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David Rosand: In Memoriam

posted by CAA — Sep 19, 2014

Paula Carabell received her PhD from Columbia University in 1994 with a dissertation on the work of Michelangelo and Titian. She has published on Renaissance and contemporary art and currently teaches at Pratt Institute.

JDavid Rosand

David Rosand

It is with great sadness that I write that David Rosand, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History Emeritus at Columbia University, died on August 8, 2014, at the age of 75. Known for his work on Titian and Veronese and for his breadth of knowledge in the field, he maintained a long association with Columbia, which he attended as both an undergraduate and a graduate student, subsequently joining the faculty of the Department of Art History and Archaeology in 1964, where he remained until he taught his last class in 2013. Rosand’s many students will remember him as a kind, generous, erudite, and elegant scholar who extended his expertise and help even to those whose areas of research went beyond his own field, the Italian Renaissance.

Rosand was, above all, a passionate and dedicated advocate of the art of Renaissance Venice, An active member of Save Venice, he served on the foundation’s board of directors from 1998 onward and acted as project director from 2003 until his death. So that future generations might also come to know and love Venice, he was instrumental in acquiring the residence of one his own mentors and colleagues, Michelangelo Murano, past director of the Ca’ d’Oro museum, which now serves as the Columbia University Center for Study in Venice at Casa Murano. This seems a fitting legacy for one who, as a graduate student, expressed concern to his teacher, the legendary Rudolf Wittkower, that Venice was sinking—to which Wittkower replied, “Tsk, tsk, it will be there as long as you need it.” And thankfully for all who heard him lecture or who read his work, so it was.

It was, of course, to the art of Titian that he dedicated the largest part of his career. As an undergraduate at Columbia in the 1950s, Rosand, who had been an editor and cartoonist for the school’s humor magazine the Jester, had considered becoming a painter and, as such, would have become part of the Abstract Expressionist movement. This, however, never came to pass despite encouragement and an offer of studio space from his undergraduate mentor. In an oft-repeated story, Rosand recalled that “the prospect of being alone with a canvas so frightened me that I came back and threw myself into art history.” It was, however, the idea of the brushstroke and the painterly gesture that ultimately stayed with him, and the transition from the New York School of painting to the art of the Serenissima proved to be a natural one. As the artist Willem de Kooning had pointed out, “flesh is the reason that oil paint was invented,” and Rosand explored this notion most thoroughly in the work of Titian. Standing with him once at the Titian, Prince of Painters exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, I marveled at how intensely he searched the surface of the canvas, how he seemed to perceive nuances of painterly gesture that it appeared only he could see. And indeed it was the interaction of oil paint and canvas, of pen and paper, of chisel and stone, to which Rosand always returned. His injunction to “always start with the object” proved to be sound advice in an age of art-historical scholarship that all too often turned to issues that seemed to eschew the very act of image making.

David Rosand

David Rosand at the Accadenua Gallery in Venice

Rosand was an eloquent writer who instilled in his students an appreciation for the poetic aspects of both word and image. Whether it was about Titian’s sensual poesia created for Philip II or the final Pietà that the artist had intended for his own tomb, Rosand made one aware of the deeper levels of meaning that adhered to the work itself, most notably, the pathos inherent in the art of painting.

It is to that sense of pathos that we return upon his passing. It is not only that we will be deprived of further publications like his many contributions to scholarly journals or such major works as Painting in Cinquecento Venice: Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto (1982), The Meaning of the Mark: Leonardo and Titian (1988), and Myths of Venice: The Figuration of a State (2001), plus important monographs on Titian and Veronese, but to the man himself. To those who knew him, we will miss the way that Rosand seem to glide through the halls of Schermerhorn, how in the classroom his lectures seemed to meander in an evocative circle of images and ideas and then culminate in a burst of wisdom and insight, and, of course, his favorite call to arms, “coraggio,” when we began to question our own work.

Rosand was accorded many honors and earned the Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates in 1997 and the Award for Distinguished Service to the Core Curriculum from the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia in 2000. He received recognition from such organizations as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Academy in Rome, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In May 2014, Rosand was awarded the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa, from Columbia to recognize his many contributions to the field of art history and to the life of the university.

David Rosand, who died of cardiac amyloidosis, is survived by his wife Ellen Rosand, professor of music at Yale University; by his sons Jonathan, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Eric, a senior counterterrorism policy official at the US State Department; and by five grandsons. He will be greatly missed by the many whose lives he touched.

Filed under: Obituaries