The Department of Art History has received a generous endowment from the estate of alumnus Dr. Christopher Johns (BA ’77) to support international study opportunities for Art History undergraduate and graduate students. Christopher (Mike) Johns was among the first generation of students to participate in the FSU Florence Program. The experience ignited his lifelong passion for art history, as well as his devotion to Florida State University.
Johns went on to build an illustrious career as a scholar of eighteenth-century art, serving since 2003 as a named professor and department chair at Vanderbilt University. On his death in 2022, his family honored his lifelong loyalty to his alma mater by creating the Dr. Christopher M.S. Johns Art History Award for International Study. In November, Dr. Johns’s brother and sister-in-law, also FSU alumni, visited the Department of Art History to meet graduate students and discuss the endowment and the donation of a portion of his book collection to the Rose Library. They shared photographs from his time on the Florence Program and a little of his life history.
Christopher ‘Mike’ Johns entered Florida State University with an interest in studying history, but his experience studying abroad on the fledgling FSU Florence Program in 1975 redirected his focus and his long dedication to art history, and particularly to eighteenth-century art. After receiving his BA in art history from FSU and an MA and PhD from University of Delaware, Johns joined the faculty at the University of Virginia in 1985. In 2003 he became the Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Professor of History of Art at Vanderbilt University, where he also served as chair of the Department from 2005 to 2009.
“Growing up, Mike was always inquisitive, always trying to learn more. His path to becoming an internationally-renown scholar started with that first step at Florida State University,” noted Mike’s brother Skip. Sister-in-law Linda adds, “It was his semester abroad in FSU’s Florence Program and the mentorship of faculty Patricia Rose and Fred Licht that inspired him to study Art History. It launched his amazing career.”
At the time of his passing, Johns was considered a central figure in transforming the field of eighteenth-century art history. During his long career, Johns authored four books and more than 35 essays, served on the organizing committees of major exhibits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fairfield Museum of Art and Palazza Ducale and earned numerous awards and fellowships. Most notably he was recognized by the American Academy in Rome, the Institut für Kunstgeschichte and the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich, Samuel H. Kress Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, the Fulbright Program and the Center for Advanced Study in Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art.
“Above it all, he was most proud of his student advising award. He loved to be in the classroom, to pass along his passion for history. His love of FSU football came as a close second. We know he would be proud that his legacy will go on to help future Noles discover the joy of Florence and art history,” Linda writes.
The Dr. Christopher M.S. Johns Art History Award for International Study was established by his estate and family to ensure financial scholarships for students at FSU to research, study and teach at its Florence Study Center. The first students to benefit from the award will serve a double role, as students and teachers. Thanks to the fund, the Department of Art History will be able to continue supporting two PhD students each summer to teach on the International Programs Florence campus, and to conduct their own dissertation research abroad. In the summer of 2023, Caitlin Mims and Sarah Mathiesen will receive the Florence Teaching Appointment. In future years the department plans to use the Johns award to provide scholarships for undergraduate students to discover the joys of studying art history abroad, just as Mike did 50 years ago.
Art History Department Chair Lorenzo Pericolo writes,
“Just as his participation in the FSU Florence program in the 1970s was revelatory for Dr Christopher (Mike) Johns, so too will the Johns Art History Award positively affect and radically touch the lives of the many students that in the future will be enabled to travel to Italy thanks to his generosity. His memory will long last in our memories and those of our students.”
For questions or to learn more about supporting the FSU Department of Art History, visit give.fsu.edu/arthistory.