Barkan, Leonard 1944–

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Barkan, Leonard 1944–


Born October 6, 1944, in New York, NY. Education: Swarthmore College, B.A., 1965; Harvard University, M.A., 1967; Yale University, Ph.D., 1971.


OfficePrinceton University, Department of Comparative Literature, 133 East Pyne, Princeton, NJ 08544. E-mail[email protected].


Yale University, New Haven, CT, lecturer in English, 1970-71; University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, assistant professor of English and comparative literature, 1971-74; Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, associate professor of English, beginning in 1974; New York University, New York, NY, professor of humanities, English and fine arts, and director of New York Institute for the Humanities, 1997-2001; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Arthur W. Marks '19 professor of comparative literature and director of Society of Fellows.


American Academy of Arts and Sciences, New York Institute for the Humanities.


Christian Gauss Award, for The Gods Made Flesh; Howard Foundation fellowship; National Endowment for the Humanities award; Harry Levin Prize, American Comparative Literature Association, 2001, for Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture; has received additional honors from Phi Beta Kappa, Modern Language Association, College Art Association, and PEN.


Nature's Work of Art: The Human Body as Image of the World, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1975.

(Editor) Renaissance Drama: The Celebratory Mode, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1978.

(Editor) Renaissance Drama in the Theatre, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1979.

Renaissance Drama: Comedy, New Series X, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1981.

Renaissance Drama: Relations and Influences, New Series XIV, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1984.

Renaissance Drama: Modes, Motifs, and Genres, New Series XV, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1986.

The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis and the Pursuit of Paganism, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1986.

Transuming Passion: Ganymede and the Erotics of Humanism, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1991.

Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1999.

Satyr Square: A Year, a Life in Rome, Farrar (New York, NY), 2006.

Author of introduction, Patrick Faigenbaum: Roman Portraits, Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL), 1988. Contributor to literature and drama journals. Wine editor, Gambero Rosso.


Among Leonard Barkan's writings is Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture. The "sensitive study," wrote Ingrid Rowland in New York Review of Books, focuses on the period "in the fifteenth century … [during which] the statues [of ancient Rome] took on a new, and perhaps an unparalleled, importance." Statues were both plentiful and prominent in ancient Roman life and, informed Rowland, across the course of Roman history. Through the rise of Christianity and destruction by vandals and invaders, many statues eventually vanished. Around the turn of the sixteenth century, ancient sculptures, such as Laocooen, were rediscovered in Rome and caused quite a stir. At that time, various investigators tried to piece together the artistic works, place them in a historical framework, and mark their contemporary significance. "The excitements and puzzlements of the quest are conjured up for us," remarked Garry Wills in the New York Times Book Review. "What he does so brilliantly for the Laocooen, Barkan goes on to do for other statues literally unearthed or otherwise brought to light during the Renaissance—the Spinario (boy taking thorn from foot), the Arrotino (man sharpening knife), the sleeping Ariadne, the Pasquino (soldier carrying a body), various river gods, various crouching Venuses, the sleeping Hermaphrodite … [and the] most important … the Belvedere torso."

"Most of the statues that knit together ancient and Renaissance Rome came forth from the ground, battered, discolored, robbed of context, and all the more powerfully suggestive for their incompleteness. Centuries of silt deposited by the river Tiber's periodic floods had conspired with trash, dust, slops, and decaying masonry to raise Rome's streets and piazzas high above the level of ancient ground," wrote Rowland, adding, "the statues that came to light in the Renaissance were a chance sample, including the best, the worst, and, in great profusion, the average." Rowland further explained: "Meaning, as Barkan argues eloquently, lies in the imaginations of those first beholders of the emerging statues, whose differing tastes he chronicles with sympathy and insight. There was, he writes, a huge, puzzling discrepancy between ancient literary accounts of the great artists … and the anonymous works that came forth from the Roman earth. Signed pieces like the Belvedere Torso preserved names of artists unknown to the critics of antiquity. Yet that gulf between past and present, Barkan maintains, created what he calls a ‘sparking distance’ in which the bolt of inspiration could reach its flash point."

Barkan analyzes the influence that the rediscovered statues had on Renaissance artists. Much of Barkan's focus is directed toward their effect on Michelangelo's work. "A continuing sidelight of Barkan's discussion concerns the sexual life of statues, from Pygmalion's mythic Galatea, brought to life by the power of love, to Praxiteles' provocative Venus of Cnidos," noted Rowland. Wills, who was very impressed with Unearthing the Past, was disappointed that in addressing "misattributions" by some sixteenth-century investigators, "he does not explore the possibility—now a near certainty—that the [Belvedere] torso is not of Hercules but of Marsyas." Nevertheless, Wells lauded Barkan's "finely textured discussion … rich in suggestion and analysis," concluding that "it is not the least of the book's many virtues that it prompts further speculation."

In Satyr Square: A Year, a Life in Rome, Barkan chronicles his sabbatical in Italy, which he spent researching ancient sculptures for his book Unearthing the Past. At first lonely and depressed, Barkan ventured out into the city, touring the Pantheon and the Vatican, among other sights, and eventually finding companionship with the members of a wine-tasting group. "Blending tales of his solo wanderings with lavish descriptions of feasting and feuding, Barkan flirts with art appreciation … and political commentary," observed New York Times Book Review critic Alida Becker. "As Barkan reads into Rome, Rome ‘reads’ him," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, and Booklist reviewer Thom Barthelmess stated that "the arc of his story is resilient."



Booklist, July 1, 2006, Thom Barthelmess, review of Satyr Square: A Year, a Life in Rome, p. 23.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2006, review of Satyr Square, p. 608.

Library Journal, June 1, 2006, Linda M. Kaufmann, review of Satyr Square, p. 130.

New York Review of Books, June 29, 2000, Ingrid Rowland, "Born Again in Rome," review of Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture, pp. 27-28, 30.

New York Times Book Review, February 13, 2000, Garry Wills, "Anatomy Lesson," review of Unearthing the Past; December 3, 2006, Alida Becker, "Travel," review of Satyr Square, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, June 5, 2006, review of Satyr Square, p. 45.

Times Literary Supplement, March 26, 1976, review of Nature's Work of Art: The Human Body as Image of the World, p. 354.


American Comparative Literature Association, (June 20, 2007), "Leonard Barkan."

Princeton Alumni Weekly, (January 24, 2007), Jane Carr, "A Year in Rome," review of Satyr Square.