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Renaissance and Baroque Art

Selected Essays

Edited by Sheila Schwartz
With an Introduction by Stephen J. Campbell
Leo Steinberg was one of the most original art historians of the twentieth century, known for taking interpretive risks that challenged the profession by overturning reigning orthodoxies. In essays and lectures ranging from old masters to contemporary art, he combined scholarly erudition with an eloquent prose that illuminated his subject and a credo that privileged the visual evidence of the image over the literature written about it. His writings, sometimes provocative and controversial, remain vital and influential reading. Steinberg’s perceptions evolved from long, hard looking at his objects of study. Almost everything he wrote included passages of formal analysis, but always put into the service of interpretation.

This volume begins and ends with thematic essays on two fundamental precepts of Steinberg’s art history: how dependence on textual authority mutes the visual truths of images and why artists routinely copy or adapt earlier artworks. In between are fourteen chapters on masterpieces of renaissance and baroque art, with bold and enlightening interpretations of works by Mantegna, Filippo Lippi, Pontormo, El Greco, Caravaggio, Steen and, finally, Velázquez. Four chapters are devoted to some of Velázquez’s best-known paintings, ending with the famously enigmatic Las Meninas.

Renaissance and Baroque Art is the third volume in a series that presents Steinberg’s writings, selected and edited by his longtime associate Sheila Schwartz.

416 pages | 104 color plates, 140 halftones | 8-1/2 x 11 | © 2020

Essays by Leo Steinberg

Art: Art Criticism, Art--General Studies, European Art


"Renaissance and Baroque Art includes essays on keystone paintings like Diego Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’, as well as works by artists such as El Greco, Caravaggio and Mantegna. Because Steinberg’s prose style is almost conversational — lively, literate and accessible — and his insights rarely less than revelatory, there’s plenty here for the general reader."

Eric Gibson | Spectator

"Among the most adept and provocative practitioners of art history in its widest definition, Steinberg often began his inquiries by questioning what a painting represents, moved on to explore its possible meanings, and concluded with something one likely never imagined. He wrote with rare wit and precision, crafting prose that incisively captured overlooked aspects of artwork. Joining two other collections of posthumously published work—Michelangelo's Sculpture and Michelangelo's Painting, also both edited by Schwartz—the present volume presents a variety of topics from Mantegna to Caravaggio, Guercino, Velázquez, and Steen. . . . Each essay rewards with unexpected insight about a painting in a context of associated works, human behavior, cultural practice, and history. This is a trove of close looking and closer reading, revealing as much about methodology as about images. . . . Summing Up: Highly recommended."


“Sheila Schwartz, an art historian who worked closely with Steinberg, has edited these essays with a discernment that’s matched by the elegance of the volumes, which are among the most beautifully produced art books of recent years.”

New York Review of Books

"Steinberg is a treasure for visual and verbal artists and critics. Schwartz, the editor, has done a wonderful job with this project. This is one of five beautiful volumes of Steinberg’s writing about art, and the University of Chicago Press should be commended."

Renaissance and Reformation

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments, Sheila Schwartz

Introduction, Stephen J. Campbell

1. Words That Prevent Perception
2. Mantegna: Did He Paint by the Book?
3. “How Shall This Be?” Reflections on Filippo Lippi’s Annunciation in London
4. Mantegna’s Dead Christ: Passion and Pattern
5. Pontormo’s Capponi Chapel
6. Pontormo’s Alessandro de’ Medici; or, I Only Have Eyes for You
7. Salviati’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist
8. An El Greco Entombment Eyed Awry
9. Observations in the Cerasi Chapel
10. Guercino’s Saint Petronilla
11. Steen’s Female Gaze and Other Ironies
12. Deciphering Velázquez’s Old Woman
13. The Water Carrier of Velázquez
14. Velázquez’s Pablo de Valladolid
15. Velázquez’s Las Meninas
16. The Glorious Company


Leo Steinberg: Chronology

Leo Steinberg: Publications (1947–2010)

Photography Credits


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