Obituary: Margaret Lyttelton

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Margaret Hobson, art historian: born Woodford, Essex 26 March 1936; married 1960 Adrian Lyttelton (one son, one daughter); died London 25 November 1993.

MARGARET LYTTELTON, the classical art historian, was the only child of the theatre critic Harold Hobson, and like him was small in stature but implacable in will. Hobson always claimed he owed his tenacity of purpose to his Yorkshire mining background.

Margaret Hobson, who grew up in Dolphin Square, central London, and was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College and Oxford, had no such excuse, but her obduracy was if anything even greater than her father's, though her style and sense of fun were all her own.

Indomitable strength of purpose made possible the research for her first important work, Baroque Architecture in Classical Antiquity (1974), which required extensive and often hazardous travel through remote regions of Asia Minor, often with a small child in tow. (Most of the photographs which illustrate that book were taken by Margaret herself.) In the great tradition of English women travellers in Islamic countries, she used her smallness, femininity and frail, tremulous voice to browbeat her way past obstructive officialdom. After one incident, the broken border guards let her through, begging her never to come that way again. But she did; and her work led to the redating of such important sites as Petra.

She had loved exotic travel from her undergraduate days at St Anne's College, Oxford, where she read Greats. After her marriage to the historian Adrian Lyttelton she lived for several years in Italy, working on her doctoral thesis and making regular forays to the Middle East. This was perhaps the happiest time of her life.

In the 1970s she went to work at the British Museum, where her light touch for the anonymous official Guide (1976) elegantly illustrated her belief in the importance of making scholarship available to the general public. She worked initially in the Greek and Roman department and was head of the museum's Education Department in 1975-78. Apart from articles in learned journals, she wrote a popular and lucid work on The Romans and Their Religion (1980) and initiated the Greek and Roman sections of the Macmillan Dictionary of Art. Combining pleasure and work, she led successful tours to such places as Jordan and the Yemen, and was part of the team investigating a Roman villa at Anguillara. At the time of her death she had finished a book on the spice trade, and was working on a general archaeological guide to Greece.

In the very last month of her life, when she was so weak she could no longer move, and against all advice, medical and lay, Margaret Lyttelton determined to make a final journey to her favourite island of Patmos. With the help of a loyal friend, Bernard Jackson, and a nurse, the almost impossible trip was made, and Margaret returned claiming to feel much better. A few days later even her adamantine will gave way.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments