Please note that this lot is not subject to a reserve.
Leo Steinberg's reputation as one of the most influential art historians of the past sixty years was built upon his courage to challenge the accepted orthodoxies of art history. Trained as a draftsman and sculptor at the Slade School in London, he brought to his later studies in art history a deep respect for the work of art as a willed expression of the artist's aesthetic and conceptual concerns. Whether interpreting Old Master or modern art, Steinberg's scholarship rested on a sustained examination of the work. 'There are moments,' he wrote, 'even in a wordy culture like ours, when images start from no preformed program to become primary texts. Treated as illustrations of what is already scripted, they withhold their secrets'. This belief in the primacy of images led him to reject theory-based approaches, such as the Greenbergian formalism that dominated art criticism in the 1960s, or interpretations of Renaissance and Baroque art that proceeded from reading rather than seeing. An inspirational lecturer in the classroom and in hundreds of public presentations, Steinberg was also an eloquent writer, who used language to penetrate the mysteries of an image.
In addition to his scholarly publications and lectures, Steinberg, with his connoisseur's eye, acquired a considerable personal collection of art representing a broad range of historical periods and mediums. Among the highlights in this sale of Old Master Paintings and Drawings is an exceptional painting by the great sixteenth-century Mannerist Alessandro Allori, whose exquisite rendition of Christ and the Magdalene at the moment known as 'Noli me tangere' is based on a lost composition by Michelangelo. It beautifully captures the maelstrom of emotions when the Magdalene recognized Christ after his resurrection from the tomb.
A good number of Steinberg's drawings acquisitions were unattributed when he discovered them in New York shops or on his travels. On the reverse of many of the frames are his notes, added throughout the years, with his attributions and research information as well as the opinions of colleagues. One of the true gems in Steinberg's drawings collection is Claude Vignon's The Penitent St. Peter, which he found at a stall on the Portobello Road in London in the early 1970s. Steinberg's sure eye and scholarly skill enabled him to identify the drawing as made for one of Vignon's prints, and, in its own right, an important example of 17th century draughtsmanship.
Steinberg's enduring legacy will be the freshness and clarity of his ideas, the other criteria (to use the title of his classic collection of essays on modern art) that he applied to the visual and intellectual pleasure of looking.