The great art historian Leo Steinberg is dead. New York Times Critic Ken Johnson explains why he was important:
In a field not noted for lively prose, Mr. Steinberg gave academic writing a personal voice: didactic, often urgently polemical, yet generously ruminative, enriched by vivid metaphors, strewn with unfamiliar vocabulary and sometimes idiosyncratic coinages but blessedly free of jargon.
“What he avoids above all is the finishing touch,” Mr. Steinberg wrote of Rodin, “his secret dream being to keep every work going like a stoked fire — forever, if possible.”
In 1983 Mr. Steinberg became the first art historian to receive an award for literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. His writing skill drew on his own deep reading of literature. “He knew Dickens and Joyce inside out, and he had a better knowledge of Shakespeare and the English novel than many professionals in the field,” Helen Vendler, the critic and English professor at Harvard, said in an interview. She befriended him after he gave the Norton Lectures there in 1995-96.
Leo Steinberg, Art Historian, Dies at 90 (New York Times)