional archaeologist. He attended courses at the Royal Academy. In 1879 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries which led to articles in that Society’s publications and in the Journal of Hellenic Studies and Archaeologia as well as entries for the 9th edition Encyclopaedia Britannica. In 1885 he published his book Ancient Rome in 1885. He was elected Slade professor of fine art at Cambridge the following year (to 1892), receiving an honorary MA degree at Cambridge the same year and another at Oxford in 1887. His book Ancient Rome was popular enough for a second edition in 1888, the same year he was elected a fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. In 1889 Middleton was named Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. As director, he produced the catalog Engraved Gems of Classical Times in 1891. The following year was a watershed one for him: he became a lecturer at the Royal Academy in London and published three books, Illuminated MSS of Classical and Mediaeval Times, Remains of Ancient Rome, and The Lewis Collection of Gems, all in 1892. In addition, he was appointed director of the art collections of the South Kensington Museum (modern Victoria and Albert Museum) and married Bella Stillman. Middleton was awarded a Litt.D. at Cambridge in 1893 followed by a D.CL, Oxford in 1894. The South Kensington Museum was in administrative disarray and Middleton’s necessary involvement, coupled with his life-long depression and drug addiction, increased his despondency and drug use. At age 49, he overdosed on morphine (laudanum) and died. He was cremated at Woking, and is buried at Brookwood cemetery. In 1900, his drawings on the classical buildings of Athens were issued by Ernest A. Gardner. His lectures on art at Cambridge convinced Roger Fry, then a biology student, to pursue art instead.

    Selected Bibliography

    The Engraved Gems of Classical Times: with a Catalogue of the Gems in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge: University Press, 1891; The Lewis Collection of Gems and Rings in the Possession of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. London: C.J. Clay and Sons, 1892; Illuminated Manuscripts in Classical and Mediaeval Times: their Art and their Technique. Cambridge: University Press, 1892; The Remains of Ancient Rome. 2 vols. London and Edinburgh, A. and C. Black, 1892; Ancient Rome in 1885. Edinburgh, A. & C. Black, 1885; and Gardner, Ernest A., ed. Plans and Drawings of Athenian Buildings. London: Macmillan, 1900.


    Cust, Lionel, revised by Smail, Richard. Dictionary of National Biography; [obituaries:] “Death Of Professor Middleton.” The Times (London) June 15, 1896, p. 8


    "Middleton, J. H.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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