Michael Po­dro

BORN LON­DON, MARCH 13, 1931. DIED LON­DON, MARCH 28, 2008, AGED 77.

The Jewish Chronicle - - OBITUARIES -

ART HIS­TO­RIAN and philoso­pher Pro­fes­sor Michael Po­dro took the aca­demic study of art out of its “cob­webbed” cor­ner of cat­a­logue and at­tri­bu­tion, and opened it up to main­stream in­tel­lec­tual de­bate.

His Rus­sian-born par­ents, orig­i­nally sur­named Po­droznik, brought him up with his older sis­ter and brother in an at­mos­phere of Yid­dish cul­tural fer­ment. His aunt was the artist Clara Klinghof­fer.

His fa­ther, Joshua, ran a press-cut­tings busi­ness but was at heart a Jewish scholar, spe­cial­is­ing in the his­tory of an­tisemitism and the Jewish back­ground of the New Tes­ta­ment.

When the fam­ily was evac­u­ated to Devon dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, Joshua Po­dro chanced upon the poet and au­thor of his­tor­i­cal nov­els, Robert Graves, and col­lab­o­rated with him on The Nazarene Gospel Re­stored (1953).

In 1989, Michael do­nated his fa­ther’s 5,000-vol­ume li­brary to a grate­ful Leo Baeck Col­lege. The rare vol­umes in­cluded a He­brew ver­sion of Mil­ton’s Par­adise Lost.

Af­ter na­tional ser­vice in the RAF, Michael Po­dro read English at Cam­bridge and al­ways re­tained an ar­tic­u­late and lit­er­ary approach to art. To gain hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence, he stud­ied draw­ing at the Slade School of Art, and earned his doc­tor­ate with a the­sis on art the­ory un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the War­burg In­sti­tute, the dis­tin­guished Ger­man-Jewish-founded art li­brary.

In 1961 he be­came the first di­rec­tor of the Cam­ber­well School of Arts and Crafts. In 1964 he was a con­trib­u­tor, along with Jonathan Miller, to the ground-break­ing live arts pro­gramme, Mon­i­tor, on BBC2.

From 1967-79 he lec­tured in the phi­los­o­phy of art at the War­burg In­sti­tute be­fore go­ing as reader to Es­sex Univer­sity, where he built up its de­part­ment of art his­tory and phi­los­o­phy. He be­came pro­fes­sor in 1973 and re­tired as emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor in 1997.

He brought ex­u­ber­ance to a pre­vi­ously gen­teel field. His learned books were at­trac­tively writ­ten and ap­pealed to a wide au­di­ence.

He con­ducted s e mi n a r s o n the Lon­don-Colch­ester train. He showed stu­dents how to look crit­i­cally at artists’ work. He mixed with con­tem­po­rary artists and was painted by Frank Auer­bach and RB Ki­taj. The Auer­bach por­trait elicited the terms “swirling pig­ment” and “emo­tional ten­sion” from the JC critic in 1983.

His rep­u­ta­tion and in­flu­ence led to his ap­point­ment as trustee of the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum from 1987-96, fel­low of the Bri­tish Academy in 1992, CBE in 2001, and an hon­orary doc­tor­ate from the Univer­sity of the Arts, Lon­don, in 2006.

He is sur­vived by his wife, Char­lotte, whom he mar­ried in 1961; and two daugh­ters, Sarah and Natasha.

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