From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In 1907 his family immigrated to the United States, where he received his bachelors' and doctorate degrees from Columbia University. He began teaching in 1928 and became a full professor at Columbia in 1952. Schapiro was a proponent of modern art, and published books on Van Gogh and Cezanne and various essays on modern art. He was a founder of Dissent, along with Irving Howe and Michael Harrington. From 1966–1967 Schapiro was the Norton professor at Harvard University.
Schapiro's discourse on style is often considered his greatest contribution to the study of art history. According to Schapiro, style refers to the formal qualities and visual characteristics of a piece of art. Schapiro demonstrated that style could be used not only as an identifier of a particular period but also as a diagnostic tool. Style is indicative of the artist and the culture at large. It reflects the economic and social circumstances in which an artist works and breathes and reveals underlying cultural assumptions and normative values. On the other hand our own descriptions of form and style indicate our period, our concerns, and our biases; the way art historians of a particular age talk about style is also indicative of their cultural context.
Marxist Art History
Schapiro was, at points in his career, criticized for his approach to style because of its politically radical connotations. Schapiro himself wrote scholarly articles for a variety of socialist publications and endeavored to apply a novel Marxist method to the study of art history. In his most famous essay on Medieval Spanish art, 'From Mozarabic to Romanesque in Silos,' Schapiro demonstrated how the concurrent existence of two historical styles in one monastery was indicative of economic upheaval and class conflict.
He died in New York City at the age of 91.
- The Parma Ildefonsus (1964)
- Art Schools and Drawing from the Figure (1967)
- Words and pictures (1973)
- Selected papers:
- Vol 1 Romanesque art (1977)
- Vol 2 Modern Art (1977)
- Vol 3 Late antique, early Christian and medieval art (1979)
- Vol 4 Theory and Philosophy of Art: Style, Artist and Society (1994)
- Romanesque Architectural Sculpture (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures delivered in 1967; published in 2006)
- Reviewed in Willibald Sauerländer, "The Artist Historian" The New York Review of Books 54/11 (28 June 2007) : 55-57, 61-62.
Subjects and objects Schapiro wrote about at length include:
- Joshua Roll
- Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos
- Ruthwell Cross
- The sculptures at Moissac
Columbia classmates include: