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Wyatt, Matthew Digby

    Full Name: Wyatt, Matthew Digby

    Other Names:

    • M. Digby Wyatt

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1820

    Date Died: 1877

    Place Born: Rowde, Wiltshire, England, UK

    Place Died: Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): Medieval (European)

    Institution(s): Cambridge University


    First Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge University (1869). Wyatt was born to Matthew Wyatt, a barrister in Ireland and London police magistrate. He was born in owde, Wiltshire, England, UK, near Devizes. He studied at the architectural firm of his brother, Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880), beginning in 1836. That year he won a medal from the Institute of British Architects for an essay. He made a continental tour in 1844-46, collecting material for his book, published in 1848, Specimens of Geometrical Mosaics of the Middle Ages. Wyatt’s skill at art reporting was first manifest when he was assigned to write on the 1849 French salon by the Society of Arts. Wyatt was accompanied by the writer and promoter Henry Cole (1808-1882) who was intent on launching an industrial art exhibition for England. Wyatt reviewed the Seven Lamps of Architecture by John Ruskin the same year. Although he applauded Ruskin’s disgust at “shams” of architecture, the differences between Wyatt and Ruskin were already clear. As an architect, Wyatt was not averse to mixing styles, something common during the Victorian era, and Ruskin despised it. Cole was successful in masterminding the 1851 Great London Exhibition, of which Wyatt was made secretary by the executive committee. Wyatt exhibited both architectural drawings and reported on the Fair, for which he won medals and a special award from Prince Albert. In 1852 together with a number of other art-historical writers, including Anna Jameson he published The History of the Painters of All Nations. He and the architect Owen Jones (1809-1874) designed the fine arts decorations for the Crystal Palace’s second erection, representing the various nationalities, at Sydenham in 1854. He married Mary Nicholl in 1853. In 1855 he was elected surveyor for the East India Company, later receiving a knighthood for this work. That same year he was made honorary secretary for the Royal Institute of British Architects (held until 1859). In 1869, Cambridge University established the Slade professorship of fine arts at roughly the same time Oxford had appointed Ruskin first Slade professor of fine arts. Wyatt was selected to be its first recipient of the Cambridge chair and was awarded an honorary M. A. His inaugural lecture, titled “Fine Art: Its History, Theory and Practice,” was published in 1871. He died in 1877 at his castle, Dimlands, South Wales where he had gone to recuperate from the stress of his practice. He is buried at Usk, Monmouthshire.

    Wyatt’s career was primarily that of an architect. He was responsible for restorations of buildings and memorial monuments and royal and government commissions with his brother, Thomas Henry Wyatt. As an architectural historian, he differed from Ruskin in that he supported the revival architectural work of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, for whom he took Ruskin to task for criticizing. He also disagreed with Ruskin in the value of the iron-and-glass Crystal Palace, correctly seeing it as the bellwether to modern architecture. But his writing style and theory were generally pedestrian compared to Ruskin.

    Selected Bibliography

    and Tymms, William R. The Art of Illuminating as Practised in Europe from the Earliest Times: illustrated by Borders, Initial Letters, and Alphabets. London: Day and Son, 1860; and Waring, J. B., and Jones, Owen. Examples of Weaving and Embroidery: Selected from the Royal and Other Collections. London: Day & Son, 1870s; The Fine Arts’ Courts in the Crystal Palace: Second Series, North-east Side. London: Crystal Palace Library, 1854; and Waring, John Burley, and Jameson, Anna, and Blanc, Charles. The History of the Painters of All Nations. London: John Cassell, 1852; and Jones, Owen, and Waring, John B., and Westwood, John Obadiah. The Grammar of Ornament. London: Day and Son, 1856; Specimens of the Geometrical Mosaic of the Middle Ages: with a Brief Historical Notice of the Art Founded on Papers Read before the Royal Institute of British Architects. London: Proprietor [of the Institute], 1848; An Address Delivered in the Crystal Palace on November 3, 1855 by M. Digby Wyatt, at the Opening of an Exhibition of Works of Art Belonging to the Arundel Society, and Consisting of Tracings and Drawings from Paintings by Giotto and other Early Italian Artists with some Illustrations of Greek Sculpture and of Ancient Ivory-Carving. London: Bell and Daldy, 1855; and Waring, John Burley. The Byzantine and Romanesque Court in the Crystal Palace. London: Crystal Palace Library, and Bradbury & Evans, 1854; and Bond, Edward A., and Thompson, E. M., and Coxe, H. O. and Lewis, S. S., and Dickinson, F. H. The Utrecht Psalter: Reports Addressed to the Trustees of the British Museum on the Age of the Manuscript. London: Williams and Norgate, 1874; Metal-work and its Artistic Design. London: Day & Son, 1852; An Attempt to Define the Principles which should Determine Form in the Decorative Arts: Read before The Society of Arts, April 21, 1852. London: G. Barday, 1852; [unsigned] “Principles and Treatment of Ironwork.” Journal of Design 4 (1850-51); Fine Art: Its History, Theory and Practice. Slade Lectures. London: Cambridge University Press, 1870.


    Pevsner, Nikolaus. Matthew Digby Wyatt: the First Cambridge Slade professor of Fine Art: an Inaugural Lecture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1950; P. W. “Wyatt, Sir Matthew Digby.” Dictionary of National Biography 21: 1097; Wyatt, Matthew Digby.” The Medieval Kingdom of Sicily Image Database

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Wyatt, Matthew Digby." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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