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Rice, David Talbot

    Full Name: Rice, David Talbot

    Other Names:

    • David Talbot Rice

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 11 July 1903

    Date Died: 12 March 1972

    Place Born: Gloucestershire, England, UK

    Place Died: Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): Byzantine (culture or style) and Medieval (European)


    Byzantinist and University of Edinburgh professor art. Born to Henry Charles Talbot-Rice (1862-1931) and Cecil Mary Lloyd (d. 1940) a landed family, Rice attended Eton before studying archaeology and anthropology at Christ Church, Oxford University. Talbot-Rice formed part of the salon of Herbert E. ”Doggins” Counsell, M.D., (1863-1946), where members of the Oxford University Dramatic Society met for cocoa on most days of the week. Through Counsell Talbot Rice met Tamara Talbot Rice, a Russian-born Oxford archaeology student, and Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton. This circle formed the original inspiration for Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Talbot Rice graduated in 1925 and joined the Oxford Field Museum excavation at Kish, Iraq. He first visited Mount Athos with the art critic and amateur Byzantinist Robert Byron (1905-1941) in 1926, whose account Bryon chronicled in his book, The Station (1926). Rice married Abelson in 1927. The same year he joined the British Academy excavation of the Hippodrome and the “Great Palace” of Constantinople, cementing a life-long fascination to Byzantine studies. His visit to Trebizond, initially in 1928, would lead to his monograph on the topic, Byzantine Painting at Trebizond, eight years later. He studied with Gabriel Millet at the Collège de France. In 1930, he published The Birth of Western Painting with Byron. A pioneering study of Byzantine glazed pottery with the same title, was his first sole publication. When Samuel Courtauld endowed the art history institute which bears his name at the University of London, Rice was one of the first to be appointed a lecturer in 1932. That year, too, he co-directed with Gerald Reitlinger the Oxford excavations at Hira (modern Iraq). In 1934 he was appointed Watson Gordon professor of Fine Art at Edinburgh University, succeeding Herbert Read, though only thirty-one. He remained at Edinburgh for thirty-seven years, maintaining his Courtauld Institute appointment until 1938. In 1934 the Talbot-Rices traveled across Persia preceded Byron and Christopher Sykes (1907-86) which Byron commemorated in his The Road to Oxiana. In 1935 Rice brought out his Byzantine Art, a primer on the topic still used in survey courses today. The same year he contributed to an exhibition catalog (later published as a book) on Russian art with Tamara and Tancred Borenius. During World War II, Rice served as head of the Near East Section of military intelligence as a colonel. Returning to Scotland after the war, he established an Honors degree at Edinburgh in art history and studio art combined. Between 1967-1971 he was Vice Principal of the University. He assisted in restoring the church of Hagia Sophia in Trebizond, which was his last book before his death. A gentleman academic, he bred cattle until academic duties consumed too much of his time. Often described as an “amateur” in the great English sense of the term, Rice was devoted to the discipline art history without the competitive instinct of many academics.

    Selected Bibliography

    [complete bibliography:] Studies in Memory of David Talbot Rice. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1975, pp. 317-325; and Byron, Robert. The Birth of Western Painting: a History of Colour, Form, and Iconography Illustrated from the Paintings of Mistra and Mount Athos, of Giotto and Duccio, and of El Greco. London: G. Routledge, 1930; and Rostovtzeff, Michael Ivanovitch, and Rice, Tamara Talbot. Caravan Cities. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1932; Byzantine Art. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1935; and Borenius, Tancred, and Rice, Tamara Talbot. Russian Art. London: Gurney and Jackson, 1935; and Millet, Gabriel. Byzantine Painting at Trebizond. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1936; and Rice, Tamara. The Icons of Cyprus. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1937; revised, Lethaby, William R. Medieval Art, from the Peace of the Church to the Eve of the Renaissance, 312-1350. 2nd ed. New York: Nelson, 1949; English Art, 871-1100. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952; Yugoslavia: Mediaeval Frescoes. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1955; The Beginnings of Christian Art. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1957; ed., The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors. Second Report. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1958: 52-104; Icons: the Natasha Allen Collection. Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 1968; The Art of Byzantium. London: Thames and Hudson, 1959; Byzantine Icons. London: Faber and Faber, 1959; Constantinople from Byzantium to Istanbul. New York: Stein and Day, 1965; Dark Ages: the Making of European Civilization. London: Thames and Hudson, 1965, [published in the United States as] The Dawn of European Civilization: the Dark Ages. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966; Byzantine Painting: the Last Phase. New York: Dial Press, 1968; The Church of Haghia Sophia at Trebizond. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press/Russell Trust, 1968; Byzantine Art. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1968; Icons and their Dating: a Comprehensive Study of their Chronology and Provenance. London: Thames and Hudson, 1974.


    [unpaginated i-ix]; Byron, Robert. The Station, Athos: Treasures and Men. New York: Knopf, 1928; Waugh, Eveyln. A Little Learning. Boston: Little, Brown, 1964, pp.198, 200; Roberton, Giles. “David Talbot Rice as Watson Gordon Professor of Fine Art.” Studies in Memory of David Talbot Rice. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1975; [obituaries:] “Prof David Talbot Rice, An Authority on Byzantine Art.” The Times [London] March 15, 1972, p. 16; Runciman, Steven. “David Talbot Rice.” The Burlington Magazine 114 no. 832. (July 1972): 481.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Rice, David Talbot." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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