A. Richard Turner, Leonardo da Vinci and Florentine Art Specialist, Dies at 79

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"Inventing Leonardo" (1993) by A. Richard Turner. (Photo: University of California Press)

A. Richard Turner, a renowned scholar of Renaissance art and a longtime teacher and administrator at New York University, died on Sept. 9, in Cape May, N.J., at the age of 79. The cause was lymphoma, The New York Times reported.

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Mr. Turner was perhaps best known for his 1993 work Inventing Leonardo, which charted the various biographies that succeeding generations crafted of the 15th-century artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci. Here’s The Times‘ William Grimes describing that celebrated work:

“The well-known reticence of Leonardo, whose notebooks were not published until the late 19th century, and the scarcity of his work have made him elusive prey for the art historian. Mr. Turner, spying an opportunity in this information vacuum, focused on the multiple Leonardos created by biographers, critics and artists from Vasari to Freud and beyond, each reshaping the artist and man according to his own cultural values and notions of creativity.”

Reviewing the book in The Los Angeles Times, critic Elaine Kendall wrote, “Few painters can withstand such intensive scrutiny as well as Leonardo, and fewer critics have ever examined the transitions as meticulously as Turner has done here.”

Mr. Turner also wrote sprawling studies of the art of Florence, one of his specialties, and landscape painting in Renaissance Italy.

From 1979 to 2000, Mr. Turner worked at New York University, serving as director of its Institute of Fine Arts, dean of the faculty of arts and science and director of the New York Institute for the Humanities.

A Renaissance man in the truest sense of the word, Mr. Turner was also avid bird watcher. Writes Mr. Grimes:

“…Mr. Turner would often leap up, grab his camera and run out the front door of his house in Cape May when he got word of a rare sighting. He spent much of his time at the Cape May Bird Observatory, where he was a volunteer. He was also a director of the New Jersey Audubon Society and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.”

A. Richard Turner, Leonardo da Vinci and Florentine Art Specialist, Dies at 79