Goya scholar and academic museum director; co-founder of the committee to rescue works of art ravaged by the floods in Florence in 1966. Licht's father was Austrian, Arnold Berman Licht (b. 1889), a raincoat manufacturer working in the Amsterdam at the time of his son's birth. He and his family lived in Berlin. As tensions against Jews mounted in Germany, Licht's family left Berlin two weeks before Kristallnacht for Amsterdam. He fled again to Paris and in 1941 to Genoa, Italy. Denied entrance to the United States, Licht, alone, emigrated to Panama in 1941 at age 13 and then to New York. He attended Stuyvesant high school in the city and then, as a late teen, entered the University of Wisconsin, Madison, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1946. After receiving his B.A from Wisconsin in 1948, he continued graduate work at the University of Basel. His Ph.D. was awarded there in 1952 with a dissertation topic on Poussin. Licht lectured at Princeton University as an instructor in art history beginning the following year. He moved to Williams College, Williamstown, MA, appointed assistant professor of art history in 1958 (through 1961). While at Williams, he met an NYU a graduate student of Richard Krautheimer, Margarite "Meg" Meinecke (b. 1926), whom he married in 1959. Licht was awarded a Fulbright scholarship for 1961, researching in Italy. He remained in Italy a second year, moving to Venice where he met the expatriate collector Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979). Licht was hired to teach at a new, state-funded art school embedded at the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota. However, the school folded the following year and he accepted the position of associate professor at Brown University, Providence, RI, in 1965. In November of the following year, the disastrous flood of the Arno River in Florence severely damaged important Renaissance art works of the city. Together with his wife and fellow Brown art professor Bates Lowry, Licht contacted art professionals across the United States to enlist support. Their efforts resulted in the establishment of the Committee to Rescue Italian Art (CRIA or "cry" in Italian), which grew to 65 chapters, raising $1.75 million. With Lowry's departure to MoMA in 1968, Licht became head of art department at Brown. He and his family moved to Italy to oversee the CRIA program, directing Florida State University's art study campus located in the Villa Fabricotti in Florence. Ever an exponent of modern art, Licht was appointed a member of board of trustees of Peggy Guggenheim Foundation in Venice in 1968. During these years in Europe, Licht began focusing on what would become his area of specialty, the interpretation of the work of the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. His first book on the artist appeared in 1970. Licht returned to the U.S. when Italy's red brigade fostered anti-western sentiment. He was a visiting professor of art at Williams. A second Goya book, a collection of primary sources and historiographic excerpts, was issued in 1973. Licht taught at Florida State University between 1973 and 1978. Princeton University hired him, again, this time as director of its art museum with the rank of professor in 1978. One of his first decisions was the accept for Princeton George Segal's " Sacrifice of Isaac" sculpture, a memorial to the student slayings at Kent State, which the Ohio school had rejected. Licht's monograph of Goya, Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper in Art appeared in 1979. After Guggenheim's death in 1979, Licht re-engaged with her museum in Venice. He became professor of art at Boston University in 1980. Concomitant with his Boston appointment, Licht was appointed curator of the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim. He retired Emeritus from Boston.
As an art historian, Licht's approach to art is one of art as reflecting the spirit of an age (Geistesgeschichte), a methodology employed by an earlier generation of scholars, most notably Theodor Hetzer. His work on Goya was particularly well suited for the approach. Though not the first art historian to do so, Licht argued Goya's place as the first truly modern artist. Students recalled him as a spell-binding lecturer.