Students, friends and colleagues share their memories of Dr John Richards
Published: 17 February 2023
The news of John's death has been received with incredible sadness amongst colleagues and former students in Glasgow and far beyond.
Dr John Richards, Senior Lecturer in History of Art, has died following a serious illness.
You can read an obituary and tribute from John's former PhD tutor and colleague Professor Robert Gibbs on the School of Culture and Creative Arts news pages.
The news of John's death has been received with incredible sadness amongst colleagues and former students in Glasgow and far beyond.
Now John's students (past and present), friends and colleagues share their memories and pay tribute to a "hugely loved" lecturer.
Professor Clare A.P. Willsdon, Head of History of Art, University of Glasgow, writes:
"John was a tremendous colleague, teacher and scholar: wise, thoughtful, humane, creative, and hugely loved and respected by students and staff. He inspired generations of students with teaching that bore witness to his insightful research not only on Trecento art, Petrarch’s influence, and Dürer, but also, more recently, on Stanley Spencer. I will always remember how, at our History of Art staff research symposium a few years ago, he gave such a tour de force of a paper on one of Spencer’s most enigmatic and challenging paintings that we could not believe it was done without any notes at all. Sparklingly original, it was delivered with a lightness of touch that entirely belied its depth of scholarship. John was also utterly dependable and fair, and navigated the complexities of academic administration with skill and sensitivity. He brought, in short, a questing, deeply intelligent mind to bear on all he did, yet he was always also there for others in their moments of need, loss, or worry, as of joy and success. His wonderful dry sense of humour put us at our ease, and things in perspective, and his loss will be felt very keenly by staff, students and the wider University community. It is hard to think that we will not see him again on the steps of 8 University Gardens, or in his top-floor office, with its panoramic view through the little dormer window that seemed to match so perfectly the breadth of his mind and sympathies. And hard for me, as a fellow-gardener, to realise there will be no more lovely emails that mention a newly-purchased rose, how to deal with slugs (beer traps!), or how to prune a clematis, all in the mix with the day-to-day admin."
Genevieve Warwick, a colleague from the University of Edinburgh, writes:
"John was the mainstay of art history at Glasgow, his kindly presence gave everything a kind of magic all his own. He will be greatly missed by all."
Monika Anderson, former student and friend, writes:
"I first met John at an Open Day, as a bright eyed 16-year-old attending her first Open Day. John gave the History of Art subject talk that day, and by the end of it I knew I was going to apply to UofG to do History of Art, if only to hear him speak again. There was nothing quite like a John Richards lecture. He was always a favourite amongst students. His lectures were legendary, as was his wit but also his kindness. John would never turn you away from his office, whether it was to ask about an assignment or have a full-blown existential crisis, he would always take the time to listen and advise. I was lucky enough to have John as my PhD supervisor. During that time, I was the very fortunate recipient of hours of John’s wisdom, not only on the subject of History of Art but also on life in general. When I left the department, John and I remained in touch and when my son was born in 2018, John was very proudly appointed the role of honorary grandfather. My last conversation with John was around my son starting school and how John “looked forward to bulletins from the primary chalkface”. Like many who were privileged enough to cross paths with him, I will never forget John and am so incredibly grateful for the time I had with him."
Andrew Lockwood, a friend, writes:
"I had known John since 1972 as a friend of long standing. I remember his humour and a shared enjoyment of music. His insights and help gave me a long and interesting musical journey. From our initial discussions on Beethoven to myself discovering the wonders of Tudor polyphony. I feel as if part of my youth has just vanished. I shall miss him greatly."
Kate Mathis, a colleague, formerly at the University of Glasgow now at the University of Edinburgh, writes:
"I met John initially in his role as head of department, due to his involvement in following up a difficult situation that myself and a colleague had experienced, which he couldn't have been brisker or more compassionate about helping resolve. I remember his office as full of colour and beautiful pictures - always something new to be discussed and shared with visitors. Thank you, John, for your support when it was needed; sincere condolences to colleagues, family, and friends."
Sarah Finlayson, a colleague, School of Humanities, writes:
"John was an absolute treasure, one of a kind, a wonderful sense of humour, and always took the time to speak to everyone and make time to chat. His calm persona, glint in his eye and fantastic sense of humour meant I looked forward to seeing him every week. He will be sorely missed. "
Dr Ioulia Kolovou, a colleague, College of Arts, University of Glasgow, writes:
"I was lucky to work with Dr John Richards when I was the PGT Administrator in History of Art. He was such a joy to work with; his wonderful sense of humour made things so much easier! He was always kind and considerate and valued his colleagues - no wonder he was so much valued by them in return. I was devastated to hear of his too early passing, and I do sincerely wish his family that they may find comfort in fond memories of him. We all have them."
Professor Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor, Oxford University, writes:
"My meeting John was one of those happy accidents that we tend to transform into conscious acts. Rosemary Muir-Wright, who was the art history lecturer at Stirling, was granted leave of absence (I think maternity leave) and I volunteered (or was volunteered) to take over her lectures. There was a small consort of students, whose enthusiasm exceeded their accomplishments - with the notable exception of John. It was immediately apparent that he had a natural feel for historical art and a dedication for finding out about it. I recall him as slim and dark-bearded with kind eyes. I provided him with what encouragement I could, and he joined Glasgow University where full degrees were offered. The rest, as they say, is history. Our professional paths crossed less than I hoped, after I moved to St Andrews, but the grapevine kept me up-to-date on his progress to his doctorate and teaching appointments. He was a good scholar and a superb member of the academic community. He was a natural teacher and a source of unstinting pastoral care (a quality that tends now to be underrated as we measure publications by the metre). Generations of students were enriched by their encounters with John. We need more like him."
Dr Tom Nichols, a friend and colleague, History of Art, University of Glasgow, writes:
"I counted John a very close friend, and also a fantastic colleague. I first met him when he was External at University of Aberdeen, and was immediately struck by his charismatic mixture of wisdom and humour. There were, as I went on to discover, other strings to his bow. He was a man of many passions and interests, all of which were pursued with persistence. A very non-comprehensive list of historical figures that he liked would have to include (and in no particular order): Altichiero; Captain Beefheart; Albrecht Dürer; Soft Machine; Edward Hyams; Monteverdi and Chick Corea. He was also passionate about the tomb of Oliver de Ingham in Norfolk (C14th; apparently grew out of his research in Verona); too many varieties of eighteenth-century English porcelain (which were greatly collected and prominently displayed); and the wonders of working-class cigar-making (more recent, and sadly not fully developed). All these subjects were approached and enjoyed with the typical Richardian zest and curiosity. His concerns with the exterior world did not preclude constant self-reflection. John thought often and deeply about his own past as well as that of the artists, talking to me often about his childhood: his ICI father and his mother’s Irish blood; his time in Spencer’s Cookham; his heroic proto-green planting of a wood in Hertfordshire (there is a photo somewhere); and his dreadful spell at a leading English public school (not formative). But there was still more to him than all this. I’ve recently been reading his book on Petrarch and the Carrara palace in Padua (published in 2007), and have been struck by its seriousness and originality. John was much loved for his conversational wit and repartee, and also for his constant departmental solidity and support. But the precision of his mind and his deep erudition should not be forgotten. John played an important role in bringing me to Glasgow, and our friendship never faltered from that point onwards. I will always treasure the depth and richness of his humour, which was many-sided: acerbic and gentle by turn, inventive and always apt. Humour, it might be said, was his special way of understanding, and of coping with life’s many and strange diversities and vicissitudes."
Rachel Grew, former student, Loughborough University, writes:
"My first encounter with John as a teacher was through taking his second-year undergraduate module on early Christian art. Having faired pretty poorly on my other pre-modern modules, I started the course with great trepidation, but, thanks to John's wonderfully engaging teaching, I came to love it. Throughout my time at Glasgow (9 years all told), John was always there to offer advice and support, always delivered with good humour. It will be difficult to imagine the department without him, and he will undoubtedly be sorely missed by colleagues and students alike."
Claire Pace, former colleague and tutor of John, University of Glasgow (now retired), writes:
"I had lost touch with John in recent years, after my own retirement, but I remember him well as an outstanding student and a generous and supportive colleague. I am sure that he will be greatly missed."
Victoria Irvine, former student, Paisley Museum, writes:
"John was my advisor of studies as I crossed the threshold into the History of Art building in first year. From our first meeting, he gave me advice that would stick throughout my academic career and also told me a story about a castrated rabbit. I feel that sums up my experience of John fairly well. He was a very giving person, always there for his students and others, and his outlook and sense of humour managed to be both practical with a real dose of absurdity. His lectures were some of my favourites. We kept in contact long after my postgraduate studies and I was deeply sad to hear about his death. One in a million. He is already greatly missed."
Dan Keenan, former student (John was my undergraduate dissertation supervisor, and then had the misfortune to supervise both my MPhil and PhD), University of Glasgow, writes:
"Returning to my degree as an adult, I had the great fortune to take two of John’s classes (on the Early Italian Renaissance and Durer) as Honours options. Through John’s inspirational teaching and his unrelenting encouragement, I was emboldened to go on to postgraduate degrees, completing my MPhil and PhD under John’s supervision. This opportunity remains one of the greatest privileges of my life, and I will always be indebted to John for that. He was always kind, always humorous (even when grumpy), a great example of scholarship in action, and above all, a wonderful and wonderfully approachable human being. I will always remember that our conversations could range easily from Durer’s use of perspective, to the most recent episode of Still Game. John gave so much to his students and was loved by them. I will miss him deeply."
Amanda Mackie, former student, University of Glasgow, writes:
"What a lovely, kind person John was, the father of art history, in Glasgow University, his lectures were wonderful and funny, often going off on fascinating tangents. He was always encouraging and approachable. A great loss to the University and the world. Condolences to all his close colleagues, friends and family."
Viccy Coltman, colleague, History of Art, University of Edinburgh, writes:
"My colleagues and I in History of Art at Edinburgh send our thoughts westwards to all of you in History of Art at Glasgow. Many of us worked with John in various capacities over the last three decades. At one point he was our undergraduate external; at another, our postgraduate taught external. We esteemed him so highly in both these roles and his input was always invaluable in terms of how we shaped our UG and PGT programmes. He had such an impressive grasp of the discipline and its pedagogies, But much more importantly, he was a joy to chat to over a disappointing university-catered lunch and a warm beverage that should have been chilled. We are thinking of you all at this time as you have lost one of your team."
Tamara Trodd, former colleague and external examiner, University of Edinburgh, writes:
"I'm so sorry to hear of John's too-early death. I will always remember his warm and kindly support, when I worked for a year at the University of Glasgow. In later years, I deeply appreciated his insightful and collegial contribution as our External Examiner at Edinburgh. I wish he had had more time to enjoy his retirement. He will be sadly missed."
Dr Caterina Bellinetti, former student, Freelance Writer/Art Historian, writes:
"As a History of Art tutor (2014-20), I reported to John. I remember the first time I went to his office. I climbed the stairs of the department all the way to the top and I entered his room where his books occupied every inch of space. We chatted frequently about art, the students, our lives, my insecurities as a PhD student. I brought him chocolate. He asked me to find an obscure liqueur he had while doing research in Padova. He was always encouraging, helpful, and incredibly funny. The day of my graduation he hugged me and said "I'm so proud of you." It meant the world because, in the four years I spent as a PhD student/tutor in the department, he had become an inspiration to me and I knew he meant those words. In the last email exchange we had, he had sent me a photograph of a stunning blue sky in Ardrossan. It looked like a painting and this is how I'll remember him."
Heather Pulliam, colleague, University of Edinburgh, writes:
"I first met John Richards when I was a student at St Andrews. Then, years later, when he was our external examiner at the University of Edinburgh. John was the kindest and most generous of colleagues, someone I very much looked up to."
Mina MacDougall, current student, Univeristy of Glasgow, writes:
"John has been a pillar throughout my time at Glasgow University. He was the first to reach out to me regarding my disability during my first semester and always went out of his way to make sure everything was the best it could be for me, from lectures to exams. I feel so privileged to have been able to take his Dürer course last year, and had the joy of feeling like he was in my living room once a week as the course was entirely online. His dry sense of humour was right up my street, and I loved his teaching style. When I found out he wasn’t well, I reached out by email to send well wishes and was a little concerned that there was no reply (he was always so prompt; sometimes replying to my panicked enquiries at 11pm at night!) but still nothing could prepare me for the sadness of his passing. Honestly, all the memories I have of Dr John Richards would make a long list indeed but whilst I sat and tried to gather a few together, I was reminded of what a wonderful, caring man he was, and how I’m so thankful that I was able to be his student. I’m a senior honours now, and his absence is most definitely noticed this semester. One thing I am certain of, is that there are going to be so many who feel the same way. Thank you for all you did, John! We will miss you dearly."
Larisa Hamilton, former student, writes:
"Dr Richard’s lectures were always so interesting and enjoyable, I looked forward to any class he was giving as he always reminded me why I chose to study history of art. He was such a warm and joyful character and I am very glad to have spent time with him in his lectures. "
Lauren Johnston-Smith (née Buddie), former student, writes:
"John was an inspiring lecturer and I loved all his courses, in particular he got me excited about Dürer's woodcuts and Northern European art, so much so that I visited Cologne for my Honours art history trip! His classes were always so interesting and his passion for the History of Art infectious. Sending thoughts to his family and friends."
Struan Watson, Former student (MA 2017, MLitt 2019), University of St Andrews Museums, writes:
"John's lectures and seminars on 14th and 15th Century Italian art had a profound impact on me as a student. I fondly remember conversations with John over my dissertation meetings during my postgraduate years. We would quickly discuss my essay to only then, at length, chat about our interests and lives beyond university. I feel privileged to have learned from him. His loss is felt deeply - as it will be by his family, friends, and the University."
David Hopkins, colleague, History of Art, University of Glasgow, writes:
"I knew John for some 20 years as a colleague in History of Art. He was one of the most capable and reliable colleagues I have ever had. Modest about his scholarly gifts, he gave one of the most authorittaive and stimulating research seminars I ever attended at Glasgow: a paper on Petrarch, delivered around 2003-4, I should think. His dry sense of humour - verging on the caustic - was legendary, and he could always be relied upon to make some wry observation concerning the foibles and frustrations of university life. He commanded enormous respect as a teacher, and his professional abilities were beyond question. What a fine person! I and everybody else in the Art History subject area will miss him dearly. Rest in Peace, John."
M Wall, former student, writes:
"After staying behind to ask a question on a zoom class in the height of Covid in Glasgow, John Richards was one of the few to stop and ask me how I was actually doing. He made sure I was okay and that I wasn't finding the situation too difficult. I lived alone at this point and such a simple act meant the world to me. Incidentally to being a wonderful human being, he taught my favourite classes, or maybe he spoke with such a passion and love that everything he spoke I found to be fascinating. He was one of the friendliest faces on campus and I will never forge the impact he has had."
Sam MacAulay, former student, writes:
"A force within the History of Art department, John Richards will be remembered for his dry wit and passion for his field. A devastating loss for the department and for those future students who will never get to know him. My condolences to his partner and his family during this time."
Jessica Watson, former student, writes:
"Somehow in the middle of a meeting discussing an essay where he noted my insistence on using Roman like and Romanesque interchangeably, we discussed how we shared the same dream of charging into battle on horseback. He was so thoughtful and caring of a lecturer to insist of meeting with each student to discuss their essay, but to always be so unequivocally himself and prone to a tangent was wonderful to be around."
Natalie Lawther (nee Reid), former student, writes:
"A true scholar who taught with kindness and passion. A memorable teacher."
Sandra Cardarelli, University of Aberdeen, writes:
"I would like to express my sadness on learning about the passing of Dr John Richards. I met John in the first year of my PhD at the University of Aberdeen when I took part in “Gloss at Glasgow” a postgraduate conference held at the University of Glasgow in June 2007, and then again at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds a month later. He was always available and generous in sharing his vast knowledge of Trecento Italian art with students and younger colleagues, all seasoned with his sense of humour. He supported Emily-Jane Anderson and I as a co-editor when we later worked on a volume together – Art and Identity – as a follow-up from our early conference experiences. His help and guidance were driven by his genuine willingness to bring the project to a successful completion. I have fond memories of the intellectual and professional exchange that took place in those years, and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to collaborate, albeit briefly, with him."
Professor Minty Donald, Professor of Contemporary Performance Practice, School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow writes:
"I have known John since we were students together in History of Art at the University of Glasgow in the late 70s/early 80s. I remember John as a bit of a star in History of Art who, seemingly effortlessly, graduated with a First Class degree – a relatively rare achievement at that time. We were not in touch in the years after we graduated but it was really lovely to become reacquainted with John when I joined the University of Glasgow as a sessional lecturer teaching Theatre Design in the late 1990s. He was very welcoming and kind in helping me to navigate the University landscape. It was always a pleasure to find him at a meeting I had to attend, where his warmth, humour, and support were much appreciated, especially in more recent years when we both served as Heads of Subject. John and I would also, as some colleagues will know, take every opportunity to reminisce about our time as History of Art students and, particularly the memorable ‘famous fine art trip’: a subsidised 6-week fieldtrip around Europe, barely imaginable now. I am very sad indeed that John is no longer with us. I will remember him with great fondness, both from recent years and from our student days."
Jane Nicholson writes:
"A truly considerate and thoughtful man – over and above his academic prowess, a great loss to everyone and gone too soon. I will always be so grateful to him for his kindness when I came to work at the Department of History of Art. My thoughts and sympathies go to his family and close friends. He will be much missed. "
Professor Paul Stirton, former colleague, Professor Emeritus, the Bard Graduate Center, New York, writes:
"I was very sorry to hear of John’s death, especially thinking of the gap he will leave in the overall character and atmosphere of the art history department. As a colleague of John’s for many years, I found his calmness and authority very reassuring, not least when one had to re-arrange meetings or lectures at short notice; John was unfailingly reliable and supportive. After I left Glasgow in 2008, I occasionally asked him to contribute reviews to a journal in the United States, which (thankfully) he was willing to do. Growing out of that, we maintained a light-hearted email correspondence over the years, sometimes about GU, but also about the range and limitations of art history as a discipline, and its comparative qualities in relation to other areas of scholarship. Our shared love of certain twentieth century English novels prompted some wry observations about the delights and absurdities of academic life. John had a very dry and economical sense of humour which, alongside his deep knowledge of the visual arts, made him the ideal colleague and friend. We will all miss him deeply."
Carol Doyle, colleague and friend, School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow, writes:
"Dear John, the staunchest of friends, the most supportive of allies and the very, very best of company. You advised and guided me through the first nervous months of my life at History of Art and from then on you were wonderful to work with, a never-failing source of reassurance. I learnt so much from you, not just about the work of the Department but about History of Art itself and you were always happy to encourage the interest you had sparked. You found time to listen to our students’ problems, no matter how busy you were, and they all knew they would be heard with genuine consideration and sympathy. I am sure many hundreds of them remember you with huge affection, having enjoyed and been inspired by your teaching. You were easy to talk to, easy to listen to and I loved hearing stories of your life as a child, as a student and as an academic. Conversations with you were fascinating, fun and never, ever dull. A more down-to-earth, generous-spirited, compassionate, humorous, approachable person I never met. I am so grateful to have known you, thank you for leaving such bright, warm memories."
Elisabetta Toreno, colleague and supervisor, Open University, writes:
"Undoubtedly, John will remain one the most grounded and thorough intellectuals, and one of the most profoundly empathic individuals I will ever have the fortune to have known. Thank you, John, for your depth of intelligence, knowledge, and humanity."
Professor Michael Michael, Fellow of the School of Culture and Creative Art, University of Glasgow, writes:
"John was an impeccable scholar, but he was much more than the sum of his scholarship. His energy and empathy for others was boundless. He will be fondly remembered by anyone who ever met him."
Rachel Stuart, former student, writes:
"An inspirational teacher, a good friend. He will be missed."
Tamyra Denoon, former student, University of Glasgow, writes:
"I always looked forward to attending Dr John Richards’ classes. He had such a wealth of knowledge and an incredible enthusiasm for his subject matter that spread to everyone in the room. He was joyful, encouraging and very funny. It was a great privilege to learn from him."
Evelyn Silber, John's former lecturer and Director of The Hunterian (2001-2006), writes:
"John's ability was quickly apparent when I was teaching him long ago. His southern English accent was also unusual among so many Scottish students. We were astonished to discover a personal link through our fathers, close colleagues at ICI Plastics in Welwyn Garden City. As a child I had met his parents more than once dining at our home. Returning to Glasgow in 2001, I was delighted to meet him again as a senior member of the art history department. Though I never got to know him well he was as friendly, open and engaging as I remembered and he will be much missed."
Dr Tom Normand, a friend and colleague, University of St Andrews, Honorary Research Fellow, School of Art History, writes:
"John was, all too briefly, a colleague in the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews. He was a kindly and generous individual. He was also a gifted teacher and a fine scholar. When he returned to the University of Glasgow he was sorely missed here in St Andrews. Sometimes, I realise now not nearly often enough, we would meet in Glasgow. Most often when he was thoughtful enough to invite me through on some academic pretext. We would meet to eat and chat. It was always a heartening experience. He will be sadly missed, and always respected."
Margaret F MacDonald, friend and colleague, University of Glasgow, writes:
"John was a good friend, warm and cheering, with the ability to make one feel special. I always felt that the department was a better place and more welcoming for his presence. He had a fine, anarchic sense of humour, a quick perception of the ridiculous. A generous and hard working colleague, highly intelligent and widely knowledgeable, he was an inspiring teacher, hugely supportive of students. I remember him at an HOA pre-Christmas party, sitting on the stairs surrounded by post-grads, emanating good fellowship! Saddened by his untimely death, a shocking loss to family and friends, we will surely miss him but never forget him."
Gráinne Rice, former student, writes:
"I was in John's Renaissance honours class in the mid-1990s when he first returned to Glasgow. He was also my (very patient) dissertation tutor guiding me through researching an obscure area of early Christian architectural history. He was a brilliant teacher, so knowledgeable and great at inspiring enthusiasm in his students. He was kind and very funny and displayed what I now at this advanced stage in professional life, consider to be a healthy dose of cynicism toward academic bureaucracies. I was so very sorry to hear about his untimely death and wish his family, friends and colleagues all the best at this dreadfully sad time."
Kathleen O'Neill, who was firstly a student, then colleague, and for whom John became a wonderful friend, writes:
"I first met John when I was taking the MPhil in Medieval & Renaissance Studies. Following some of his lectures, he had the misfortune to be charged with advising me on & marking my essay on medieval queenship. He was so inspirational and encouraging. A year and a bit later, he became a colleague as I took on the post of temporary Librarian in the History of Art Department. From this point on, he became a friend and a wonderful advisor when I needed to talk (how did he always know when someone needed to talk?). Although I moved onto work in London after that first year, we kept in touch, and when I returned home to deal with health and family issues, he was there to listen and provide the good coffee, as well as his characteristic bear hugs. John was a truly generous person, someone who I always believed to be somehow immortal. I will always be a little bit annoyed with him that this wasn't so, and will miss such a wonderful person."
Professor Debra Strickland, a friend and colleague, History of Art, University of Glasgow, writes:
"I always knew that John was the best, and in him I saw what I value most about this profession: commitment to education, top scholarship, concern with upholding academic standards, generosity towards students and colleagues – and a detailed memory, advanced analytical ability and quick wit that filled me with awe. He respected the institution but not blindly, and he respected his colleagues, whether we shared his world view or not. He was funny as hell and a good audience, too. Commanding his attention felt like an honour, and knowing he was on my side, especially in difficult times, enabled me to cope when I might otherwise not have done. For 20 years or so, he listened patiently to my blabbery crap and afterward offered good guidance. He was loyal and fiercely protective, he never missed a trick, and he always made the time. I was proud to be his friend. I am heartbroken at his loss, but in my mind I hear him insisting that we can jolly well carry on without him, so I’ll try to do that, or something like it."
Salome Nilsson, a former student, writes:
"John was a wonderful and engaging lecturer. He had a sense of humour that always kept his topics interesting, and he would intersperse his slides with photos of his cats! I’m so sad to hear of his passing, I would have very much enjoyed to meet him again. Sending my thoughts to his loved ones and colleagues at the university."
Allan Madden, University of Glasgow, former student, colleague and friend, writes:
"John was the first member of staff that I encountered when I started at the University of Glasgow as an undergraduate student as he was my advisor of studies. I had the benefit of his teaching in first and second year, and then more fully in my Senior Honours year. He was also the first member of staff that I encountered, by chance, on my return to Glasgow as a lecturer (kindly showing me how to work the projector - and, more importantly, to calm my nerves and set me up for my first class - as he happened to be passing the teaching room). He did this in an entirely 'John' way, not of reciting platitudes or empty words of encouragement but by having a good-natured moan about the perils of technology. In all my experiences of him I found him to be an unfailingly kind and warm colleague – supportive well beyond what anyone might expect, with many words of wisdom, and truly a joy to spend any time with (and certainly someone who could always be counted on to enliven subject meetings with his witty quips). He was a perfect teacher in that he was open and warm and keen to share his wealth of knowledge. And as a colleague, I always hoped to see him any time I was in the department as I could be guaranteed an immediate ‘lift’ to the day. It is a terrible loss and I consider myself very lucky to have known him."
Jeremy Howard, Art History, University of St Andrews, friend and former colleague writes:
"I first met John when he arrived in Art History at St Andrews in the early 1990s. We stayed friends after he got his job at Glasgow. Back in the early days we were both on temporary contracts and felt very vulnerable to the vagaries of the higher education system. This meant that we would often share a lunch or a drink in town in order to set the world to rights. John was brilliant at that. He had such a marvellous personality, being very warm and witty even when the going was tough. He lived in Dairsie and I in Cupar and hence we could meet outside of St Andrews to share our stories. After he moved back to Glasgow, we would meet up for coffee or lunch when I brought students over to Kelvingrove. It was always both a pleasure and intellectually stimulating. John was so down-to-earth. I'll never forget how he solved the problem of a PhD candidate refusing to leave the room after a rather problematic PhD viva. He saved Pamela Robertson and me. We were in touch in the summer of 2022, and he was full of the joys of Ayrshire life. We agreed to meet. Alas, we missed the chance. Something I deeply and truly regret."
Anastasia Kanellopoulou, University of Fribourg, former student writes:
"For us, all his students John Richards will always be John. There are never appropriate words to say for John as his loss left us all shocked and orphaned. Because John Richards was not only a professor and a remarkable teacher but he was a mentor - he encouraged and inspired his students with his great lengths of intellect and his great erudition. He stood for his unsurpassable intellectual spirit and his witty humour. I will always be indebted to him for his support and his guidance and i will always remember him with great respect and love for the lovely and genuine man that he was. The Art History world is poorer without him."
Louise Pollock, University of Glasgow, a colleague and a friend, writes:
"I had the pleasure of supporting John for 23 years in IT. He always made me laugh and I will miss his hilarious questions regarding his laptop."
Emily Jane Anderson, University of Glasgow (former) former student, co-editor, friend, writes
"I first met John Richards c.2000 as an undergraduate and he would go on to co-supervise my MPhil and then my PhD before I had to withdraw due to complex neurological and other serious health issues. During this period John also co-edited two books with Sandra Cardarelli, Jill Farquhar and myself; publications based on papers from conferences in Aberdeen, Leeds and Glasgow, which John and our other supervisors had encouraged us to organise/participate in. John helped bring the publications to completion when I was too ill to continue. This added to his already considerable workload and is indicative of his great kindness and professionalism. John was extremely supportive and did everything he could to help his friends, colleagues and students. He visited and helped my family when I was very ill in hospital and always went out of his way to keep in touch regularly in the years after. John was endlessly patient, encouraging and kind.The earlier stages of my neurological issues were often frustrating and frightening. My speech and language processing difficulties were particularly challenging to manage and caused me great distress. John helped me carry on working as long as possible, consoled me when I could no longer continue and from that point on did everything he could to give me confidence and hope for the future. He never gave up on me. I hope he understood how much this meant to me and to my family. John was a generous, modest, forgiving and dignified soul, blessed with a wry and razor-sharp wit and wisdom, and enough experience of the cruelties of life to fuel his infinite compassion for others. He was a joy to work with and a great and loyal friend. He will be missed immeasurably. I'm sure this is especially true of his dear friends and colleagues Robert Gibbs and Tom Nichols. My time at university was one of the happiest of my life and John helped make that possible. I know all the postgraduate students from that time will remember John very fondly. John was a tremendously talented scholar and he was greatly respected by his peers. John's work on Altichiero was vital and remains definitive. His extensive research concerning Verona and Petrarch is meticulous and invaluable. It is of great regret that his current research projects will be unrealised. Universally loved and respected by his students, John was a highly gifted and engaging speaker, a truly dedicated and supremely knowledgeable teacher and a tireless champion of his students, all of whom he always did his very best to help. John introduced me to all the wonders of the Northern Renaissance. He gave me my first Nero Wolfe detective book and changed my mind forever about William Kotzwinkle and Captain Beefheart. We happily bickered over Bede, James Joyce, Titian, our favourite sumo wrestlers and the different merits of various Scottish bakery products. John loved an iced bun. I have lovely memories of cakes and coffee in his magnificently chaotic yet organised office, which was stuffed with pictures and books and papers and journals and treasured keepsakes from students. John loved pets, animals, wildlife and nature, enjoyed his garden and was well informed about environmental and rural concerns. He loved Scotland and took great pleasure and solace in the countryside. John's loss is profound both professionally and for those who had the privilege of knowing him personally. I offer my sincere condolences to all those mourning John's untimely death. It is of comfort to see how much he meant to so many people and to know that he was extremely happy and enjoying his life in his new home in Ardrossan with his partner Minna. John was a gentle man and a man of rare brilliance, decency and grace. That statement alone would make him shift uncomfortably, snort derisively and roll his eyes. It is true nonetheless. John was a wonderful person and he is and always will be deeply missed."
Dr Lisi Linster, former student, writes:
"John has touched every history of art student’s life. His open-hearted and light approach to teaching did not only leave a mark on me as an undergraduate but has functioned as a role model for my own approach to teaching. When I found out that John was the external examiner in my viva an instant feeling of calm and excitement set in. Having him in your corner, interested in your research, and cheering you on, is the greatest support any academic could have hoped for. But above all, John was a great person and his unique sense of humour will truly be missed."
Diana Fairley, former University of Glasgow colleague, writes:
"I was very sad to hear the news about John. I worked as the secretary in the History of Art Department from 1984-1995. During my time in the department John would often pop into the office for a chat. He was always willing to share his knowledge with students and friends and he was a real expert on his subject, he will be missed by many. My thoughts are with his family at this sad time."
Dr Johanna Pollick, former student and colleague, writes:
"As a GTA in the History of Art department from 2017-21, I was lucky to work closely with John. I will never forget his good humour, patience and kindness, and the many chats we shared about our work, lives and students. As a GTA, I saw first-hand the respect and high esteem that students had for John - his lectures were a favourite! John was also my viva convenor and made the whole experience (via Zoom, mid-Covid lockdown) so positive and memorable. I will be forever grateful for the time we spent together and for the ways in which he helped me to develop as a teacher and researcher. I am deeply saddened by his loss. My condolences to his family and friends."
Lucy Weir, University of Edinburgh, Former student and friend, writes:
"From my undergraduate studies to the uncertain landscape of postdoctoral job hunting, John Richards was a constant source of support, kindness, and bone-dry wit. His acerbic style earned him a legendary status amongst former History of Art students now spread across the globe, but in our recollections of John, what stands out most was his generosity, and his profound investment in his students. He understood the financial strain and uncertain job prospects many of us faced, and went out of his way to find paid work, teaching, and funding opportunities which went well beyond his call of duty. When I crossed the Rubicon and joined History of Art at Edinburgh, it was a joy to work with John once again as our external examiner. His unique brand of humour could cut through even the medium of Microsoft Teams messaging. I will miss John very much, and am so sorry for his loss. He made an indelible impact on so many of us, and for that he will never be forgotten."
Dr Grischka Petri, a colleague, University of Glasgow, writes:
"During my regular trips to Glasgow for various Whistler-related projects, the encounters with John were always a highlight. I can imagine that his presence at the department was a good reason to study art history in Glasgow. John combined wit and humanism, always with a smile and often in the shape of a seemingly casual joke. I will miss him."
Dr Andreas Dahlem, Bavarian State Library and a former student, writes:
"John Richards was the first member of the History of Art department that I met in 1998. Having enrolled in Film & Television Studies, History and Management at the University of Glasgow I quickly regretted my decision to having chosen Management to balance the arts and humanities subjects. A friend who was studying History of Art took me along to John’s Renaissance lecture for first year students as I had uttered the wish to swap Management for another subject and he was very enthusiastic about History of Art. John’s lecture transported his genuine and knowledgeable interest as well as his passion for the Late Gothic and Renaissance periods as well as History of Art and Architecture in general. Afterwards I approached John and asked him about switching from Management to History of Art. He was supportive of my wish to enroll for History of Art midterm. I was not allowed to leave my Management course until the end of my first year but could thanks to John’s intervention study History of Art simultaneously. I am very grateful for this accidental, fateful meeting as it had a profound effect on my academic career. John opened my eyes for the ingenuity of Late Gothic architecture in Southern Germany which I had known from my home in Bavaria but which I had not appreciated until enrolling in John’s honours course on the Renaissance north of the Alps. Eventually via a joint detour into contemporary architecture (John supervised my master’s thesis on Frank Gehry) he co-supervised with Robert Gibbs my thesis on transitional period of late medieval/early modern court culture in the Duchy of Bavaria. I remember the time of my PhD research very fondly: John provided encouragement, gave me freedom to pursue my own research trajectories, tested my ideas and above all taught me a slightly anarchic approach to established opinions. My time at Glasgow University was instrumental for my academic career and for developing as a human being in general. During this time John was certainly one of the crucial role models from whom I benefitted greatly. I am extremely thankful for having met John Richards and staying in touch with him after leaving Glasgow University. I will treasure my memory of this special, warm-hearted, humorous, knowledgeable, humanist person."
Meg Gray, a former student whose dissertation was supervised by John at UofG, writes:
"John was the highlight of my experience as an undergrad student at Glasgow. His wit animated every lecture and his unyielding kindness helped me process life’s challenges. John’s presence is missed dearly but persists in the many student cohorts that have been inspired by his humour, thoughtfulness and utter genius. I feel so lucky to have been his student."
Lucy Brouwer, a former student, writes:
"Discovered this sad news after looking up John, who I always think of whenever I see the work of Albrecht Dürer in a gallery. His class on the northern renaissance, and Dürer has stayed with me more recently than any other part of my degree course. Very sad to hear this news as John was always good humour and helpful both in class and as a supervisor."
Maria Woods, a former student at UofG, writes:
"Dr Richards was a fantastic lecturer and a great, great man. His sense of humour was one of a kind. Will be missed greatly."
Vhari Bannister, a former student, writes:
A wonderful man whose warmth, compassion and humour will be greatly missed. Thank you, John.
First published: 17 February 2023