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Jonathan Brown, Art Historian Who Wrote Defining Books on Velázquez, Dies at 82

Jonathan Brown, an art historian known for his writings about Diego Velázquez, died this month at 82. The Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, where he curated several exhibitions, confirmed his death in an obituary. Brown had also been a fixture at New York University, where he had been a professor since 1977, as well as at institutions such as at the Frick Collection in New York.

Brown’s interest in Spanish art, particularly that of Velázquez, began during a year spent abroad in Madrid while studying at Dartmouth College. In 1960, he graduated from Dartmouth and went on to receive a Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1964. He began teaching at Princeton the following year. Brown received the Arthur Kingsley Porter Prize of the College Art Association of America and was promoted to associate professor in 1971. Two years later, he was appointed the director of NYU’s graduate program in art history the Institute of Fine Arts, and in 1977, he stepped down and became a professor.

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Throughout his career, Brown promoted the study of Spanish Baroque art. Over the last decade, he expanded his scope to include 16th- and 17th-century Hispano-American art. But it was his work on Velázquez that has often been considered most important. In 1986, he wrote Velázquez: Painter and Courtier, a biography on the 17th-century Spanish painter. His most recent book, In the Shadow of Velázquez (2014), blends autobiography with musings on the Spanish master’s work—a rather unusual move intended to show how much Brown’s life had fused with his studies of Velázquez. Also among his notable books was Painting in Spain, 1500‑1700 (1990), which offers a survey of paintings during that period.

In addition to his teaching and scholarly work, Brown also organized several pioneering exhibitions. He curated shows focused on Spanish drawings, including “Murillo & His Drawings” (1976) at the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey and “The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya” (2010) at the Frick. For the Frick, with Susan Grace, he organized “Goya’s Last Works” (2006), which critic Andrew Schulz praised as “a landmark exhibition and catalogue [that] will provide the point of departure as we continue to gain insights into the last works of this singular artist.”

Brown’s more recent interests in the art of the Spanish viceroyalties led him to organize the 2010-11 traveling exhibition “Pintura de los reinos. Identidades compartidas en el mundo hispánico” at the Prado and Palacio Real, both in Madrid, and the Palace of Iturbide in Mexico City.

At the Prado, Brown curated such notable exhibitions as “Velázquez, Rubens and Van Dyck” (1999), which commemorated the fourth centenary of the Spanish painter’s birth, and, with John Elliott, “La almoneda of the century. Artistic relations between Spain and Great Britain. 1604-1655” (2002).

In its obituary, the Prado hailed Brown as “one of the greatest specialists in our Golden Age,” adding, “Generations of historians have benefited from this intellectual.”

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