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Finding aid for the John Pope-Hennessy Papers, 1617-1995, bulk 1930-1995
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical / Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: John Pope-Hennessy papers
    Date (inclusive): 1617-1995, bulk 1930-1995
    Number: 990023
    Creator/Collector: Pope-Hennessy, John Wyndham, Sir, 1913-1994
    Physical Description: 116.0 linear feet (220 boxes, 2 flatfile folders)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: The papers document John Pope-Hennessy's professional activities as a historian of Italian Renaissance art, museum director, curator, and teacher. The archive contains museum files, correspondence, study photographs, and manuscripts of his scholarly work. Also included are papers from his family, namely his parents, Ladislas and Una Pope-Hennessy and his brother, James Pope-Hennessy. The family papers include letters, clippings, and manuscripts of published and unpublished works.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English

    Biographical / Historical Note

    Sir John Wyndham Pope-Hennessy (1913-1994) was a British art historian, museum director, curator, and an expert on Italian Renaissance sculpture and painting. He served as director of both the Victoria and Albert Museum (1967-1973) and the British Museum (1974-1976). In 1977, he became Chairman of the Department of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and professor of art history at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. Sienese Quattrocento painting was Pope-Hennessy's first field of research and was marked by his monograph on the painter Giovanni di Paolo. However, his greatest contribution to the history of art is perhaps his research and writing on Italian sculpture, which profited from his decades-long work with the rich sculpture collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. His three-volume Introduction to Italian Sculpture has remained an important reference work and was followed by studies on Donatello, bronze statuettes, and Italian plaquettes.
    Pope-Hennessy was born in Belgravia, London into an Irish Catholic family. His father, Major-General Ladislas Herbert Richard Pope-Hennessy (1875-1942) was a member of the British Liberal Party. His mother, Dame Una (née Birch) Pope-Hennessy (1876-1949), was a writer, historian and biographer, whose published works include Early Chinese Jades (1923) and Charles Dickens (1945). Both were active supporters of the Irish Dominion. Pope-Hennessy's younger brother, James Pope-Hennessy (1916-1974), was also a biographer, historian and author known for works such as Queen Mary (1959), Sins of the Fathers: A Study of the Atlantic Slave Traders, 1441-1807 (1967), and Anthony Trollope (1971). Moreover, Pope-Hennessy's namesake and grandfather, Sir John Pope-Hennessy (1834-1891), who was born in Cork, Ireland, became governor of several British crown colonies, including the Bahamas, Barbados, Hong Kong, and Mauritius. Known for being a progressive and liberal governor, streets were named after Sir John and a statue of him was built in Mauritius.
    The younger John Pope-Hennessy lived as a child in Washington, D.C. where his father served as a military attaché at the British Embassy. He was educated at Downside Abbey (Somerset) and read history at Balliol College, Oxford. Although he received no formal training in art history, according to John Pope-Hennessy: A Bibliography, compiled by Everett Fahy, his interest in art history began as a young boy in 1926, when he purchased Crowe and Cavalcaselle's book on North Italian painting. While at Balliol College, he was introduced to Kenneth Clark and attended Clark's lectures at the Ashmolean. In 1935-1936, Pope-Hennessy traveled extensively throughout Europe, visiting museums, private collections, and setting out to see all the known works by the Sienese painter Giovanni di Paolo, on whom he was writing a monograph. In 1938, he joined the staff of the Victoria and Albert Museum, initiating a long career at the museum, where he worked first in the Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design, then in the Department of Sculpture, before assuming the directorship of the museum from 1967 to 1973. Knighted in 1971, Pope-Hennessy directed the British Museum from 1974 to 1976. His early resignation from the British Museum and his departure from England for Tuscany and then New York has been attributed in part to his brother's tragic death in 1974. In 1977, he accepted an invitation to join the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
    While working at the Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, Pope-Hennessy continued to research and publish works, including Sienese Quattrocento Painting (1947), Fra Angelico (1952), The Portrait in the Renaissance (1966), Essays on Italian Sculpture (1968), Luca della Robbia (1980), Cellini (1985), and Donatello (1993).
    In 1986, he retired to Florence where he was made an honorary citizen. There he wrote an autobiography of his life and career titled Learning to Look (1991). He died in 1994 and is buried in the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori in Galluzzo, a suburb of Florence. His art collection from his home in Florence was sold at Christie's, New York, in 1996.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    John Pope-Hennessy papers, 1617-1995, bulk 1930-1995, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 990023

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired in 1999.

    Processing History

    The John Pope-Hennessy papers were initially rehoused by the Registrar's Office upon receipt of the archive in 1999 with a preliminary box list. From 2013-2014, Sheila Prospero further processed the papers with a new arrangement under the supervision of Andra Darlington.

    Separated Materials

    15 monographs and 8 serials were transferred to the library. These publications may be found by searching the Library Catalog  for the John Pope-Hennessy Collection.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The John Pope-Hennessy papers document Pope-Hennessy's curatorial and administrative work, his scholarly research as an expert on Italian Renaissance sculpture and painting, and his family background. The bulk of the archive consists of Pope-Hennessy's research materials, manuscripts of published and unpublished works, correspondence, and museum files related to his work at the Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. Papers from the Pope-Hennessy family include correspondence, manuscripts, articles, of Pope-Hennessys' parents, Ladislas and Una, and of his brother, James.
    Series I consists of Pope-Hennessy's personal and professional correspondence. Included is correspondence with Pope-Hennessy's parents and his brother, letters from art historians Everett Fahy, Bernard Berenson, essayist and critic Logan Pearsall Smith, and music critic Andrew Porter. The series informs Pope-Hennessy's intellectual development, the influence of his family on his scholarly interests, and his opinions on lectures, conferences, and colleagues. Congratulatory correspondence for his museum appointments and knighthood and condolence letters after his brother James's death shed light on important events in Pope-Hennessy's life.
    Series II documents Pope-Hennessy's scholarly work. Included in this series are manuscripts of publications such as Cellini (1985) and Donatello (1993) and unpublished works such as "Matteo di Giovanni" and "Iconography of Sir Walter Scott." The bulk of the manuscript files are drafts for his autobiography, Learning to Look (1991). A large portion of this series contains drafts of lectures and essays, some of which were worked into his published and unpublished books. His eulogy for art historian Kenneth Clark's memorial service can be found among his speeches and addresses. Also included are clippings of his influential articles from 1932 to 1995, press clippings and reviews of his publications.
    Series III. Professional consultations consists of correspondence with art collectors, dealers, institutions, and galleries who seek Pope-Hennessy's opinions regarding attributions of artworks, states of conservation, and collecting. A portion of the correspondence is illustrated with photographs, slides and transparencies of artwork.
    Series IV. Museum files documents Pope-Hennessy's position as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1967 to 1973 and the British Museum from 1974 to 1976, and as Consultative Chairman of the Department of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The series also contains teaching files from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.
    Series V. Study photographs, a large portion of the archive, contains Pope-Hennessy's photographs, primarily of Italian sculpture and painting, German and Dutch paintings, photographs of the works in the collections of Thyssen-Bornemisza and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and photographs of drawings and paintings related to Pope-Hennessy's publications on Raphael and Fra Angelico. The bulk of the photographs are black and white, but also included are color prints, slides, transparencies, negatives, and Polaroids.
    Personal papers from Pope-Hennessy's childhood and adult years can be found in Series VI. Included are personal documents such as his birth certificate and passports from 1945 to 1995, yearly pocket agendas from 1946 to 1994, and papers and photographs related to his personal art collection.
    The Pope-Hennessy family papers in Series VII form a large portion of the archive and document Pope-Hennessy's prominent family and its illustrious members, including Pope-Hennessy's father, Ladislaus Herbert Richard, his mother, Dame Una Constance, his brother, James, and his grandfather, Sir John Pope-Hennessy. The series contains correspondence that reveals Ladislaus's political involvement with the Irish Dominion, the extent of Una's scholarly influence on her two sons, James's travels and literary work, and John's colonial service as governor. The series includes drafts of works by Una and James Pope-Hennessy, including Una's Charles Dickens (1945) and "Lady Gregory and Yeats" (unpublished) and James's Queen Mary (1959) and Sins of the Fathers: A Study of the Atlantic Slave Traders, 1441-1807 (1967). The series also includes letters from family friends, such as Bertrand Russell, Logan Pearsall Smith, and Cecil Beaton.


    Arranged in seven series: Series I. Correspondence, 1914-1994; Series II. Writings and notes, 1932-1995; Series III. Professional consultations, 1944-1994; Series IV. Museum files, 1946-1987; Series V. Study photographs, 1930-1994; Series VI. Personal papers, 1913-1995; Series VII. Pope-Hennessy family papers, 1617-1995.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Berenson, Bernard, 1865-1959
    Clark, Kenneth, 1903-1983
    Fahy, Everett
    Mary, Queen, consort of George V, King of Britain, 1867-1953
    Pope-Hennessy, James
    Pope-Hennessy, John Wyndham, Sir, 1913-1994
    Pope-Hennessy, John, Sir, 1834-1891
    Pope-Hennessy, Ladislas Herbert Richard
    Pope-Hennessy, Una
    Porter, Andrew, 1928-
    Smith, Logan Pearsall, 1865-1946

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    British Museum
    Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.)
    New York University. Institute of Fine Arts
    Victoria and Albert Museum

    Subjects - Topics

    Art, Renaissance--Italy
    Painting, Italian--Italy--Siena
    Sculpture, Italian

    Subjects - Places

    Ireland--Politics and government--20th century

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Black-and-white negatives
    Black-and-white photographs
    Color negatives
    Color prints (photographs)
    Color slides
    Color transparencies
    Dye diffusion transfer prints
    Gelatin silver prints
    Photographs, Original


    Fahy, Everett
    Pope-Hennessy, James
    Pope-Hennessy, John, Sir, 1834-1891
    Pope-Hennessy, Ladislas Herbert Richard
    Pope-Hennessy, Una
    Porter, Andrew, 1928-