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JANET COX-REARICK, June 28, 1930 — November 28, 2018

Posted By RSA, Thursday, December 6, 2018
Updated: Friday, December 7, 2018

Janet Cox-Rearick, Distinguished Professor emerita of Italian Renaissance art, who mentored two generations of admiring students and took an active part in Renaissance Society affairs, passed away in New York on November 28, 2018, at the age of 88. Her work and life were long centered on New York City and her second home in her beloved Florence, the locus of her extensive and influential scholarship on the mid-Cinquecento mannerists. She served on the RSA Executive Board and was chosen to deliver the Josephine Waters Bennett lecture at the 1996 annual conference.

Janet Cox was born in 1930 in Bronxville, New York. Following in the footsteps of her mother, a Wellesley alumna in art history, Janet attended the same college (class of 1952). A tall blonde, both striking and chic, she was already working as a fashion model and planning a career in that industry, but a course with legendary professor Sydney Freedberg, the doyen of connoisseurship, inspired her shift of professional trajectory to art history. She followed her mentor to Harvard, where she earned her M.A. and Ph.D.; her published dissertation, The Drawings of Pontormo (1963, revised 1981), remains the standard catalog of the artist’s graphic legacy. From 1961–63 she was among the first group of fellows at Villa I Tatti, Harvard’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence, to which she later returned as visiting faculty. The quality and significance of her work also earned research fellowships from all the major grantors in the field, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Gallery in Washington, and the Guggenheim and Getty Foundations.

Following early curatorial stints at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Frick Collection, Janet joined the faculty of Hunter College of the City University of New York in 1964. Her teaching career at CUNY spanned 42 years, the last six at the university’s Graduate Center, where she coordinated the doctoral Renaissance-Baroque specialization. She inspired her advanced Hunter classes to create ambitious exhibitions in the college gallery, notably Giulio Romano, Master Designer (1999), a drawing show featuring a catalog co-authored with her M.A. advisee at the time, Richard Aste. Outside academia, she co-curated the well-received 2010 exhibition The Drawings of Bronzino at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Besides scores of articles, lectures, and exhibition catalogs, Janet published three more major books. Though she continued to engage with her first love – drawings and connoisseurship – her methodological portfolio expanded into social history, particularly patronage and women’s studies. Dynasty and Destiny in Medici Art (1984) connected her favorite artist, Jacopo Pontormo, to the agenda of that ambitious Florentine family; Bronzino's Chapel of Eleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio (1993) analyzed a complex program commissioned by Eleonora di Toledo, Duchess of Florence; and The Collections of François I: Royal Treasures (1996) assembled a comprehensive study of the patronage of that splendid French monarch and the school of Fontainebleau. I once asked Janet (whom I valued as a gracious, yet strong-willed, CUNY colleague) how an italianista came to study a northern king. She explained that her husband Wiley had been planning a research year in Paris, and she wanted a project of her own that she could work on while she accompanied him there – hence a study of the greatest Gallic supporter of Italian artists. However pragmatic its origins, the resultant sumptuous book earned her the rank of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from the French government.

Fittingly, it was at the 2000 RSA conference in Florence that Janet introduced a new research interest that would occupy her for the next decade: costume studies. Her starting point was Agnolo Bronzino’s iconic portrait of Duchess Eleonora, spotlighting her elaborate and costly gown intended to convey wealth and authority. Being a woman who had modeled for a living, and always wore her own elegant wardrobe with the same panache, it came as no surprise that Janet organized several years of RSA panels on clothing as a primary outlet for female self-fashioning, or -- as one of her papers pithily titled it, embodying her culminating synthesis of fashion, patronage, politics, and feminism -- “Power Dressing.” She capped that interest with a delightful exhibition at the CUNY Graduate Center featuring detailed reconstructions of Eleonora’s famous outfit and others renowned from period paintings. It was partly for this work that she received an Annual Recognition Award from the College Art Association’s Committee on Women in the Arts in 2002.

Janet’s feminist awareness also made her a pioneering supporter of broader research on sexuality and gender. She chaired the art-history program committee for the 1986 College Art Association conference, which invited proposals for special sessions on wide-ranging methodological themes. Then a newly minted Ph.D. in a fledgling and controversial field, I feared my suggested symposium on homosexuality in art would land in the reject pile, but to my surprise, Janet phoned immediately and summoned me to discuss the proposal at her home. She accepted the idea on the spot, declaring with her customary firm conviction, “It’s about time”; the resultant panel did much to open the formerly conservative discipline to LGBT (later queer) studies. Janet herself subsequently organized a CUNY symposium on sexuality in Bronzino’s art and poetry that acknowledged all facets of the artist’s sometimes homoerotic works.

Janet’s first marriage was to art historian William Roger Rearick. Her second husband was the prominent CUNY musicologist H. Wiley Hitchcock, to whose children, Susan and Hugh, Janet became a devoted stepmother; he died in 2007. In 2012, she married Renaissance art historian Louis Waldman, from whom she later separated. He survives her, along with Susan and Hugh Hitchcock, her sister Cynthia Farris, and three nephews.

James M. Saslow
Professor Emeritus of Art History
Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

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