Oxford University Gazette

Encaenia 1998: Speeches by the Public Orator


Director of the National Gallery

Quid illum mereri dicamus, qui permagnae civium suorum multitudini delectationis genus cum humanissimum tum innocentissimum praebet? de hoc rogo qui nunc adstat, qui cum sit vir exquisitissimi iudici picturarumque existimator subtilissimus longe ab istorum consuetudine abhorret qui sibi tantum ipsis scientiam suam coacervant atque custodiunt: alii infantia impediti, qui ea quae sentiunt exprimere non possint, alii avaritia quadam commoti, qui ceteris impertire sua nolint. erant olim qui admirabantur hunc potissimum eligi qui pinacothecae maximae praesideret, virum a noto illo conservatorum curriculo alienum, qui nondum tirocinium in museo meruisset, sed e scholis vitaque umbratili progressus commentarios edidisset Maecenatis Britannici nomine insignes: qui homines ultro confitentur quantopere erraverint. quid enim a musei amplissimi gubernatore exspectamus? nempe ut summorum pictorum opera eis curet addenda quae collegerunt maiores, quo nomine hic paene miracula effecit. at enim parum est ut picturae conquirantur, nisi digne expromi possunt. hic sua cum nostrorum temporum Maecenatibus familiaritate blande docteque abusus et novas porticus aedificavit et paulo vetustiores quae Gratiarum tempore iniquo constructae et venustate et commoditate egebant ita refecit ut nunc optime cum picturis Gallicis congruant. vir liberalissimus artis suae arcana quam plurimis vult patefacere, qui et ipse multis civium milibus inspectantibus et auscultantibus maximo omnium plausu summorum artificum opera illustrarit, et illorum se signiferum praestiterit qui in eo laboraverunt ut gratis universi in Musarum templa possimus intrare; quos tandem victoriam reportavisse gaudemus quidquid est hominum venustiorum.

Praesento picturarum conquisitorem conservatorem explicatorem eminentissimum, thesaurarium summum, thesaurum ipsum, Robertum MacGregor, Pinacothecae Britannicae antistitem, Collegi Novi Socium honoris causa creatum, ut admittatur honoris causa ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris.

Admission by the Chancellor

Vir humanissime, Musarum minister praeclarissime, Musei gubernator amplificator propugnator celeberrime, ego auctoritate mea et totius Universitatis admitto te ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris honoris causa.


What should be the reward for someone who gives a new pleasure, and a harmless and improving one, to his fellow citizens? Mr MacGregor is a connoisseur in paintings and a most perceptive critic, who does not hoard and monopolise his expertise, as so often seems to happen, either from a kind of meanness, when the expert is unwilling to share his knowledge, or from simple incapacity to express it in a way that other people can understand. At first some people were surprised at his appointment as Director of the National Gallery. He had not risen through the regular steps of a museum career, in fact he had not had a position in a museum at all; he came from a University background, and he had been the editor of the Burlington Magazine, named after the British Maecenas, Lord Burlington. Those who expressed that surprise now hasten to say how wrong they were. What do we expect of the Director of a great gallery? One thing we hope for is acquisitions of high quality; and in this area he has done wonders. But it is not enough to acquire paintings, if they cannot be adequately displayed. Mr MacGregor has been able to turn to good account here his friendship with a modern Maecenas or two, and he has added new rooms to the Gallery and also transformed others, which were built in the seventies, that graceless period, and made them into a perfect setting for the French pictures he has displayed there. He is communicative by nature, and he has won very large audiences for his highly successful televised talks about great paintings. He was also among the leaders in the campaign to retain free entrance to museums and galleries, a struggle in which their victory is grounds for general rejoicing.

I present a man equally distinguished in the acquisition, the conservation, and the exposition of paintings, a keeper of the national treasures, and a treasure himself, Neil MacGregor, Director of the National Gallery, Honorary Fellow of New College, for admission to the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

Admission by the Chancellor

Most inspiriting companion and outstanding servant of the arts, you have earned world wide fame by your success alike in the extension of your Gallery, in its management, and in the defence of its interests. Acting on my own authority and on that of the whole University, I admit you to the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

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