John Shearman

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John Kinder Gowran Shearman (pronounced "Sherman"; 24 June 1931 – 11 August 2003) was an English art historian who also taught in America. He was a specialist in Italian Renaissance painting, regarded by many as "the outstanding figure" of his generation in this area,[1] who published several influential works, but whose expected major books on Quattrocento painting, for the Penguin/Yale History of Art series (already commissioned in 1984, and still a gap in the series in 2011),[2] and on Raphael, never appeared.[3]


He was born the son of an army officer (and amateur painter) in Aldershot, Hampshire, educated in Surrey at St Edmund's School, Hindhead, and Felsted School in Essex, and entered the Courtauld Institute in London in 1951, where he was appointed a lecturer as soon as he graduated with a BA in 1955 – followed by a PhD in 1957. He had a research fellowship at Princeton University from 1964, was Reader at the Courtauld from 1967, and Deputy Director 1974–1979 before returning to Princeton,[4] where he was chairman of the art history department from 1979 to 1985. He had hoped for the Directorship of the Courtauld at the retirement of Anthony Blunt in 1974 but was not successful;[3] the medievalist Peter Lasko, who had administrative experience, got the appointment instead.[5] From 1987 until his retirement in 2002 he was a professor at Harvard University.[6]

In the absence of the works on Raphael and Quattrocento painting, the most widely influential work of his large output was his book, still in print, on the controversial concept of Mannerism. He was involved with the Italian and Vatican authorities on issues including the damage after the 1966 Flood of the River Arno in Florence and the Restoration of the Sistine Chapel frescoes, which he supported.[7]

He was married three times, in 1957, 1983, and 1998, with four children by his first marriage, and died of a heart attack near Lethbridge, Alberta on a holiday in the Rocky Mountains.[8] He was a keen sailor.[9]


His publications include:

  • Mannerism, London, Penguin/Baltimore, MD, 1967;
  • Andrea del Sarto Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965;
  • The Early Italian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983;
  • Only Connect: Art and the Spectator in the Italian Renaissance, A. W. Mellon lectures in the Fine Arts 1988 Bollingen Series 35, 37. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992;
  • Raphael's Cartoons in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, and the Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel. London: Phaidon, 1972; edited, and Hirst, Michael. Wilde, Johannes.
  • Michelangelo: Six Lectures. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978;
  • The Vatican Stanze: Functions and Decorations. British Academy Italian Lecture 1971. London: Oxford University Press, 1972;
  • Raphael in Early Modern Sources 1483–1602, 2003, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-09918-5 (Updated edition)


  1. ^ Harvard Gazette
  2. ^ Independent; from the author biography of the 1984 Penguin edition of Mannerism, he was already "working on" the Quattrocento book, which the Dictionary of Art Historians says was "left uncompleted". On the series, now published by Yale University Press, see Yale UP website.
  3. ^ a b Independent
  4. ^ Dictionary of Art Historians; dates are 1974–78 per New York Times.
  5. ^ Dictionary of Art Historians entry for Lasko
  6. ^ Independent, Dictionary
  7. ^ LA Times, Independent
  8. ^ Harvard Gazette, NY Times, Independent
  9. ^ David Ekserdjian, ‘Shearman, John Kinder Gowran (1931–2003)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition, Oxford University Press, January 2007, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/92659 (subscription required). Retrieved on 6 April 2009.