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Brilliant, Richard

    Image Credit: Prabook

    Full Name: Brilliant, Richard

    Other Names:

    • Richard Brilliant

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 20 November 1929

    Place Born: Boston, Suffolk, MA, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Roman (ancient Italian culture or period)


    Scholar of Roman art; Anna S. Garbedian Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University (1970- ). Brilliant was born to Frank Brilliant and Pauline Apt (Brilliant); his father a businessman and his mother a social worker. He attended Yale University receiving a B. A. in 1951. The same year he married Eleanor Luria (later a professor of social work at Rutgers University). Brilliant next attended Harvard Law School, receiving an LL.B. in 1954 and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1954 as well. However, he returned classical studies and Yale, receiving his M.A. in 1956. Brilliant was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to Italy to complete his dissertation 1957-59, submitting a dissertation on the topic of gestures in Roman art for his Ph.D., in 1960. His thesis examined how gesture was conventionalized through a system of visual signals which manifested themselves in Roman life and art. He received the Rome Prize from American Academy in Rome, 1960-1962. Brilliant returned to the United States where he was appointed assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania in 1962. He published a revised version of his dissertion in 1963 and promoted to associate professor in 1964. Brilliant’s first article in the field of Roman art was commissioned by Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, one on symbols and attributes in Greco-Roman art, for the Enciclopedia dell’Arte Antica (1966). In 1967 he was the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship. Brilliant was made full professor of art history at Pennsylvania in 1969. The following year he moved to Columbia University, New York, to be professor of art history and archaeology. Brilliant taught as Mellon Visiting Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Pittsburgh in 1971. His survey on Roman art, considered one of the finest brief introductions to this problematic field, was published in 1974. In the 1980s he began advising Dr. Michael Miller of Armonk, New York, in the acquisition of classical sculpture, which developed into one of the more important private collections of classical sculpture in the United States. Brilliant published his Visual Narratives book, 1984, an epistomology of narrative imagery in Etruscan and Roman art. The Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates was bestowed upon him in 1990. In 2000 Brilliant published My Laocoön: Alternative Claims in the Interpretation of Artworks, in which, in contrast to Margarete Bieber and her book on the Laocoön, took a pluralistic view of its interpretatioin, denying that a definitive interpretation of work was possible. Gesture and Rank in Roman Art Brilliant asserted in 1993, was one of the first semiotic study in modern art history (Brilliant, 1994). The book examined how gesture determined social meaning, a programmatic representation throughout Roman life.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Hands Up: The Use of Gestures to Denote Status in Roman Sculpture and Numismatics. Yale University, 1960, revised and published as, Gesture and Rank in Roman Art: the Use of Gestures to Denote Status in Roman Sculpture and Coinage. New Haven, The Academy, 1963; [collected studies:] Commentaries on Roman Art: Selected Studies. London: Pindar Press, 1994; “Simboli ed attributi nell’arte greca-romana.” Enciclopedia dell’Arte Antica 7: 303-311 (1966); Roman Art from the Republic to Constantine. New York: Praeger, 1974; Pompeii AD 79: The Treasure of Rediscovery. New York: C. N. Potter/Crown Publishers, 1979; Visual Narratives: Storytelling in Etruscan and Roman Art. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984; and Borgatti, Jean M. Likeness and Beyond: Portraits from Africa and the World. New York: Center for African Art, 1990; Portraiture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991; and Sternfeld, Joel, and Stebbins, Theodore E., Jr. Campagna Romana: the Countryside of Ancient Rome. New York: Knopf, 1992;and Smith, Ellen. Facing the New World: Jewish Portraits in Colonial and Federal America. New York: Jewish Museum, 1997; My Laocoön: Alternative Claims in the Interpretation of Artworks. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.


    Columbia University Faculty Directory.; Brilliant, Richard. “Introduction.” in Commentaries on Roman Art: Selected Studies. London: Pindar Press, 1994, pp. i-iii; Brilliant, Richard. Un Americano a Roma: riflessioni sull’arte romana. Rome: Di Renzo, 2000.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Brilliant, Richard." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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