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Jonathan Brown, Influential Historian of Spanish Art, Dies at 82

Jonathan Mayer Brown was born on July 15, 1939, in Springfield, Massachusetts, and his father, Leonard M. Brown, was an insurance agent. His mother, Jean (Levi) Brown, was a librarian. Both were art collectors, traveling regularly to Manhattan, where they picked up small abstract expressionist works by Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston and Franz Klein. Jan Brown later became a major collector and patron of the experimental, interdisciplinary art movement Fluxus. (Her huge archive of Fluxus materials is now in the Getty Center in Los Angeles.)

In 1956, Professor Brown joined Dartmouth College, where he initially studied Spanish literature. When he was spending his first year in Spain, reading José Ortega y Gasset’s 1948 book on Velázquez and learning about the artist’s “living” work, he shifted his focus from literature to art.

After graduating from Dartmouth, he enrolled as a graduate student in Art History at Princeton University, where he received his Ph.D. In 1964 with a thesis on the Baroque painting of Seville. He began teaching there, and after the publication of his first book “Italy and Spain, 1600-1700” in 1970 and was awarded the Arthur Kingsley Porter Prize by the American Technical College Association, he became an associate professor.

In 1973, New York University appointed him to be director of the Institute of Fine Arts, the university’s graduate program in art history. He was appointed full professor there in 1977 and continued to teach for 40 years, until his retirement in 2017, mentoring generations of teachers and curators.

Over time, his books and exhibitions arrived in a constant flow. He wrote or contributed to studies on El Greco, Francisco de Zurbarán, Jusepe de Ribera, and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, mostly accompanying exhibitions he organized or participated in. In 1986, he published his landmark book “Velázquez: Painter and Courtier,” a critical autobiography that garnered much praise. His book The Golden Age of Painting in Spain (originally published in 1991, expanded in 1998 and republished as Painting in Spain 1500-1700) is widely regarded as the standard survey of the subject.

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