Rona Goffen - University Obituary


June 7, 1944 to September 8, 2004



With each book, Rona Goffen consolidated her place as one of the most influential and innovative of Italian Renaissance art historians in the 20th-Century. Her 1986 study, Piety and Patronage in Renaissance Venice: Bellini, Titian, and the Franciscans (Yale 1986) earned her attention as one of the "new" art historians, combining detailed attention to the ways painters work with a probing view of how social and economic forces shape the subject matter of, and responses to, painting. It earned wide attention for its focus on the roles of piety and politics in the construction of the Franciscan church Santa Maria del Frari, which was supported by the patronage of the Pesaro family. Her Spirituality in Conflict: Saint Francis and Giotto's Bardi Chapel (University of Pennsylvania Press 1988) concerns the intense religious debate within the Franciscan Order during the duecento and trecento and how this conflict plays out in commissions associated with the Florentine church of Santa Croce (notably the Bardi Saint Francis Panel and Giotto's frescoes for the Bardi Chapel). Her Giovanni Bellini (Yale 1994), now in its second printing (Italian edition in 1990), is the definitive study of Bellini, and has earned international acclaim for the boldness of its argument and the deftness of its attention to the cultural forces that shaped Bellini's work. Her Titian's Women (Yale 1997) brought a feminist theoretical perspective to Titian's preoccupation with women as subjects. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Gary Wills celebrates Professor Goffen's study as showing "one of her principal strengths, her skill as a social historian reconstructing the conditions of patronage, gift giving and market pricing that affected Renaissance Venice." Her Renaissance Rivals: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian (Yale, 2002) explored the fascinating Italian Renaissance environment that produced perhaps the greatest of all art.


Professor Goffen was working on two new books at the time of her death, Renaissance Women: Art and Life in Italy, 1300-1600 and Fathers of Invention: The Last Judgment: From Giotto to Michelangelo (the Rand lectures, to be published by the University of North Carolina Press). Two chapters had been completed of Renaissance Women: the first on representations of the Virgin, the second on “wives, widows, and mothers.” The book focuses on placing female portraiture in its cultural, religious, and social contexts.


In addition, Professor Goffen edited, and provided chapters in studies of Titian's "Venus of Urbino" and of Masaccio's "Trinity"; wrote numerous articles and reviews; received ACLS, NEH, Guggenheim and many other fellowships; and became one of the most widely sought-after speakers at major conferences and museums throughout the world because her work is so widely read and discussed. Her writing was reviewed not only in the major journals of Renaissance art, history, and literature, but regularly in the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the New York Times Book Review. Her standing insured that her books receive the attention of the general public. Indeed, the London Independent named Titian's Women an "Art Book of the Year." As Gary Wills noted in his discussion of this volume: "To argue with Goffen's book is to see how much she equips all others for the argument."


Rona Goffen's professional standing is indicated by the boards she served on and the colleges and universities interested in having her join their faculties. In Fall 1997 she was asked to serve on the Board of Advisors of the Center for Advanced Study at the National Gallery of Art. She was also a board member of the Renaissance Society of America. From 1988-94 she was co-editor of Renaissance Quarterly; and remained an associate editor of the journal through 2000. She also served on the editorial board of Venezia Cinquecento. In Fall 1997 she was Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor of Art History at Williams College. Professor Goffen was Chair of the Department of Art History from 1990 to 1996.

Obituary by David Rosand
For more information, including publications, see her department home page

There will be a memorial service for Rona Goffen on November 20, 2004 at 10:30 am in Kirkpatrick Chapel on Old Queens Campus. A reception will follow in Winants hall.