JOHN THOMAS SPIKE (born November 8, 1951 in New York City) is an eminent American art critic, art historian, museum curator and author known for his focus on European artists before 1800 (Old Masters) and a wide range of contemporary artists.  Spike has balanced his career between residences in the United States and Florence, Italy. 

John Thomas Spike earned his B.A. at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts.  His doctoral dissertation was a ground-breaking study of the important Caravaggist painter, Mattia Preti (1613-1699).  For his many books on Mattia Preti, including the Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings (1999), Spike is recognized as the world’s leading authority on the artist.  

In 1997, the Comune di Taverna, Italy, awarded an honorary citizenship to John T. Spike, “for his fundamental contribution to the knowledge of Mattia Preti in the world."  Taverna is the birthplace of Mattia Preti, who sent seventeen altarpieces from Malta to the church of San Domenico in Taverna, in order to create a museum of his art.

In June 2022, in recognition of his scholarship and past and future contributions to the establishment of Taverna as an international center for research and appreciation of the art of Mattia and Gregorio Preti, as well as the history of art and culture of southern Italy, the Consiglio Comunale del Taverna unanimously appointed John T. Spike as the Honorary President of the Archivio Pretiano with offices in the Palazzo Gironda Veraldi, Taverna.

Spike is the author of more than twenty culturally significant books which have been translated and distributed worldwide, including Europe in the Age of Monarchy (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY, 1987, reprinted); major monographs on Masaccio (1996), Fra Angelico (1997), and Caravaggio (2000, 2d edition 2010).  In 2003-2004, Spike consulted with the Art Gallery of New South Wales and National Gallery of Victoria, Australia on the exhibition catalogue for Darkness and Light: Caravaggio and his World.

About his biography, Young Michelangelo: The Path to the Sistine (2010) the London Telegraph wrote, “The Florence-based American is an immensely flexible writer who has produced a book of alternating pans and zooms…No art historian has got closer to Michelangelo than John T. Spike.”

In 1992, Spike published the biography, Fairfield Porter: An American Classic, drawing upon previously unpublished correspondence to which Porter’s widow Anne gave Spike unrestricted access.  The book drew acclaim for its discussion of this important figurative painter who struggled to achieve recognition in the post-war decades dominated by Abstract Expressionism.  

After earning his doctorate in 1979, Spike began his extensive career as guest curator for museum exhibitions worldwide.  Italian Baroque Paintings in Private Collections, at Princeton University in 1980 was quickly followed by Italian Still Life Paintings from Three Centuries, National Academy of Art, New York, NY, 1983; Baroque Portraiture in Italy, The Ringling Museum, Sarasota, Florida, 1984; and the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, 1985; Giuseppe Maria Crespi and the Emergence of Genre Painting in Italy, Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1986.  Soon after his transfer to Florence he was asked to catalogue the collection of drawings by Giuseppe Maria Crespi at the Uffizi, 1993.

In 1994 Spike began a multi-year productive consultancy with the historic Biblioteca e Civico Museo of Urbania which resulted in more than ten exhibitions and publications beginning with the exhibition, Federico Barocci, Giovanni Francesco Guerrieri Domenico Peruzzini: Tre Disegnatori delle Marche nella Collezione Ubaldini.  This relationship has continued with the exhibition Il Ritratto di Francesco Maria della Rovere di Tiziano (2019, Palazzo Ducale of Urbania, Italy) and Il Cardinale Bessarione Abate a Casteldurante e Federico da Montefeltro (2022, Palazzo Ducale of Urbania, Italy). 

From 1999-2005, Spike directed the Biennial of Contemporary Art in Florence, Italy, which featured appearances by David Hockney, Fred Eversley, Carole Feuerman,  Richard Anuszkiewicz, and Christo and his wife, Jean-Claude. 

Between 2012 until his retirement in February 2019, Spike served as Chief Curator of the Muscarelle Museum at The College of William & Mary.  During his tenure Spike curated, and authored the catalogues for, several international loan exhibitions of Italian art, under the auspices of the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C.  Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane, Masterpiece Drawings from the Casa Buonarroti and A Brush with Passion: Mattia Preti (1613-1699) was part of the “2013 Year of Italian Culture” in the United States.  In cooperation with the Italian foreign ministry, other exhibitions included Caravaggio Connoisseurship: Saint Francis in Meditation and the Capitoline Fortune Teller in 2014; Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty in 2015; Botticelli and the Search for the Divine: Florentine Painting between the Medici and the Bonfire of the Vanities, with Alessandro Cecchi, in 2017 and In the Light of Caravaggio: Dutch and Flemish Paintings from Southeastern Museums in 2018.  The exhibitions on Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli were also exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.  Leonardo da Vinci y la Idea de la belleza then traveled to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City where it was visited by more than 200,000 people and called “a cultural phenomenon.”

He was a contributing columnist to The Burlington Magazine, Storia dell’arte and Art & Antiques, a member of the editorial board of FMR, and, for more than twenty years, general editor of The Illustrated Bartsch.  During his career, his research has been supported by major grants, including two from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

His numerous international recognitions for his scholarly research in Italian art and culture include an honorary citizenship awarded by the town of Taverna, Italy, 1997; the Premio Anthurium, 1998, the Annual Medal of the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Messina, 2001, the Premio Anassilaos, 2002, and Man of the Year by the Tuscan-American Foundation in Florence, Italy 2005; and the appointment by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 2013 to the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem.

John Spike currently lives between his homes in Florence, Italy, and Williamsburg, Virginia, with his wife of 49 years Michèle Kahn Spike, a lawyer and a biographer of Matilda of Canossa.  They have one son, Nicholas, who lives in Los Angeles, California, with his wife, Marcela De La Vega, and their six year old son, Santiago Spike.

For a complete list of Spike’s publications on Italian and on Contemporary Art, click here

Biography & Bibliography            September 2022

JOHN THOMAS SPIKE(New York, NY, 1951) è uno studioso storico e critico d’arte tra i più conosciuti a livello internazionale; vive a Firenze, si è addottorato ad Harvard con studi su Mattia Preti di cui ha redatto il catalogo generale delle opere; è autore di determinanti ricerche e pubblicazioni oltre che sul mondo del barocco, su artisti del Rinascimento fiorentino quali Masaccio e Beato Angelico; ha firmato una importante monografia su Caravaggio che è stata più volte ristampata; ha diretto la Biennale d’Arte contemporanea di Firenze; collabora con numerose riviste italiane ed internazionali ed ha insegnato nelle più prestigiose università statunitensi; è consulente di varie istituzioni museali; ha organizzato e partecipato a mostre, convegni ed iniziative editoriali, con una vastissima attività nel campo della storia dell’arte.   -- Pietro di Loreto,, maggio 2019

Nel giugno 2022, in riconoscimento dei studi di storia dell'arte italiana e dei contributi passati e futuri all'istituzione della città di Taverna come centro internazionale di ricerca e valorizzazione dell'arte di Mattia e Gregorio Preti nonché del arte e della cultura del Sud Italia, il Consiglio Comunatle di Taverna ha nominato Spike Presidente Onorario dell'Archivio Pretiano con sede nell Palazza Gironda Veraldi, Taverna.