Luke Syson is an English museum curator and art historian. Since 2019, he has been the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, prior to which he held positions at the British Museum (1991–2002), the Victoria and Albert Museum (2002–2003), the National Gallery (2003–2012) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2015–2019). In 2011 he curated the highly acclaimed Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery: Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan. That same year, he played a pivotal role in the controversial authentication of the Salvator Mundi, which remains disputed.


Syson received a Bachelor of Arts from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London and would continue studying there for 3 years in the PhD program; his focus was on the 15th century royal portraiture of Milan, Ferrara, and Mantua.[1] His first professional positions was as the curator of medals at the British Museum from 1991 to 2002.[1] Towards the end of his tenure, he served as co-curater for the Pisanello: Painter to the Renaissance Court exhibition in 2001[1] and co-created a new permanent gallery: "Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the Eighteenth Century",[2] which opened in 2003.[1] From 2002 to 2003 he subsequently served as a senior curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum,[1] where had a leading role in creating the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries.[2]

He joined the National Gallery in 2003,[1] where he was the head of research and curator of Italian Paintings before 1500.[3] At the National Gallery, Syson led a successful effort in obtaining Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks.[4] Syson was the curator of the Renaissance Siena: Art for a City exhibition in 2007.[3] In 2011, Syson was the head curator for the National Gallery's Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition, which was a massive success.[5][6][7] The exhibition centered around works from Leonardo's first Milanese period (c. 1482–1499),[6] featuring an unprecedented amount of major works by Leonardo in one location, including the Portrait of a Musician, the Lady with an Ermine, La Belle Ferronnière, Madonna Litta , Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, Salvator Mundi and both the Louvre and London versions of the Virgin of the Rocks.[7][8] Through the Leonardo exhibition and efforts prior, Syson was pivotal in the authentication of Salvator Mundi to Leonardo da Vinci, having five Leonardo experts inspect the painting at the museum. Author Ben Lewis later suggested in The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World's Most Expensive Painting that Syson had overstated the degree of agreement among the experts, with Carmen C. Bambach expressing skepticism after the museum announced the attribution.[9] In 2019, The Art Newspaper reported that it was "surprising that Syson's entry does not at least allude to the suggestion by other scholars that parts of the picture may have been painted by assistants, even if he went on to dismiss this idea".[10]

He became the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Chairman of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in 2012.[3][4] The same year he curated Plain or Fancy? Restraint and Exuberance in the Decorative Arts.[3] While at the MET he led the $22 million renovation of the museum's British Galleries.[4] In 2015, Syson was a candidate for the director of the National Gallery; the position later went to Gabriele Finaldi.[5]

Syson became the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in 2019, replacing Tim Knox.[5][11]


Selected publications


  1. ^ a b Syson was the lead author


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Luke Syson". World Science Festival. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  2. ^ a b Staff (16 October 2018). "Fitzwilliam Museum announces appointment of new Director". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d "The Met 150: Ted X Met". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  4. ^ a b c "Luke Syson". National Museum Directors' Council. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Bailey, Martin (17 October 2018). "The Met's Luke Syson to head Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  6. ^ a b Vogel, Carol (4 December 2011). "'Leonardo da Vinci' Blockbuster at National Gallery in London". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  7. ^ a b Searle, Adrian (7 November 2011). "Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery – the greatest show of the year?". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan". The National Gallery. 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  9. ^ Smee, Sebastian (15 October 2019). "The Louvre wants this $450 million 'Leonardo' in its big show. But its mystery owner appears to be balking". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  10. ^ Bailey, Martin (15 April 2019). "London's National Gallery defends inclusion of Salvator Mundi in Leonardo show after criticism in new book". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  11. ^ Sanderson, David (19 October 2018). "Western art finds a champion at the Fitzwilliam Museum". The Times. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  12. ^ "Renaissance Siena: Art for a City". The National Gallery. 2007. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  13. ^ "Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body". Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2018. Retrieved 17 August 2020.

Further reading