Professor Francis Ames-Lewis

Elected 2005

‘I feel deeply privileged and touched that Birkbeck should wish to honour me in this manner, and I shall greatly value the company of the other Fellows,’ says Professor Francis Ames-Lewis, a distinguished art historian who served the College for 36 years, including three months as Acting Master in 2002, before he retired last year.

As Acting Master, Professor Ames-Lewis has presided over graduation ceremonies and attended many more as a member of staff, and he says it is a ‘great pleasure’ to return to receive his Fellowship.

‘This ceremony is extra special because my career at Birkbeck has meant so much to me. I’m very grateful to the College for its robust support of high-quality scholarship and I greatly value my contacts with colleagues and students over the years. I’m proud to have served Birkbeck in a number of important roles and to have made some small contributions to its impressive achievements in research.’

His high points at Birkbeck include witnessing the achievements of students ‘who started with disadvantages but won through with unexpected success’ he says. ‘I have been constantly amazed by the enthusiasm, high motivation and determination of students, especially those in adversity. Part-time students who achieve results as good as their full-time peers, although studying for only one year longer while holding down demanding full-time jobs, have often been particularly impressive.’

He continues: ‘Postgraduate students will often have had their intellects sharply challenged by cutting-edge, research-led teaching, but have responded with energy, imagination and intellectual excitement. It has been a frequent thrill to read their creative and original work, guided and stimulated by their intellectual maturity and the experiences of their professional lives.’

Initially employed as a lecturer in 1969 at what is now the College’s Department of History of Art, Professor Ames-Lewis progressed to senior lecturer, reader, professor, and Pevsner Professor in 2002. He served as head of department between 1981-84 and 1995-98, designed and launched the MA History of Art in 1983 and led the department to achieving top marks for teaching quality in 1998.

His College-wide roles included a five-year chairmanship of the Quality Assurance Committee from its inception, a term as Vice-Master, and as Acting Master until the appointment of Professor David Latchman.

Professor Ames-Lewis fondly remembers the pleasures of writing, which he says would have been impossible without the encouragement of Birkbeck. His books include Drawing in early Renaissance Italy (1981, 2000); The Draftsman Raphael (1986); and The Intellectual Life of the Early Renaissance Artist (2000), as well as some 25 refereed journal articles.

He left Birkbeck with many memories, ‘not least of wonderful colleagues and students who became good friends, with happy memories especially of field trips to Florence and Venice’. However, it seems the last thing on his mind is relaxation in his retirement. ‘I plan to spend more time with my family and grandchildren, have more time for music-making and singing and continue to research and write books on the history of Italian Renaissance art.’