When I was a student at Barnard, the star of the art-history department was the exacting, charismatic Julius S. Held, a former assistant at Berlin’s Kaiser Friedrich Museum, a world-renowned expert on Flemish and Dutch art, and the college’s link with the great tradition of German scholarship driven into exile by the Second World War. If you were an art-history major, you knew that you took the Northern Renaissance course only when Dr. Held was teaching it and that you had to be, at all costs, part of his connoisseurship seminar, held in front of actual works of art in New York museums. (Sometimes, thrillingly, we went behind the scenes.) The most sought-after of his courses was a year-long survey of European art that attracted amazing numbers of majors and non-majors alike; the sheer size of the class was notable in an era when classes like the one I took in Italian language and literature, with an enrollment of three (I remember it with terror),...


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