In memory of Professor Suzanne Butters
Art History has been hugely saddened by news of Professor Suzanne Butters, who has died after a period of illness at a hospital close to her home in Didsbury. This news will also reverberate, and shock many people, among wide academic circles in Italy, the US, and elsewhere.
Suzy was an international authority on sixteenth-century Italian architecture and art, on Italian Renaissance villas and gardens, and on the cultural histories of Florence and Rome. Florence was where, over many years, much of her research was carried out, and lies at the heart of her great two-volume work on the sculpting of porphyry, The Triumph of Vulcan (1996), recipient of prizes and global acclaim.
Florence has also been central to the research of her husband, historian Humfrey Butters, who survives her. Between them, the two have covered – albeit at different universities – every aspect of this period in Italy.
Suzy joined the then History of Art Department at the University of Manchester as lecturer in 1975 and stayed until her retirement in 2008. Thereafter she put all her remaining strength into research publications and conference papers; she only regretted towards the end of her life that she did not have the energy to travel as much and accomplish all the things she had set herself.
Through all her years in post she was a pivotal figure in the department and was always at the centre of new initiatives, some of which at School and Faculty level she steered through herself, such as the creation of the Italian Forum (a research centre sponsoring conferences and day events, on topics ranging from ancient to modern times) and the very successful interdisciplinary MA programme Constructions of the Sacred, the Holy, and the Supernatural.
Suzy did not actively recruit PhDs, she simply attracted the best and brightest research students from both home and abroad, and a number of them now have academic posts in the UK, Europe, and the United States. She was equally attentive to her undergraduates, and a great many over the years will have had cause to rejoice at their good fortune of encountering her inspired teaching.
To all her students Suzy was extremely loyal, as she was to the department – in an era, dare one say, when university departments could still inspire the sort of loyalty that present-day university structures would scarcely recognise.
I regard myself as extraordinarily fortunate that I was in Manchester throughout the whole of Suzy's career here. For much of that time, her office was right opposite, and at the end of the day with our doors wide open we would shout out ideas for the next joint seminar or course proposal, with much irreverent banter in between.
Above all, she was enormous fun, full of rapid wit, and with an ability to turn any situation around to reveal its (sometimes darkly) humorous side. I was fortunate too to travel in her company on a number of study trips abroad, for she kept us all laughing most of the time – lecturers, students, coach drivers, everyone.
For Suzy (as it should be for us all), it was the best way of approaching the serious subject of art history.
Tom Rasmussen (February 2018)
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