15 March 2011

Requiescat in Pace -- Leo Steinberg

Leo Steinberg died. He may not be a household name in most household's but in mine he loomed large. Steinberg had one of those remarkable moments in art history. He saw something in painting, the same paintings that art historians had peered at for years on end, and saw something that no one had ever seen.

In 1982, Steinberg delivered the A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts at the National Gallery in Washington. The lecture was unusually long, profusely illustrated and mesmerizing. Steinberg
saw a reoccurring pattern
in Renaissance depictions of Christ. There was, and always had been, the prominent display of the Christ child's genitals. The genital area was also prominent in the painting at the end of Christ's life. For Steinberg it was a visual marker to place the humanity of Christ in the forefront.

Needless to say, when published in book form the next year, controversy ensued. Still for some, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion is the finest art history book ever published.
It was always lingering in my mind during my graduate studies. I frequently go back to its pages.

Leo Steinberg obituary in the New York Times.

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