Prince of Prints

Leo Steinberg didn't set out to amass a world-renowned collection of prints. He started buying them for himself because they were important to him. The Russian-born academic, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1945, not only loved them individually for their imagery and artistic value, he believed they were important as an art form and as "the circulating lifeblood of ideas" for generations of artists in the centuries before photography. Fortunately for him, when he started buying them in the early 1960s, little attention was being paid to the form. He was thus able to pick up outstanding samples from the Italian Renaissance and Mannerist periods -- eras of particular interest to him -- for as little as a few dollars apiece. Throughout his career, he kept buying, and after 40 years, he had amassed more than 3,200 prints, encompassing work from the 15th through the 20th centuries. His collection is comprehensive in its scope and depth, with representative works spanning the Renaissance to modern eras, with works by Dürer, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Piranesi, Fragonard, Blake, Matisse, Grosz, and Picasso, with many in pristine condition.

Steinberg's pioneering understanding of the importance of prints is a good example of why his career is as distinguished as the collection of prints he assembled. His scholarship and criticism in art of both Renaissance Europe and 20th-century America has broken new ground in those fields. In his published works of the 1960s, such as Encounters With Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, he opened our eyes to new artists worth seeing, and in writings such as The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, Leonardo's Incessant Last Supper, and Michelangelo's Last Paintings, he opened our eyes anew to works we only thought we had seen before. Steinberg has lectured at museums and universities across the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, and Columbia University. He delivered the Gauss Lectures at Princeton, the Norton Lectures at Harvard, and the Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art. Steinberg taught art history first at Hunter College, then at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he co-founded the art history department, and finally at the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked for 16 years. Since retiring from teaching in 1991, he has made his home in New York City.

  • More of the Story

  • Renaissance (and Baroque) Man

    As a curator for UT's Blanton Museum of Art, Jonathan Bober played a pivotal role in securing the Suida-Manning and Steinberg art collections, thereby giving some of the world's great art a home in Austin.
  • Seeing What Jonathan Sees

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