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Harvey Stahl, longtime UC Berkeley professor of art history, dies at 61
27 June 2002

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

Berkeley - Harvey Stahl, a longtime professor of medieval art and former chair of art history at the University of California, Berkeley, has died at the age of 61.

Stahl, who specialized in the history of medieval manuscript illumination and the Romanesque, Gothic and Later Byzantine periods of art, died at his home in the Berkeley hills on Saturday (June 22). He suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS.

Friends and family said his love of beauty, intellectual curiosity and "quiet wisdom" guided him though a life dedicated to art and scholarship. Stahl published and gave numerous papers principally on pictorial art, particularly manuscript illumination and fresco painting in the Romanesque and Gothic periods.

He was considered one of the most knowledgeable historians of Latin Crusader culture and pursued multiculturalism in art and culture. Stahl was one of the first medieval art historians to address questions of women's visual experience in the Middle Ages.

"Harvey's understanding that cross-cultural and cross-religious communication and conflict remains one of the great questions of our own age, as well as of the Middle Ages - that it requires the greatest care, tact, and knowledge to understand - might well be his lasting legacy to his special field, and to his colleagues and students more broadly," said Whitney Davis, chair of UC Berkeley's Department of Art History.

Born in Dallas, Texas, Stahl received a bachelor's degree from Tulane University in 1964 and a master's degree in 1966 from New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, where he earned his PhD in 1974. At the institute, he studied the history of medieval manuscript illumination with Hugo Buchtal. In 1983, Harvey and other students of Buchtal's organized their teacher's essays in a still-standard survey of the art of the Mediterranean world from 100 to 1400 A.D.

In his dissertation in 1974, Stahl studied a volume of Old Testament miniatures in the Morgan Library in New York, and from then on he worked on royal French manuscript illumination - especially the great Psalter of St. Louis in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, about which he became the world's expert.

The psalter belonged to King Louis IX of France and was produced between 1254, when Louis returned from his great Crusade, and 1270, when he died. Its calendar records the death of the king's brother, Robert of Artois, who was killed on a crusade in Egypt. The text is preceded by 78 miniatures illustrating Old Testament figures from Genesis to Kings.

Stahl recently taught a freshman seminar at UC Berkeley, introducing students to European medieval art through a selection of a dozen or so works of art in sculpture, fresco, mosaic, stained glass, architecture and other forms.

"In part because of his deep experience with book design in the later Middle Ages, Harvey did innovative work on problems of storytelling in French Gothic sculpture and in earlier medieval sculpture," Davis said.

Stahl and Joseph Duggan, a professor of French and associate dean of UC Berkeley's Graduate Division, co-taught a class on the medieval book in the spring of 2000. Stahl covered art history and Duggan covered the textual aspects. Each student picked a manuscript from either The Bancroft Library or the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles to study, and Stahl and Duggan took their students to the Getty. "It was a great experience," Duggan said.

"In part because of his deep experience with book design in the later Middle Ages, Harvey did innovative work on problems of storytelling in French Gothic sculpture and in earlier medieval sculpture," Davis said.

Stahl and his family spent time the following academic year in Rome, and learned upon their return to Berkeley that Stahl had ALS, Duggan said.

Stahl began his career working as a consultant to The Cloisters in New York from 1972-1973 and as assistant curator for the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters from 1970-1973.

Stahl served as an adjunct assistant professor at Parsons School of Design in New York and taught at Cooper Union College for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York and at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. He came to UC Berkeley to teach in 1980.

"As a scholar, he was meticulous and demanding - most of all of himself," said colleague Anne Wagner, a UC Berkeley professor of art history. "He brought to the department these same high standards of judgment, which helped to shape it, as well as an abiding love for art. He read broadly and deeply, and not only in medieval art."

Wagner recalled meeting Stahl by phone, before joining the university.

"In retrospect," she said, "I realize that the circumstances were characteristic and telling: Harvey was organizing the annual meeting of the College Art Association (the national professional body of art historians and artists). He made it the occasion to break with a tradition of pretty moribund meetings and to go about finding what was best and most innovative in our field."

Friends said he loved fine wines, reading, travel, medieval tapestries, illuminated manuscripts and gardening.

"Most of all, he loved his three boys: When he spoke of them, he glowed with the pleasure they brought him, and when I summon his image before me, his face is wearing that special look of joy," said Wagner.

Others said Stahl was fond of taking his sons for walks to area parks, on visits to local museums and traveling around the world.

Stahl also was devoted to his religion and his synagogue, helping to create and nurture Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley.

In 1965, Stahl was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and studied at the Louvre in Paris. He received an NYU Bernard Fellowship in memory of Robert Lehman in 1965 and the Chester Dale Fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1969.

Other honors include a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1976 and humanities research grants from UC Berkeley.

Stahl is survived by his wife, Marissa Moss; sons, Simon, Elias and Asa, all of Berkeley; brothers, Don and Sidney Stahl, both of Dallas, Texas; and his sister, Helen Rosenberg, also of Dallas.

Services were held in Richmond on Monday (June 24). The family asks that memorial contributions be made to the following: the UC Foundation Walter Horn Fund, The Bancroft Library, Doe Library Art History Collection; Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, or The Nature Conservancy.