2005 Distinguished Scholar Session
The following article originally appeared as “Richard Brilliant Is 2005 Distinguished Scholar” in the January 2005 CAA News.
The CAA 2005 Distinguished Scholar Session honored Richard Brilliant, Anna S. Garbedian Professor Emeritus in the Humanities in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University in New York. Dedicated to celebrating the contributions of post–World War II scholars, the series fosters discussion within and among generations of art historians, curators, artists, and more. In its fifth year, the 2005 Distinguished Scholar Session has again been funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. CAA is deeply grateful to the foundation for its continued support of this valuable contribution to the Annual Conference.
A leading member of the art-history community for many decades, Brilliant has transformed the study of Classical art, opening the field to new critical methods of historical and stylistic analysis. Expanding the theoretical and critical range of the historiography of ancient art, he has made this work a central part of the larger discourse on the interpretation of images and the understanding of visual culture. His scholarship has been primarily based in the study of ancient Greek and Roman art and has ranged widely in its approaches, from social semiotics to visual narratology. He is the author of countless articles, reviews, and essays; his principal publications include Gesture and Rank in Roman Art: The Use of Gestures to Denote Status in Roman Sculpture and Coinage (1963), Visual Narratives: Storytelling in Etruscan and Roman Art (1987), Portraiture (1991), Commentaries on Roman Art (1994), and, most recently, My Laacoön: Alternative Claims in the Interpretation of Artworks (2000).
Brilliant was editor-in-chief of The Art Bulletin from 1991 to 1994, the director of the Corpus of Roman Sculpture, United States, and the first director of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, based at Columbia. Most important, he has been an inspiring mentor to multiple generations of younger scholars—first at the University of Pennsylvania from 1962 to 1970 and then, for most of his career, at Columbia. Many of his students have become the new leaders in the field. Like his scholarship, Brilliant’s adventurous and innovative teaching has been recognized by numerous awards.
As a writer, consultant, and director, Brilliant has contributed to television and film; a project on the ancient painted portraits of Fayum earned numerous prizes. He has collaborated with colleagues in courses in the art and culture of India and of the Renaissance, as well as classes in the historiography of art history; he has taught the Contemporary Civilization course that is part of the core curriculum of Columbia College and has served as chairman of that program—a signal acknowledgement of his intellectual breadth.
Born in Boston in 1929, Brilliant earned his BA in classics from Yale University, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1951. After earning an LLB at Harvard University in 1954, at which time he was admitted to the Massachusetts bar, he turned to art history and returned to Yale, where he earned an MA in 1956 and PhD in 1960, with a dissertation on gesture in Roman art, the subject of his first publication.
Chaired by Bettina Bergmann of Mount Holyoke College, the panel included Jonathan Crary and David Rosand of Columbia University, Dale Kinney of Bryn Mawr College, and Shearer West of the University of Birmingham. It took place on Thursday, February 17, 2005, from 2:30 to 5:00 PM at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel, Salon A, Imperial Ballroom.
Following the Distinguished Scholar Session, the Kress Foundation hosted a reception to celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in the same location. At the reception, Marilyn Perry, president of the foundation, spoke about its achievements and future directions.