School of Advanced Study presents Sir Nicholas Penny with honorary degree

Monday 14 December 2015

Renowned art historian Sir Nicholas Penny (third left), was awarded an honorary degree at the School of Advanced Study’s graduation ceremony on 11 December 2015. He was presented with a Doctorate of Literature honoris causa.

Now retired the former director of London’s National Gallery, who presided over one of the gallery’s most successful periods in its history, says he was delighted to be associated in this way with the School of Advanced Study. The honour recognises his outstanding support of The Warburg Institute, particularly its very successful MA in art history, curatorship and renaissance culture [run in collaboration with the National Gallery].

‘My scholarly interests as an art historian were first fostered at the Courtauld Institute and The Warburg Institute, and I am pleased that I have strengthened the links between these and other academic institutions and the National Gallery’, he adds.

Under his seven year directorship The National Gallery staged ‘Leonardo da Vinci, Painter at the Court of Milan’, it’s most popular exhibition, as well as exhibitions by renaissance heavyweights such as Frederico Barocci and Paolo Veronese. While at the helm, the gallery also hosted showings of Rembrandt's later works and, in 2013, for the first time, the number of annual visitors exceeded six million.

Sir Nicholas Penny has written and edited numerous books on subjects ranging from Renaissance painting and sculpture to the 20th-century artist Lucian Freud, and the history of collecting and taste. Works include scholarly catalogues, introductory texts for the student and critical reviews for the general reader. His two catalogues of the 16th-century paintings in the National Gallery in London, published in 2004 and 2008 respectively, are exemplars of their type.

He has been working on a catalogue of the 16th-century paintings from Bologna and Ferrara in the National Gallery to be published in 2016. Sir Nicholas is also helping to prepare a much revised and extended edition of Taste and the Antique which he wrote with the late English art historian, Francis Haskell. The new edition will be complemented by additional images online on the Virtual Images of Sculpture in Time and Space (VISTAS) website. 

He says a museum director today is ‘obliged to renounce his or her scholarly work and I am touched that what I once achieved has not been forgotten and what I am now returning to should be so encouraged.'

Fifty seven School graduands were awarded postgraduate degrees in the humanities and social sciences at the ceremony in Senate House, of which 12 were awarded Doctor of Philosophy degrees. A total of 91 degrees were conferred on postgraduate students of the School in 2015.

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