Hasan Niyazi

October 29 2013

Image of Hasan Niyazi

Picture: 3PP

Hasan Niyazi, whom many readers will know from Twitter and his blog, Three Pipe Problem, has died. Hasan was a major part of the online art historical world, and art history has lost one of its most spirited champions. Coming from a clinical and medical background, he wrote about art (and in particular his favourite artist, Raphael) with a refreshing clarity and vision. His main aim was to open up art history to a wider audience. He disliked, and saw as uncomfortably elitist, much of the old language, methodology and structure of art history. Perhaps understandably, coming from a scientific background, he hoped to make art history a little more certain than it is, with a greater focus on consensus among experts, and properly tested evidence. That is to say, not attributional hunches and connoisseurial reactions.

An early reader of AHN, Hasan was always ready with a kind email of praise, and occasionally a probing Tweet of criticism. Sadly, we had a minor spat over connoisseurship last year. I don't think he was a fan of the concept, and saw it as too unscientific, especially in relation to pictures like Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks. But our disagreement was only a reflection of Hasan's passion for the wider subject, and we remained in touch.

Of course, he was entirely right to want to find a more certain, scientific way to attribute paintings. The only question is whether it can be done. I suspect it probably can be, one day, and then the likes of Hasan will justly be seen as pioneering advocates for a new approach to art history. I found an email from him which I think sums up his approach. Writing about a discussion he had with a Raphael scholar, he related that: 

[...] he had a good chuckle when I asked him "will art history ever free itself from the need to debate attributions" - he seemed to think the passionate debate was part of the fun - which I can understand to an extent - though my science training does think it a bit odd.

Aside from his writings on Three Pipe Problem, Hasan's best online legacy will doubtless be the (sadly unfinished) 'Open Raphael' project, an invaluable reference point for information on every painting Raphael made. I'm sad not to have eventually met someone that dedicated to art history. He was just 37 when he died (the same age as Raphael).

You can find tributes to Hasan from Monica Bowen (aka Alberti's Widow) here,  David Packwood (Art History Today) here, Francis Stefano (Giorgione et al) here, and from Dr Ben Harvey here.

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