Svetlana Alpers

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Svetlana Leontief Alpers (born February 10, 1936[1]) is an American art historian, also a professor, writer and critic.[2] Her specialty is Dutch Golden Age painting, a field she revolutionized[3] with her 1983 book The Art of Describing. She has also written on Tiepolo, Rubens, Bruegel, and Velázquez, among others[4] and is one of the most influential American art historians of her generation. She co-founded the interdisciplinary journal Representations.[5] She is a consultant to both National Public Radio and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and has held many visiting academic appointments around the world.[4]

Education and family[edit]

Svetlana Leontief was born at Cambridge, Massachusetts the only child of Wassily Leontief political refugee from the Soviet Union, a Nobel laureate Economist who pioneered computer modelling, and poet Estelle Marks. She received her B.A. from Radcliffe College in 1957 and a Ph.D.from Harvard in 1965.[1] In 1958 she married and changed her last name to Alpers.[1]


She was a professor of art history at the University of California at Berkeley from 1962 to 1998, and by 1994 she was named Professor Emerita.[1]

In 2007 she collaborated with artists James Hyde and Barney Kulok on a project entitled Painting Then for Now. The project consists of 19 photographic prints based on the suite of three paintings by Giambattista Tiepolo that hang at the top of the main staircase in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The project was exhibited at David Krut Gallery, NY.[6] Six of the prints were later acquired for the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.[7][8] On May 28, 2015, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Harvard University.[9]

Critical responses[edit]

In a critical review of Rembrandt's Enterprise: The Studio and the Market, for conservative magazine The New Criterion, Hilton Kramer described it as an emblematic event "As far as the study of art history is concerned” and more particularly, what has gone wrong with it”. He argues that it attacks Rembrandt for "having commodified himself by virtue of having painted and marketed his own self-portraits". He describes a debt to Fredric Jameson's “Postmodernism and Consumer Society", with "Professor Alpers’s “Rembrandt” coming to resemble an artist like Andy Warhol, the most successful "entrepreneur of the self". He accuses Alpers of removing the greatest art categorically from the realm of aesthetics, using it as "just another counter in the dialectic of material culture. Such, too, is the dismal fate of art history when the study of art is no longer its primary concern."[10]

Selected publications[edit]

  • The Decoration of the Torre de la Parada, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, Brussels/London, 1971.
  • The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983
  • Rembrandt's Enterprise: The Studio and the Market, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988
  • Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994 (with Michael Baxandall)
  • The Making of Rubens, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995.
  • The Vexations of Art: Velázquez and Others, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005.
  • Roof Life, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013.



  1. ^ a b c d "Alpers, Svetlana [née Leontief]". Dictionary of Art Historians. Retrieved January 6, 2015. 
  2. ^ Ross, Alex (1999). "Stanford Presidential Lectures in the Humanities and the Arts, Svetlana Alpers". Stanford University. Retrieved January 6, 2015. 
  3. ^ Shone, Richard and Stonard, John-Paul, eds.. The Books That Shaped Art History: From Gombrich and Greenberg to Alpers and Krauss, chapter 14. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Svetlana Alpers Professor Emerita - UC Berkeley History of Art Department". Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  5. ^ "Editorial Board | Representations". Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  6. ^ "Painting Then For Now. Fragments of Tiepolo". Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  7. ^ "Svetlana Alpers | MoMA". Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  8. ^ "School of Visual Arts presents Svetlana Alpers, James Hyde and Barney Kulok | Art & Education". Art & Education. Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  9. ^ "Harvard’s 2015 Honorary-degree Recipients". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved 2015-10-11. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Presidential Lectures: Svetlana Alpers: CV SVETLANA ALPERS". Stanford University. November 24, 1998. Retrieved October 9, 2015. 
  12. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  13. ^ "Svetlana L. Alpers, Ph.D. - Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin". Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  14. ^ "British Academy announces 42 new fellows". Times Higher Education. 18 July 2014. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 
  • Bowman, John S. Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) p. 14.