David Rosand ’59’s “Gift” of Casa Muraro in Venice
By Shira Boss-Bicak ’93, ’97J, ’98 SIPA
Michelangelo Muraro was an Italian art historian and past director of the Ca’ d’Oro museum known for his hospitality to foreign scholars, particularly Americans. He built a library of more than 7,000 volumes, many of them rare, on the art, architecture and history of Venice and the region of the Veneto. He died in 1991 and his wife, Maria Teresa Muraro, died in 2003. According to her will, the house with its library was given to Columbia the following year.
The four-story building is located behind Ca’ Dario, an early Renaissance palace on the Grand Canal. The house is no longer residential, but is being converted to a library, meeting place and study center, not only for art and architecture but also for the history, culture and environment of the city.
“The ultimate vision is for it to be Columbia’s address in Venice,” says Rosand, the Meyer Schapiro [’24] Professor of Art History.
The Departments of Art History and Archaeology and of Italian have been offering summer programs in Venice for the past three years and are planning a full year program. SEAS and the Architecture School also are interested in developing programs there related to global warming, lagoon studies, urban studies and architectural preservation.
With funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Muraro library is being catalogued as part of Avery Library’s collection, and Rosand will send his books there. He also is involved in restoring and conserving art and architecture in Venice as project director of Save Venice.
Rosand was born in Brooklyn and graduated from Brooklyn Tech H.S. At Columbia, he was a cartoonist and the editor of Jester. After college, he says, “I wanted to be a painter, an abstract expressionist.” Professor F.W. Dupee, who had been an undergraduate mentor to Rosand, offered a studio over the barn at his house on the Hudson for Rosand to pursue painting. “The prospect of being alone with a canvas so frightened me that I came back and threw myself into art history,” Rosand confesses. His career as an artist has since been confined to making large birthday cards for his sons, Jonathan ’88, ’94 P&S, and Eric ’95L, and three grandchildren.
Rosand took up graduate study of the Renaissance in Venice, the original home of oil painting on canvas. He first visited Venice on a summer trip in 1961, followed by a two- year residence there on a Fulbright grant and Columbia fellowship to work on his dissertation on Venetian drawings and guilds.
Rosand met Muraro through that scholar’s work on the Venetian guilds. “Muraro was unique in that he was interested in the social and economic history of art as well as its most technical aspects,” Rosand says. “As a museum director and superintendent of fine arts, he had great respect for the restorers and conservators of fresco and sculpture and architecture, with whom he worked closely all over Venice and the Veneto. Other art historians of his generation wouldn’t dream of getting their hands dirty.”
For 10 years, Rosand and his wife, Ellen, a musicologist who studies the history of Venetian opera and teaches at Yale, had an apartment in Venice. The couple now lives on Riverside Drive and in Guilford, Conn., commuting between the Ivy campuses. “Our kids sort of grew up there every summer,” Rosand says of Venice. “Our family became very much part of the Muraro family. I met so many colleagues at his dinner table at a time when Venice was a very parochial town and there was very little of that kind of intellectual sociability going on.”
Rosand has received the Alexander Hamilton Award from the College (1994), the Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates (1997) and the Award for Distinguished Service to the Core Curriculum from the Heyman Center for the Humanities (2000). “David really enjoys teaching and likes to sit around in the office and talk to people about what’s going on, not only academically but more broadly,” says James M. Saslow ’83 GSAS, a professor of art history at CUNY. “He has the idea that a student is a human being with a whole personality.”
Rosand says his most gratifying teaching in the College has been a seminar on themes in the art and literature of the Renaissance that he started with Professor Robert Hanning ’58 of the English department. “We invented it at The West End in 1968, as we were guarding our students from the police,” Rosand notes. The course, inspired by their College experience in the Colloquium on Great Books, debuted in 1970 with a syllabus based on “Myths of Love,” covering visual art and literature from Plato and Ovid to Michelangelo and Shakespeare. “Relatively few people would become that interdisciplinary if it took a lot of work,” Saslow says. During the next 35 years, the syllabus occasionally was crafted around “The Idea of Theater.”
“For us, it’s been a marvelous experience, and I think for the students as well,” Rosand says. “But I learned more from it, I am sure, than did the students.”
Rosand’s eighth book, published by Columbia University Press in 2004, was The Invention of Painting in America. Last year, he was honored by the Renaissance Society of America with its Paul Oskar Kristeller Award for Lifetime Achievement. He plans retirement in June 2010, followed by three years of emeritus teaching, one course per term. Rosand will continue to fundraise for and develop Casa Muraro as Columbia’s study center in Venice. He says, “I want Casa Muraro to be my legacy to alma mater.”