Lilian Armstrong ’58 and Peter J. Fergusson

1936–2021, 1934–2022

Black-and-white photo portraits of professors Lilian Armstrong and Peter Fergusson

Wendy Snyder MacNeil,The Art Department Tenured Faculty of Wellesley College: Lilian Armstrong (1980–​81) and The Art Department Tenured Faculty of Wellesley College: Peter Fergusson (1980–81). The Davis Museum purchase with additional funds from Wendy Sn

With sadness, the Art Department announces the deaths of our beloved colleagues Lilian Armstrong ’58, Mildred Lane Kemper Professor of Art emerita, and Peter J. Fergusson, Theodora L. and Stanley H. Feldberg Professor of Art emeritus; Lilian died on Nov. 26, 2021, and Peter on Jan. 24. Married in 2000, but together for 47 years, their deaths are a great loss to the department, the College, and the international community of scholars.

Lilian and Peter were gracious hosts to Wellesley faculty, staff, students, and alumnae at innumerable gatherings at both their beautiful home and gardens near campus and their house in London. For more than 40 years, their gift for making others feel welcome made them the collegial center of the Art Department. But for generations of Wellesley students, they will be especially remembered as dedicated and inspiring teachers. Lilian returned to Wellesley to teach in 1964 and retired in 2006, and Peter began teaching at the College in 1966 and retired in 2007.

In addition to anchoring the two-semester introductory art history survey for many of those years, Lilian taught courses on Italian Renaissance painting, sculpture, books, and illuminated manuscripts, and Peter taught courses on the art and architecture of medieval Europe, as well as garden history. Many of us will remember Lilian excitedly turning the folios of a Petrarchan manuscript in Special Collections, and Peter carving cantaloupes and oranges to demonstrate the dome and pendentives of Hagia Sophia.

Their great success in the classroom was closely connected to their great success in their respective fields; both were award-winning and internationally renowned art historians.

Lilian, with an M.A. from Radcliffe College and a Ph.D. from Columbia, was a prolific scholar of Venetian Renaissance manuscripts and early printed books. She authored or co-authored five books—including Renaissance Miniature Painters and Classical Imagery (1981), La xilografia nel libro italiano del XV secolo (2015), and Petrarch’s Famous Men in the Early Renaissance (2016)—and more than 60 articles, catalogue entries, and book reviews during her long career, some of them highlighting works in Wellesley’s own Special Collections.

Peter, born and raised in England, arrived in the United States in 1952. He received his B.A. from Michigan State University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard, and he focused his scholarship on English medieval architecture. His book on Cistercian abbeys, The Architecture of Solitude (1984), was honored by the College Art Association with the prestigious Charles Rufus Morey Book Award. This was followed by Rievaulx Abbey (2001), awarded the Alice Davis Hitchcock prize by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, and Canterbury Cathedral Priory in the Age of Becket (2011), as well as a number of related articles. Peter also served for many years as the Boston chair of Save Venice, an organization that worked to preserve the cultural heritage of a city that Lilian and Peter loved. For his services to Venice, the Italian government awarded him the Cavaliere dell’Ordine de Merito della Repubblica Italiana, the equivalent of a knighthood, in 1988.

Both Lilian and Peter cared deeply about Wellesley. In addition to generously supporting the Art Department and Special Collections, they donated a number of objects to the Davis Museum reflecting their broad interests in art and in the role of the Davis as a teaching museum, ranging from a 13th-century French “Green Man” corbel to late 20th-century ceramics by Magdalene Odundo; four other objects were given in their honor. Peter was an avid historian of our campus and a passionate advocate for its preservation and renewal, and he worked closely with the landscape architects Michael van Valkenburgh Associates on the 1998 Campus Master Plan.

Together with Art Department colleagues James O’Gorman and John Rhodes, Peter authored The Landscape and Architecture of Wellesley College (2000) to mark the 125th anniversary of the College’s founding. Many will remember the campus walks that Peter offered at reunions and other occasions, walks that always made us appreciate the history and beauty of our campus landscape.

Together, Peter and Lilian made Wellesley College a better place. Gifts in their honor may be made to the Armstrong Art History Fund, which enables our students to visit museums and other institutions to learn from immediate encounters with works of art.


Barbara Elfman ’05
Two of my favorite professors while at Wellesley and beyond. I took at least 3 of Professor Armstrong’s classes and one of my last 2 classes was Olmsted and Wellesley by Professor Ferguson and Architecture of Boston with Professor Gorman. I will never forget all that they taught me. The relationship I had with Professor Armstrong was filled with warmth, generosity, grace and encouragement to be successful without any suggestion that it should be any different for me as a Davis Scholar rather than a traditional age student. I will never forget her and will always remember the extraordinary gifts of learning and friendship she gave to me.
Patricia "Sue" (Canterbury) ’94
Of the various professors that stand out from my time at Wellesley, Lilian Armstrong was one of my favorites. When I arrived on campus as a Davis Scholar in 1991, Venetian Renaissance was a particular interest for me and her instruction in that specialty, as well as her advice and support in planning my graduate path beyond Wellesley was so affirming. I always sensed her belief in me and my abilities. Her calm demeanor and kindness were splendid gifts for which I will always be thankful.
Molly Wakefield Milner (Milner) ’66
Lilian Armstrong was only eight years older than I was when I took her course in Northern European Renaissance Sculpture. She understood the extra issues I was facing as a married student my senior year and gave me every encouragement. Although I never knew Peter Fergusson, I wrote my senior thesis on French cathedrals, and she encouraged me in that, too. She was an inspiration to me.

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