Tributes paid to Dr John Richards

Published: 8 February 2023

Dr John Richards, Senior Lecturer in History of Art, has died following a serious illness

A portrait of the late Dr John Richards outside No 8 University Gardens at the University of Glasgow

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our colleague and friend Dr John Richards, Senior Lecturer in History of Art, following a serious illness.

John will be greatly missed by colleagues, friends and students at the University of Glasgow.

Professor Clare Willsdon, Head of History of Art, said: "John was a tremendous colleague, teacher and scholar: wise, thoughtful, humane, creative, and hugely loved by students and staff.

"He was always there for others, and had a wonderful dry sense of humour. His loss will be felt very keenly by staff, students and the wider University community, and he will be greatly missed by us all. "

John graduated in 1982 from the University of Glasgow with First Class Honours in Art History and English. He also completed his Art History PhD at Glasgow, in 1989.

After two years' teaching at the University of St Andrews, he returned to Glasgow in 1995 as a Lecturer in History of Art.

An expert in late medieval and Renaissance art, he published the first book in English on the Italian Trecento artist Altichiero.

He served as a much-respected Adviser of Studies and Head of History of Art, and had only recently completed a second term of office as the latter. 

If you wish to share your own tribute or memory of John please use the following Tribute Form

A special Tributes page has now been set up and can be viewed - Students, Friends and Colleagues share their Memories of Dr John Richards

John Corley Richards - a Personal Tribute

by Professor Robert Gibbs 

John Corley Richards (1954-2022) was the son of Raymond Richards and Kate Corley/Richards. 

His father’s work as a senior chemist with ICI meant that John was quite widely travelled in his youth, including a stay in Cookham that inspired a life-long interest in the work of Stanley Spencer.

From his Irish mother John acquired a long interest in Ireland and family research.  He studied briefly at art school in Ware but moved eventually to Stirling in Scotland.  It was there that he attended classes given by the celebrated Leonardo scholar, Martin Kemp who, recognising his brilliance persuaded him to undertake a degree at his own university, Glasgow. 

First Class Degree

John graduated with First Class honours in Art History and English (1982) and proceeded to a PhD on the greatest artist of the later 14th century, Altichiero, completed in 1989.  He supported himself in the last years of his studies by working in the local restaurant The Ubiquitous Chip, very much a part of university life, and married the head chef, Helena Doherty.

He taught for a couple of years at the University of St Andrews before returning to the History of Art Department at Glasgow in 1995. John proved a charismatic teacher and a highly appreciated adviser of studies, promoted in 2003 to Senior Lecturer and serving twice as Head of Department.  His warmth and wit were greatly appreciated by all.  His later years were enriched by his colleague and partner Minna Törmä.


Altichiero: An Artist and his Patrons, which developed from John’s thesis, is a profound investigation into probably the greatest painter of the later Trecento and certainly the greatest heir to the legacy of Giotto and his finest followers, Maso di Banco and Puccio Capanna.  He emerges completely out of the blue in the court circles of Scaligeri Verona, painting major fresco cycles in the signorial palaces of Verona (a lost Josephus cycle reduced to imperial portraits in the window arches) and Padua (based on Petrarch’s De Viribus Illustris, also lost except for a portrait of Petrarch). 

These represent the most important secular cycles of the Trecento, and John explored a wide range of surviving drawings of related topics, Giovanni de Mantoci’s imperial portraits and their partial origin in Roman coins, the historical texts of Petrarch and his amanuensis, Lombardo della Seta, and their fortunately surviving manuscripts illustrated by Altichiero to evoke something of what we have lost.


Fortunately a commemorative fresco of the Cavalli family survives in Verona, while two great chapels were frescoed by Altichiero in and adjacent to the Santo in Padua.  Both were commissioned by members of the Lupi family and are relatively well documented. Even here there was an ambiguity to be resolved: the chapel of S. Giacomo was begun by the Bolognese painter Jacopo Avanzi (of whom there were two), but he is unrecorded in the documents.  The two artists both share a sense of Giottesque modelling, yet Avanzi has a wildness of characterisation and action totally opposed to Altichiero’s ability to turn a battle into a liturgy. John explored vividly both the spatial subtleties within which Altichiero composed the framing and the internal architectural structures of each chapel and the grave yet intensely characterised actions of all his figures. 

Bonifacio Lupi, like Raimondino, was a notable military leader and friend of Francesco Carrarese, ‘Il Vecchio’.  He also had close ties not only to the Franciscans of Padua but of Florence too.  The tight circle of patrons John explores is frequently represented as portraits within Altichiero’s narratives, sometimes certain, more often implied by the individualistic faces throughout.  In this book Altichiero can be seen living among Padua’s early humanists and transforming Giotto’s art into their more worldly spirit.

John explored in greater depth the second of those vanished fresco cycles in Petrarch and the Iconography of the Reggia Carrarese in Padua: The Mask of Virtue, while several papers studied Altichiero’s legacy among 15th-century historians and artists.  It is remarkable that both Van Eyck and Jean Fouquet drew upon Altichiero’s Crucifixion in the Oratorio di S. Giorgio as further papers showed.  John himself was drawn to the Northern Renaissance in his teaching, particularly Dürer.  Closer to one of his former homes he also studied the remarkable pebbled tomb of Sir Oliver Ingham in Norfolk: he was a life-long supporter of the Church Monuments Society. 

Wider Interests

But John was also a man of much wider interests, the history of 20th century battleships, collecting 18th and 19th century Staffordshire ceramics, 19th and 20th century bookplates, and the works of Edward Hyams, novelist, gardener, viticologist, ecologist and anarchist.  John must have felt much of himself in Hyams. 

One project that occupied many of his last years remained, alas, largely unrealised, an in-depth study of Stanley Spencer, an artist who combined so much of the monumental art of Giotto and the Trecento with his sense of the immediate, the personal and the natural landscape.  

If only John had had a few more years with his shelves of Hyams, Spencer notes and intimate little garden sheltering against the Ardrossan gales.

Professor Robert Gibbs, worked in History of Art at the University of Glasgow before his retirement and was also John's PhD tutor. 

First published: 8 February 2023

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