Remembering Michael Mallory
Tuesday, October 17
6pm – 8pm
Brooklyn College Library
Woody Tanger Auditorium
2900 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
MICHAEL MALLORY, 1936-2017
After a battle with cancer, Michael Mallory died September 28. For more than half a century he was professor of renaissance and southern baroque art history in the Art Department and had served for 21 years, until recently, as Department Chair. He received his B.A. from Yale and his Ph.D from Columbia.
Although it is common practice here to note how popular an instructor was with students, for Professor Mallory it is no exaggeration. His students loved him both as a teacher and as a person. His student evaluations were extremely high and student comments were universally effusive; we did not find a single negative one. Years later visiting alumni often mention his class as the one they remember best. He was truly an exceptional teacher. He was extraordinarily helpful to students needing counseling or intercession with the administration. He was also loved by his colleagues and it seems by others that knew him all over the college. Finally he was very modest, dismissive of praise and the idea that he should be nominated for a teaching award.
Professor Mallory became famous––indeed one might almost say infamous––for his disattribution of a painting once considered a very important Italian early renaissance work and the city of Siena’s prime tourist attraction, Guidoriccio da Fogliano at the Siege of Montemassi, a large fresco in the Palazzo Publico (City Hall) purportedly by Simone Martini. It took Mallory and his collaborator, Gordon Moran, years to prove and to convince a skeptical art-history world that it was a later anonymous pastiche purposely done in an earlier style. They met tremendous resistance at first by many art historians, by the city of Siena itself, and by important art institutions, and early on were refused publication in some major journals that thought their thesis too radical. Today their conclusions are universally accepted, those opposing them having been won over (or died), with later editions of art history textbooks dropping all mention of the work. Such disputes get little attention in the United States, but the European and especially the Italian press followed it all enthusiastically. A large carton in Mallory’s now empty office is filled with press clippings. One of our favorites is a cartoon showing Guidoriccio lying on a psychoanalyst’s couch, in the same armor he wears in the fresco, his horse tethered to the couch, and Mallory in the analyst’s chair saying something like, “Let us explore your identity crisis a little further.” If you wonder how he survived these very acrimonious years, Professor Mallory possessed an understated mischievous streak and a mordant vein of humor and we think on some level he rather enjoyed it all.