Distinguished professor of art history, Indiana University, Bloomington, specialist in the Art of Renaissance Italy. Cole was raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated with a BA from Western Reserve University in 1962, earning his master’s degree in art history at Oberlin in two years later. Following this, Cole completed his doctorate in art history at Bryn Mawr in 1969. His dissertation examined the work of fourteenth century Florentine painter Agnolo Gaddi (c.1350–1396). Cole was appointed Assistant Professor of art history at the University of Rochester, NY in 1969 before joining the faculty at Indiana University in 1973. There, he was appointed Professor in 1977 and Distinguished Professor in 1988. During this period, in addition to publishing his dissertation on Gaddi, Cole produced numerous monographs, focusing on artists of the Italian Renaissance — including Giotto, Massaccio, Piero della Francesca, and Titian — as well as a number of survey texts on the period.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Cole left the University to become Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). He would go on to occupy the role for over seven years between December 2001 and early 2009 becoming the institution’s longest serving chair. He received the Presidential Citizens Medal for his work in 2008. Amongst his signature initiatives were “We the People" and “Picturing America" which emphasized the teaching of the humanities in public schools, in part by widely distributing high-quality reproductions of American artworks. Cole was also an early champion of the digital humanities, establishing the NEH Office of Digital Humanities during his tenure. Following his departure from NEH in 2009, Cole served as President and CEO of the American Revolution Center, and in 2012 joined the Ethics and Public Policy Center as a Senior Fellow.
- Agnolo Gaddi. New York: Clarendon Press, 1977;
- Giotto and Florentine Painting, 1280-1375. New York: Harper and Row, 1976;
- Italian Art, 1250-1550: the Relation of Renaissance Art to Life and Society. New York: Harper & Row, 1987;
- Masaccio and the Art of Early Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980;
- The Renaissance Artist at Work: From Pisano to Titian, New York: Routledge, 1983;
- Sienese Painting in the Age of the Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985;
- Piero della Francesca: Tradition and Innovation in Renaissance Art, New York: Harper Collins, 1991;
- Giotto: the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua. New York: George Braziller, 1993;
- Studies in the History of Italian Art 1250–1550. London: Pindar, 1996;
- Titian and Venetian Paintings, 1450–1590. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999;
- The Informed Eye: Understanding Masterpieces of Western Art, Chicago: Dee 1999.
- Statement on the Passing of Former NEH Chairman Bruce Cole. January 10, 2018. https://www.neh.gov/news/press-release/2018-01-10
- Skinner, David. ”Remembering Bruce Cole,” Humanities, Spring 2018, Volume 39, Number 2.
- Who's Who in American Art 26 (2001-2): 227.
- Barnes, Bart. ”Bruce Cole, renaissance scholar who led National Endowment for the Humanities, dies at 79,” Washington Post, Jan. 12, 2018 at 9:02 p.m. GMT. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/bruce-cole-renaissance-scholar-who-led-national-endowment-for-the-humanities-dies-at-79/2018/01/12/0541584c-f6f3-11e7-b34a-b85626af34ef_story.html