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Brian A. Curran

Posted By RSA, Monday, December 4, 2017
Updated: Monday, December 4, 2017

It is with great sadness that we write that Brian A. Curran (1953–2017) died on 11 July 2017 at his home in State College, Pennsylvania, from complications of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). An expert on Renaissance Rome whose research focused primarily on antiquarianism and Egyptian antiquities, Brian was a generous scholar, a devoted and greatly loved teacher, and a wonderful friend.

Brian attended the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, receiving a BFA in 1979. Between 1984 and 1990, he worked as a Curatorial Consultant and Departmental Assistant at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the Department of Egyptian, Ancient Near Eastern, and Nubian Art. He was highly knowledgeable and passionately enthusiastic about Egyptian antiquities. Colleagues there remember the afternoon he rushed out of the basement gripping a small piece of stone. Brian had come across a small piece that he knew instantly was the missing tip of the beak of an Egyptian statue of Horus, on view up in the galleries. The whole department trooped upstairs, and it fit perfectly!

Brian received his MA in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in 1989, and an MA (1992) and PhD (1997) from the Department of Art and Archaeology of Princeton University. He was a Rome Prize Pre-Doctoral Fellow at the American Academy in Rome in 1993–94, a fellow at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome from 1993–95, a post-doctoral fellow of the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University in 1996–97, and a fellow at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in 2005–06. In 1997 he began teaching in the Department of Art History at Pennsylvania State University, where he served as a professor from 2011.

His many publications centered on Egyptian antiquities in Rome. Most important was The Egyptian Renaissance: The Afterlife of Ancient Egypt and Egyptian Antiquities in Early Modern Italy (University of Chicago Press, 2007). In this rich and original book, he identified many Egyptian objects and images that played strikingly prominent roles in famous works of Italian Renaissance art and architecture. In a tour de force of historical scholarship and interpretation Brian also traced the often complex travels of these objects and teased out the new meanings they took on over time and in new places. He was co-editor of the Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome from 2009, and wrote dozens of articles and reviews.

Brian was a brilliant and dedicated teacher. His courses ranged across medieval and Baroque art, sculpture, film, and historiography. He supervised or was in the process of supervising more than twelve PhD theses and more than twenty master’s theses while teaching at Penn State. Despite his devastating illness, he was able to continue teaching, using technical means devised by his department and university, until a few weeks before his death. He received numerous teaching awards and his former graduate students honored him with a symposium in 2016. Graduate students and colleagues are planning a volume of studies in his memory.

Brian is survived by his beloved wife, Mary Curran, his mother, Doris Curran, his siblings and their families, and hundreds of students and friends. To all of them—and to us—his death is a tragedy, but his memory is a blessing.

Anthony Grafton, Henry Putnam University Professor at Princeton University
Pamela O. Long, Independent scholar and fellow of the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation, 2015–20
Benjamin Weiss, Director of Collections and Leonard A. Lauder Curator of Visual Culture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Co-authors with Brian A. Curran of Obelisk: A History (MIT Press, 2009).

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