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Leo Steinberg (1920–2011) was the rare art historian who turned his inquisitive eye and captivating prose to both Renaissance and twentieth-century art. His unusually wide-ranging scholarship addresses such canonical artists as Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, and Jasper Johns. Although his significance to the field of art history is broadly acknowledged, Steinberg’s activity as a print collector is less well known. Beginning in the early 1960s, with only the meager budget of a part- time art history professor, Steinberg amassed a collection of over 3,500 prints that spans the medium’s five-hundred-year history in the West. The collection is particularly rich in works produced before 1800, reflecting the fact that older prints are often more affordable than modern and contemporary ones. Akin to books on a shelf, Steinberg’s prints formed a visual library that shaped his scholarship in fundamental ways. Encompassing artists from the famous to the obscure, Steinberg’s collection led to insights that upend established notions about artistic originality and challenge the subordinate status of printmaking relative to painting and sculpture. Now housed at the Blanton Museum of Art, this collection offers a starting point for the next generation of scholars and artists to investigate, critique, and re-interpret the Western art historical tradition, as constructed by scholars and collectors of Steinberg’s generation. This exhibition elevates Steinberg’s legacy as a print scholar and collector. Selections from his collection illuminate his claim that in the era before photography, prints functioned as the “circulating lifeblood of ideas,” disseminating figures, compositions, and styles across boundaries of geography, time, and medium. Steinberg acquired many printed copies of famous artworks—a relationship between original and copy that art historians denote with the term “after.” Although many collectors disparage reproductions as derivative, Steinberg recognized that they provide visual art criticism more insightful than any text. And while he always privileged visual evidence over texts in his art historical analyses, Steinberg’s eloquent words will guide us through a broad exploration of printmaking that showcases the formative role of prints in art production. *After Michelangelo, Past Picasso: Leo Steinberg’s Library of Prints* is organized by the Blanton Museum of Art. Major funding for this exhibition and the accompanying catalogue is provided by the Getty Foundation through The Paper Project, with additional support from Leslie Shaunty and Robert Topp, the Scurlock Foundation Exhibition Endowment, and the IFPDA Foundation. Click here for a transcript of the audio stop:


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