With the passing of Chris Michaelides (BA Hons in Italian and French, 1971-75) who died on 11thJune 2017 after a short illness, the British Library has lost a distinguished expert in the art history of Western Europe; his family and friends a deeply cultured and engaging man and the University an alumnus of whom it can be immensely proud.
After moving from his native Cyprus to live with his brother and then cousin in order to pursue his further education, he was admitted to the University of Hull where he graduated with First Class Honours. It was a remarkable achievement to gain such a degree in two foreign languages through the medium of a third. But it signalled unambiguously a mind at ease in broad European culture, a habitat perfectly attuned to Chris’s passion for music, literature and art. Not that the journey towards his finals was smooth. In 1974, before embarking on his fourth undergraduate year, Chris took the decision to return to see his family in Cyprus for the first time since he had left and was promptly caught up in the Turkish invasion. He wrote to his supervisor wryly on long days spent in barracks perfecting his skills at backgammon and asking for letters to support his release from military duties. As matters became less intense, he was indeed released on the grounds, as he put it, that ‘students and the old were of little use’.
For the academic staff in Hull, Chris was already a Proustian figure of genteel and elegant manners – and with a prodigious appetite for study and research. Far greater than his appetite for food. He managed to spend over two years in Paris on a grant that was supposed to last for one, largely by omitting to eat. His letters to his supervisor were long and detailed, telling of cultural adventures. One year, he decided to visit Baudelaire’s grave on his birthday (9th April) and was saddened to find no-one else there. He determined to return later in the day. In the meantime, another Hull student (this one an undergraduate) also visited the grave and, for want of anything better, left an orange as a token of respect. Chris was delighted on his return to see evidence of some acknowledgement of the poet and speculated in his letter to his supervisor on the symbolic nature of the orange and the mysterious ‘pilgrim’ – only to be told rather disappointingly that it was Bruce from Honours 2 and the orange had been part of his lunch. He, above all, saw the humour of the situation.
His doctoral research produced some masterly chapters that deserved publication. Their focus on teasing out the minutiae of art criticism in the 1840s and 50s, especially that of Baudelaire, meant that a huge amount of forensic research too often produced no more than a few paragraphs. But his discoveries and readings were of the highest scholarly standard. Publications did follow but on a broader front than Baudelaire. His major work was a 400-page annotated bibliography of Rome published in 2000 by Clio in the World Bibliographical Series. And he was still writing expert reviews in the months before his death. The final piece for the Burlington Magazine was on the Italian painter, Balla, shown at London’s Estorick Collection . Already frail, he was happy to be once again in a gallery, and even to have climbed up to the collection. After the visit, Chris was discovered sitting in the Spring sunshine in the garden but bent over. When asked whether he was in pain, he denied that and said that he was enjoying watching the ants in the sand, and remembering doing the same as a child in Cyprus. In so many ways, that seemed to define his essence.
A man of exquisite manners, courteous, bearing his erudition without arrogance or vanity, Chris Michaelides will be missed more than his humility would allow him to imagine.