2002 Distinguished Scholar Session
The following article is adapted from “Conference Session Honors Leo Steinberg,” which originally appeared in the January 2002 CAA News. The Brooklyn Rail published Steinberg’s remarks at the 2002 Distinguished Scholar Session in June 2006.
As CAA’s Distinguished Scholar for 2002, Leo Steinberg stands out in the field of art history not only for his own contributions to the discipline, but also for his eloquent capacity to engage scholars, artists, and critics of all ages and approaches.
Born in Moscow in 1920, Steinberg spent his childhood in Berlin before moving to London, where he studied art at the Slade School, University of London, from 1936 to 1940. After World War II, he settled in New York, working as a freelance writer and translator and as a life-drawing instructor at Parsons School of Design. He studied art history at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, taking his doctorate in 1960; his dissertation examined the Roman Baroque architect Francesco Borromini.
From 1962 to 1975, Steinberg taught at Hunter College, City University of New York, and in 1972 he helped found the art-history department of the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Three years later he was appointed Benjamin Franklin Professor of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, from which he retired in 1991, after teaching for a semester as the Meyer Schapiro Chair at Columbia University in New York.
Steinberg has published and lectured widely on Renaissance, Baroque, and twentieth-century art. His writings on modern art were published as Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art (1972). Subsequent books are: Michelangelo’s Last Paintings (1975); Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane: A Study in Multiple Form and Architectural Symbolism (1977); The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (1983; he revised the second edition in 1996, which doubled in size with a “Retrospect” that responded to critics); Encounters with Rauschenberg (1999); and, most recently, Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper (2001). Other writings include studies of Filippo Lippi, Mantegna, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Guercino, Rembrandt, Steen, Velàzquez, and Picasso.
In addition to a prolific writing career, Steinberg has had a full academic life in public. In 1982, he delivered the A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and he gave the Gauss Lectures at Princeton University in 1985. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and University College London, Steinberg has received honorary doctorates from the Massachusetts College of Art, the Philadelphia College of Art, Parsons School of Design, and Bowdoin College. He also spent time as a resident scholar at the American Academy in Rome and the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Los Angeles.
In 1983, Steinberg became the first art historian to receive an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The following year he won CAA’s Frank Jewett Mather Award for distinction in criticism, and after that received a prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship (1986). During 1995–96, he delivered the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University. More recently, he has spoken on Monet at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; on Matisse and Picasso at the Kimbell Art Museum; and on contemporary art from Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Steinberg had a close relationship with CAA over the years, serving on the Board of Directors from 1969 to 1971 and as a founding member of the selection committee for the Distinguished Teaching of Art History Award (1977–78). He also published frequently in CAA’s journals, writing numerous essays and book reviews for The Art Bulletin.
The 2002 Distinguished Scholar Session at the 90th Annual Conference took place on Thursday, February 21, 2:30–5:00 PM, at the Philadelphia Marriott. Chaired by David Rosand of Columbia University, the panel comprised Steinberg and three more art historians: Samuel Edgerton of Williams College, Rosalind Krauss of Columbia University, and Alexander Nagel of the University of Toronto. CAA is grateful to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation for its generous support of the session.