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   Meyer Schapiro collection, 1919-2006.

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Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Meyer Schapiro Collection; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information


This collection encompasses the professional, personal, and artistic life of art historian Meyer Schapiro.

At a Glance

Call No.:MS#1121
Bib ID:7467251 View CLIO record
Creator(s):Schapiro, Meyer, 1904-1996.
Title:Meyer Schapiro collection, 1919-2006.
Physical description:398 linear ft. (333 document boxes, 53 record storage cartons, 23 small flat boxes (15 inch depth), 16 medium flat boxes (21 inch depth), 13 large flat boxes (31 inch depth), 73 index card boxes, 220 audiotape boxes, 6 glass plate negative boxes, and 2 objects)
Language(s): Material is in English, French, and German.
Access: This collection has no restrictions. The following boxes are located off-site: [55-665, 672-686]. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. Boxes 1-54 from Series VIII: Works of art remain on-site as do the glass plate negative boxes 666-671. This collection has no restrictions.  More information »



This collection is arranged in VIII series:

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Scope and Content

The collection of art historian Meyer Schapiro contains a vast range of material documenting the professor's personal, professional, and artistic life. The collection encompasses Schapiro's early academic training to his rise as a prominent theorist and historian of Medieval, Romanesque, Impressionist, and Modern art. His personal life is documented through early school records, course notes from college, typescripts and notes relating to his masters thesis and doctoral dissertation, and photographs and notebooks from his travels abroad between 1927 through 1957. The collection also houses an extensive set of Schapiro's own art work in various mediums that spans from the early 1920s through the 1980s.

Schapiro was at the center of many artistic and political debates from the 1930s through the 1990s and his correspondence in the collection reflects his ongoing support of academics, artists, and philosophers. This includes his efforts to aid German and Jewish refugees of World War II.

Schapiro's professional activities as a professor and lecturer are strongly represented in the collection. Materials include transcripts, outlines, research notes, and audio recordings of his lectures, many of which formed the basis for his written corpus. Also in the collection is Schapiro's extensive research notes on subject matter relating to art, politics, and sociology that are arranged alphabetically by subject.

Included in the collection is a substantial array of Schapiro's published and unpublished writings, including articles, essays, manuscripts, published works, reviews, translations and poetry. Schapiro's intellectual curiosity necessitated his own constant reappraisal of his professional written work. This includes editing, clarifying, and expanding upon typescripts, outlines, and notes relating to lectures that he foresaw as being published.

A constant source of support for Schapiro's professional and artistic output was his wife, Lillian Milgram Schapiro. After Schapiro's death, she would work to complete projects that Schapiro began and oversaw the management of his legacy. As a result, material in the collection that post-dates Schapiro's death in 1996 was generated by Lillian Milgram Schapiro and is noted throughout the finding aid.

Series I: Personal papers, 1919-2001

Materials in this series comprise records from Schapiro's personal and educational life and also include documentation from notable milestones in his career.

Subseries: I.1: Awards, degrees, and prizes, 1959-1995

Records in this subseries reflect achievements that Schapiro was recognized for in the form of awards, degrees, and prizes. This includes awards such as Commandeur de l'Order des Arts et des Lettres from the French government, honorary doctorates from various universities and colleges, and prizes such as the CAA Special Award for Lifetime Achievement given by the College Art Association of America. Materials include actual degrees and certificates, correspondence relating to these achievements, and associated publicity material. The subseries is divided further into sub-subseries by the following title designations: Sub-Subseries: I.1.1: Awards, 1959-1995, Sub-Subseries: I.1.2: Degrees, 1966-1988, Sub-Subseries: I.1.3: Prizes, 1979-1985

Subseries: I.2: Biography Files, 1927-2001

The bulk of this subseries includes Schapiro's collected articles and clippings that referenced him. Schapiro continually collected such material beginning in the late 1920s. Additionally, there are several of Schapiro's own auto-biographical writings relating to key events in his life. Also included are his daily diaries and biographies written by other scholars.

Subseries: I.3: Dedications and eulogies, 1980-1996

This subseries contains material pertaining to official recognitions bestowed to Schapiro and eulogies either delivered by him to fellow friends and those given during Schapiro's funeral. This subseries is divided into the following categories to facilitate the retrieval of records: Sub-Subseries: I.3.1: Dedications, 1980-1996, Sub-Subseries: I.3.2: Eulogies, 1996.

Subseries: I.4: Exhibitions, , 1950, 1960-1989

While Schapiro is well known for his art historical scholarship, he also curated art exhibitions and exhibited art works he himself created. This subseries includes materials from an exhibit he co-curated alongside Clement Greenberg in 1950 at the Kootz Gallery titled "Talent 1950: 23 artists receive a showing under the sponsorship of Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg." There is also substantial material relating to the exhibition "Meyer Schapiro: works of art, 1919-1970" held at Columbia University's Wallach Art Gallery which showcased Schapiro's own art work. Consult Series VIII: Works of art, 1920s-1980s, for a full listing of works of art held in this collection. Additionally, this subseries includes materials relating to exhibits were portraits of Schapiro were included, where works of art dedicated to him were exhibited, or where exhibitions in his honor were curated.

Subseries: I.5: Photographs, 1928-1990s

This subseries documents portrait photographs of Meyer Schapiro or those taken by him. This subseries is divided into two sub-subseries which reflects this arrangement. For photographs that were ordered, purchased, or collected for research purposes by Schapiro, consult Series V: Research files, Subseries: V.6: Reproductions. Photographs used or considered for use in publications are housed with their respective titles in Series IV: Writings, Subseries: IV.5: Publications.

Subseries: I.6: Private Collection, 1961-1998

Files in Subseries: I.6 document the management and administration of Meyer and Lillian Milgram Schapiro’s private art collection, including lists, notes, appraisals, condition reports, exhibition loan agreements, and gifts given to assorted art and cultural institutions.

Subseries: I.7: School Records, 1919-1929

Material in subseries I.7 includes Schapiro's earliest records in the collection, a 1919 student newsletter he edited for the Latin club at Boys High school Brooklyn. The bulk of this subseries, however, is focused on Schapiro's college days at Columbia University. This includes his student notes of college courses, notes and typescripts for his 1926 master's thesis ("The sculptures of Moissac"), and, finally, material focused on his doctoral dissertation which was completed in 1929 ("The Romanesque sculpture of Moissac"). Schapiro was one of the three first recipients to be awarded a masters degree in fine arts at Columbia University and his doctoral dissertation was the first in fine arts and archeology at the university. For further materials relating to Schapiro’s doctoral dissertation, also consult Series V: Research files, Subseries: V.5 under the subject term Saint-Pierre (Abbey : Moissac, Tarn-et-Garonne, France).

Subseries: I.8: Travel notebooks, 1926-1990s

In 1926, Schapiro received a grant from the Carnegie Corporation to research his doctoral dissertation on Romanesque sculpture. That trip, which lasted 15 months, provided Schapiro with first hand visual experience with architectural works he had only known through reproductions and texts. This subseries includes his complete travel notebooks and is organized by country and/or city.

Since these travel notebooks were compiled by Schapiro by region traveled, they are occasionally not individual, discrete notebooks and are therefore described by leave count and dimensions. In the event where an actual notebook is intact, it will be described as such. Consult Series V: Research files, Subseries: V.5: Research notes under the appropriate subject heading for other drawings and notes created during Schapiro’s travels. Also consult Subseries: I.5: Photographs, Sub-Subseries: I.5.2: Travel photographs for photographs taken during his 1926 trip and that complement the notebooks in this subseries.

The 2007 publication Meyer Schapiro abroad: letters to Lillian and travel notebooks reproduced several sheets of Schapiro's travel notebooks from the years 1926 through 1927. Items in that publication reproduced material in this subseries and also items from Series V: Research files, Subseries: V.5: Research notes, especially for notes relating to illuminated manuscripts.

In the 1980s and 1990s, several leaves were detached and placed on mats, these are also arranged by country and/or city.

This subseries is arranged as follows: Sub-Subseries I.8.1: Notebooks, 1926-1974, Sub-Subseries I.8.2: Detached leaves and tourist maps, 1927-1947.

Series II : Correspondence, 1920s-2001

Schapiro was a central figure in many important circles that range from art history, philosophy, architecture, sociology, science, and pedagogy. His reach is evident with those he kept in correspondence with throughout his life. Series II contains a substantial list of figures that are famous or well known in their field and illustrates how active Schapiro was in his professional and personal life.

Schapiro did not differentiate his correspondence files between the personal and the professional. While he maintained and organized correspondence alphabetically by an individual's last name, he did not organize to the individual level. For example, files designated as "B" included material in several folders that span seven decades. Each folder housed a variety of individuals with a last name beginning with "B" or an institutional name that began with that letter.

To clarify and bring entities and constituents to the foreground, all correspondence was systematically organized by individual or institution if they were either noteworthy or if they maintained a high volume of correspondence with Schapiro. For individuals and institutions not listed by name, consult the "general" correspondence files alphabetically.

For Schapiro, materials in his correspondence files also served as subject files for individuals. Schapiro would collect clippings, articles, and other printed material relating to specific individual and file them with correspondence. These items have remained intact and kept as Schapiro filed them with the individual's last name in designated folders.

Individuals working for specific entities such as universities, museums, and other institutions were also filed alphabetically according to either their last name or by their affiliation depending on Schapiro's choosing. If an individual is not listed in this series by last name, also consult institutions by name.

Correspondence that post-dates Schapiro’s death were generated by his wife Lillian Milgram Schapiro and maintained in this series.

Correspondence found in other series of this collection was retained in their original files to preserve the context of the records they are associated with. When present, "correspondence" is indicated as a represented record type at the file level to facilitate their retrieval.

Series III: Professional Papers, 1929-1990

Series III encompasses all records affiliated with Schapiro's academic and professional life, this includes materials relating to lectures that were delivered outside his formal academic appointments.

Subseries: III.1: Administrative Records, 1950s-1990s

Files in this subseries are representative of the daily administrative functions of Schapiro's role as a professor, scholar, and academic. They include requests for letters of recommendation, requests for interviews, and other assorted office files that pertain to his academic position. This includes materials for general courses, fellowship applications, and other files directly related to his standing as a university professor.

Subseries: III.2: Courses, 1929-1977

While predominantly known as a professor at Columbia University, Schapiro also taught courses at the New School for Social Research, New York University, and other institutions. This subseries groups these course materials and is further arranged by institution.

Subseries: III.3: Lectures, 1930s-1980s

Outside of his formal academic teaching, Schapiro was a prominent international lecturer in art history and other related disciplines. Materials in this subseries reflect his formal participation in a variety of academic and non-academic settings as a professional lecturer, visiting scholar, or visiting fellow. This includes material from Schapiro's 1967 Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard University and his 1968 lecture on Abstract art from the Slade Lectures in the Fine Arts at Oxford University. Other prominent lectures include "The unity of Picasso's art" delivered at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in 1973 and the lecture "An experiment in the coherence of forms" given at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in the 1970s.

Several of these lectures have been recorded and are housed in Series VII: Sound and video recording, Subseries: VII.2: Audiocassettes and audiotapes. Those lectures that have been recorded will be indicated as such after the lecture title in this sub-subseries. Additionally, these lectures are also cross-referenced in Series VII, Subseries: VII.2.

To facilitate discovery and retrieval, this subseries is divided chronologically by decade as follows: Sub-Subseries: III.3.1: 1930s, Sub-Subseries: III.3.2: 1940s, Sub-Subseries: III.3.3: 1950s, Sub-Subseries: III.3.4: 1960s, Sub-Subseries: III.3.5: 1970s, Sub-Subseries: III.3.6: 1980s.

Subseries: III.4: Committees, memberships, and professional affiliations, 1972-1990

Subseries: III.4 documents Schapiro's professional role as a member in committees and professional affiliations. The subseries is further arranged by area of professional affiliation as follows: Sub-Subseries: III.4.1: Committees, 1972-1978, Sub-Subseries: III.4.2: Memberships, 1969-1989, Sub-Subseries: III.4.3: Professional affiliations, 1989-1990.

Series IV: Writings

This series houses all of Schapiro's writings, from published articles, books, and reviews, to unpublished manuscripts, essays, and translations. For writings that were published during Schapiro's lifetime, the 1995 publication Meyer Schapiro: the bibliography compiled by Lillian Milgram Schapiro was used throughout this series for consistency and to source where articles and reviews first appeared. Information relating to all material published posthumously and that post-dates the 1995 bibliography were retrieved from the archival material itself.

Subseries: IV.1: Administrative records, 1960s-2003

Files in this subseries contain records that aided in the administrative management of Schapiro's writings. The bulk of this material comprises lists of published and unpublished writings.

Subseries: IV.2: Articles, 1929-1994

Schapiro began publishing articles focused on art and architecture as early as 1929, the year he completed his doctoral dissertation. By 1931, the journal Art Bulletin published parts of his dissertation "The Romanesque Sculpture of Moissac." Since those early years, Schapiro continually published articles in newspapers, journals, and other serials throughout his life. This subseries contains only those articles that have been published, for unpublished works, consult Subseries: IV.3: Essays, Subseries: IV.4: Manuscripts, and Subseries: IV.8: Translations and Poetry in this series. For publications, consult Subseries: IV.5: Publications.

All bibliographic information in this subseries was retrieved from Lillian Milgram Schapiro's 1995 publication Meyer Schapiro: the bibliography published by George Braziller Inc. Bibliographic information is provided for an article's original publication, consult the published bibliography for information on reprinted versions.

To facilitate the discovery of records, this subseries is arranged chronologically by decade as follows: Sub-Subseries: IV.2.1: 1929-1930s, Sub-Subseries: IV.2.2: 1940s, Sub-Subseries: IV.2.3: 1950s, Sub-Subseries: IV.2.4: 1960s, Sub-Subseries: IV.2.5: 1970s, Sub-Subseries: IV.2.6: 1980s.

Subseries: IV.3: Essays, 1930s-1990s

Writings in this subseries constitute work that has never been published. These individual essays were originally housed with material found in Series V: Research files, Subseries: V.5: Research notes. What differentiated these texts from Schapiro's unorganized research notes is that he provided these essays with a clear title heading, allowing them to be well defined individual texts. Given their subject and title specificity, they have been organized chronologically in this subseries to facilitate their discovery. These essays are either in the format of prose or are prepared as outlines. Consult Series V: Research files, Subseries: V.5: Research notes for related material and on the arrangement of those records.

Subseries: IV.4: Manuscripts, 1930s-2002

Subseries IV.4 contains unpublished material that Schapiro wrote, organized, and edited for intended publication. Among the titles included in this subseries are "The content of modern art: studies in the painting of the end of the nineteenth century from Manet to Munch," "Pablo Picasso's Guernica, " "The serpent with a woman's head in the temptation of Eve: researches on the invention of an image," and "Relativity and the interpretation of modern painting."

Schapiro continually revisited and reworked his previous writings, transcripts, and research notes to compile these manuscripts. As a result, work on one single manuscript could cross several decades and, after Schapiro's death, would continue to be worked on by his wife Lillian Milgram Schapiro. In each individual instance, original order created by Schapiro or his wife Lillian Milgram Schapiro was maintained. Every effort was made to contextualize these manuscripts by highlighting historical documentation contained elsewhere in the collection to give these writings a fuller understanding. To that end, included after each title are arrangement notes for how the manuscript is organized, their organizational structure, and, if applicable, the rationale on the final title chosen

Subseries: IV.5: Publications, 1928-2009

Subseries IV.5 contains material relating to all of Schapiro's work that were published either in his lifetime or posthumously. This includes material from all of his "Selected Writings" series published by George Braziller, Inc. a s well as books that were published posthumously and edited and compiled by Lillian Milgram Schapiro.

For articles and reviews that were reprinted in Schapiro's "Selected Writings" series, consult Subseries: IV.2: Articles and Subseries: IV.6: Reviews where they are filed.

While the bulk of the material dates after 1950, the earliest record in this subseries is Art in the contemporary world a 1928 reprint of An introduction to contemporary civilization in the west: a syllabus.

Subseries: IV.6: Reviews, 1930-1972

Schapiro wrote reviews about books and exhibitions throughout his career. This subseries contains all his reviews and are organized chronologically. For consistency, bibliographic information was retrieved from Lillian Milgram Schapiro's bibliography of 1995. Early in his career, Schapiro would occasionally use the pseudonym John Kwait for publishing reviews. According to Lillian Milgram Schapiro's bibliography, Kwait is Schapiro's maternal grandmother's surname. File descriptions will indicate when the pseudonym has been used.

(Early in his career, Schapiro would occasionally use the pseudonym John Kwait for publishing reviews. According to Lillian Milgram Schapiro's published bibliography on Schapiro's work, Kwait is Schapiro's maternal grandmother's surname. File descriptions will indicate when the pseudonym has been used)

Subseries: IV.7: Scrapbooks, 1928-1966

The scrapbooks found in this subseries were compiled by Schapiro and include articles and clippings of Schapiro's work written from eh 1930s to the 1960s. The scrapbooks' titles mirror the volumes of his collected work published by George Braziller and may have been the basis for the organization of those publications.

Subseries: IV.8: Translations and poetry, 1930s-1943

Schapiro was a well known linguist and wrote several essays on language and semiotics. It comes as no surprise then that he also translated texts, predominantly those that are French. Of all his translations, only two were formally published: the 1943 translation of Andre Masson's Anatomy of My Universe, of which Schapiro was not credited; and "Three Texts on Science ("A Dream"); Wit and Common Sense; Genius and Method (Lichtenberg, Diderot, Galiani)" published by Anon in 1973.

The bulk of this subseries, however, is dedicated to Schapiro's translations of Charles Baudelaire's texts. Since there were very limited English translations of Baudelaire's writings on art and culture at the time, Schapiro worked on translating them beginning in the 1930s. According to files in this subseries, there were plans to publish these translations, as Baudelaire's work in English had yet to materialize, but that project was never realized.

Also included in this subseries is an extensive file of poems that Schapiro wrote.

Series V: Research files, 1930s-1990s

Schapiro was fastidious about collecting research material and of creating and collecting material for research purposes. Series V houses all of Schapiro's research material he used on a personal and professional level.

Subseries: V.1: Administrative records, 1950s-1980s

This subseries contains administrative records relating to Schapiro's research files.

Subseries: V.2: Articles and clippings, 1930s-1980s

The articles and clippings amassed in this subseries were collected by Schapiro at his faculty office in Schermerhorn Hall at the Department of Art History and Archeology at Columbia University, where they resided prior to being transferred to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 2009 and 2010.

These files are organized alphabetically by author's last name or by subject matter. Many of these articles and clippings are given as personalized copies for Schapiro and include annotated notes and signatures by the authors.

Subseries: V.3: Bibliographies, 1930s-1960s

Schapiro maintained index cards filled with bibliographies related to art historical periods, artists, and subjects. Material in this subseries comprises the bulk of these bibliographies, which are unsorted. Also consult Subseries: V.4: Research card files where bibliographies are also present and are indicated as such.

Subseries: V.4: Research card files, 1930s-1980s

Schapiro took notes meticulously throughout his life, and this subseries reflects his consistent habit of note taking. Schapiro organized these 4 x 6 index cards thematically by subject and all the contents in this subseries were originally housed in metallic filing cabinets. All subjects titled in the finding aid are Schapiro's own file headings found sequentially in the note cards.

Since all material is organized as they were originally ordered by Schapiro, material relating to a subject may run across boxes. As a result, all subject terms in brackets are supplied when original headings lack the context from which they are derived in earlier boxes or when file headings do not exist.

Subseries: V.5: Research notes, 1920s-1990s

Subseries: V.5 contains the heart of Schapiro's research files and includes notes from a wide range of subjects. Although Schapiro was scrupulous about creating research notes, he was less concerned with how the notes were stored and filed. As a result, many of his research files contained a plethora of material that was not related to each other in either content or subject. As a result, material was organized and grouped according to the subject of the contents. For notes relating to the illumination of books and manuscripts, Schapiro organized material either by repository in which the codex is located or by region from which it was created. Physical folders indicate manuscript numbers which are represented in the file. Material related to illumination of books and manuscripts were reproduced in the 2007 publication Meyer Schapiro abroad: letters to Lillian and travel notebooks.

Schapiro wrote many research notes that are interrelated with other subjects in the collection. In this light, material in this subseries can be used in conjunction with records in other series of this collection.

Unlike Subseries: V.4, files in Subseries V.5 are organized by subject headings that are derived from the Library of Congress Subject Headings based on the contents of the records housed in the files. In the event that Schapiro’s own subject heading are too unique to be mapped to a Library of Congress Subject Heading, his own titles were utilized.

Subseries: V.6: Reproductions, 1930s-1990s

Reproductions in this subseries are photographs obtained by Schapiro from libraries, museums, and visual resource centers for research purposes. The reproductions provide a visual documentation to the works of art and architecture Schapiro consulted while writing, researching, and conducting university courses.

Files are organized by artists or subjects headings using the Union List of Artists Names and the Library of Congress Subject Headings respectively. Unique subject headings that were created by Schapiro and not found in the Library of Congress Subject Headings were retained for their unique. Reproductions of illuminated manuscripts are filed by repository or geographic location where they are held. For photographs used in publications or lectures, consult those respective series.

Series VI: Exhibition announcements, invitations, and press releases, 1920-2001

Alongside Schapiro's academic background in Medieval and Romanesque art, he was very passionate about art of his contemporary time and of maintaining close relationships with working artists. Schapiro was a central figure in the art community of New York City since the 1930s and he visited art galleries and exhibitions throughout his life. Series VI is a collection of exhibition announcements, invitations, and press releases from New York City galleries that were sent to Schapiro and collected by him starting from 1920. After his death, Schapiro's wife, Lillian Milgram Schapiro, continued to receive and collect these materials until 2001.

These collection exhibition announcements and invitations give a micro-history of New York City through the lens of the art gallery. Items in this series record who owned galleries, where their spaces were located, which artists were exhibited across time, and what art works were shown.

Prior to being integrated into this collection in 2009, these materials were maintained in filing cabinets and housed at Columbia University's Visual Media Center located in Schermerhorn Hall.

The original filing structure organized by Schapiro was maintained, which grouped an artist's last name in alphabetic and chronologic batches. Group exhibitions were filed in their own groupings chronologically. To facilitate retrieval of archival material, all files were consolidated following a consistent alphabetic pattern and subdivided into the following subseries: Subseries: VI.1: 1920-1942, Subseries: VI.2: A-E, 1943-2001, Subseries: VI.3: F-L, 1943-2001, Subseries: VI.4: M-R, 1943-2001, Subseries: VI.5: S-Z, 1943-2001, Subseries: VI.6: Group exhibitions, 1945-2001, Subseries: VI.7: Oversize, 1930s-1990s.

Series VII: Sound and video recordings, 1952-1990s

Series VII chiefly houses a substantial set Schapiro's recorded lectures from the 1950s through the 1980s. It also includes a video recording created in 1988 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art which incorporates sound from Schapiro's lecture "The unity of Picasso's art" with images from the museum's permanent collection.

Subseries: VII.1: Administrative records, 1985-1990s

The administrative records housed in this subseries are related to the sound recordings found in Subseries VII.2. Prior to Columbia University's custodianship of Schapiro's sound recordings of his lectures, he donated his collection of audiotapes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The records in this subseries document the history of the museum's custodianship of the recordings in the form of correspondence, inventories and lists that were generated by the Office of Film and Television of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. There is also a small volume of records relating to the video recording "The unity of Picasso's art" which is housed in Subseries: VII.3.

Subseries: VII.2: Audiocassettes and Audiotapes, 1952-1982

Known for his vivid and lively lectures, these sound recordings document Schapiro's lectures that were delivered from 1952 to 1982. These recordings also demonstrate Schapiro's extemporaneous style and pedagogical method and add an aural dimension to the archival documents relating to Schapiro's lectures in Series III of this collection.

Prior to being housed at Columbia University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held custody of these sound recordings. During their custodianship, the museum reformatted the audio into audiocassettes to facilitate access to the material. This subseries includes both one set of the duplicated audiocassettes created by the museum and the original audiotapes.

For lecture titles, locations, and dates, both the inventories created by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1980s and the archival material housed in Series III: Professional papers, Subseries: III.3: Lectures were used against each other to fact check annotations found on the audiotape reels. The data used in this subseries reflects a systemization that incorporates elements from all primary sources and remains consistent with descriptive data relating to lectures found in Series III. For instances where the sound recording is the only record in the collection, titles were supplied from actual boxes holding the audio tape reels.

All sound recordings in this subseries that contain archival material in Series III are indicated after the lecture's title and are also cross-referenced with lecture material in Series III.

Preservation notes following the title of the recordings were retrieved from the inventories and condition reports the Metropolitan Museum of Art created in the 1980s. Unless otherwise noted, all sound tape reels are the standard ¼ inch width and sound cassettes are 3 7/8 x 2 1/2 inch.

Series VIII: Works of art, 1920s-1980s

Schapiro began his artistic practice early in his life when, in his teens, he attended evening art classes taught by artist John Sloan at the Hebrew Settlement House. Schapiro would continually sketch, draw, paint, and sculpt throughout his life, and this series houses the single largest collection of his works of art.

Included in this collection are prints, drawings paintings, sculptures, printing plates, linoleum printing blocks, and sketchbooks from the 1920s through the 1980s. They include images he created at Columbia University, during his trips abroad in Europe and the Near East, portraits of his wife Lillian Milgram Schapiro, and friends, such as Whittaker Chambers.

For Schapiro, the practice of art and the academic pursuit of the art historical discipline were two sides of the same token. Many of his drawings and paintings reflect his interest in issues of form, content, and visual perception, issues pertinent to his writings on art theory.

In 1987, 65 of Schapiro's art works were displayed in the exhibition "Meyer Schapiro: Works of Art, 1919-1979" at Columbia University's Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery. Consult Series I: Personal papers, Subseries: I.4: Exhibitions for records relating to that exhibition.

For all other administrative records relating to Schapiro's works of art, Subseries: VIII.1: Administrative records, 1980s-1990s

The works of art in this series are divided by medium to facilitate discovery of the material as follows: Subseries: VIII.2: Prints and drawings, 1920s-1980s, Subseries: VIII.3: Paintings, 1930s-1980s, Subseries: VIII.4: Sculptures and printing plates, 1930s-1980s, Subseries: VIII.5: Linoleum printing blocks, circa 1930s-1960s, Subseries: VIII.6: Sketchbooks, 1960s.

Subseries VIII.5: Linoleum printing blocks, circa 1930s-1960s

Box 50 contains the original Linoleum printing blocks for the prints found in box 24 and box 25.

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Using the Collection

Partially Offsite

Access Restrictions

 This collection has no restrictions. The following boxes are located off-site: [55-665, 672-686]. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. Boxes 1-54 from Series VIII: Works of art remain on-site as do the glass plate negative boxes 666-671.

This collection has no restrictions.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Meyer Schapiro Collection; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Material

Meyer Schapiro letters and manuscripts of Whittaker Chambers and James Thomas Farrell, 1923-1991, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Papers processed 2009-2010 Farris Wahbeh

Finding aid written 2009-2010 Farris Wahbeh

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion May 26, 2010 Finding aid written in English.
    2010-05-26 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz
    2018-08-31 xml document instance validation errors corrected by Catherine C. Ricciardi

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Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Columbia University--Faculty.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Columbia University.--Dept. of Art History and Archeology.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Schapiro, Meyer, 1904-1996PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Schapiro, Meyer, 1904-1996--Bibliography.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Schapiro, Meyer, 1904-1996--Correspondence.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Schapiro, Meyer, 1904-1996--Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
World War, 1939-1945--Europe.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

Meyer Schapiro was a preeminent American art historian known for forging new art historical methodologies that incorporated an interdisciplinary approach to the study of works of art. An expert on early Christian, Medieval, and Modern art, Schapiro explored art historical periods and movements with a keen eye towards the social, political, and the material construction of art works. Credited with fundamentally changing the course of the art historical discipline, Schapiro's scholarly approach was dynamic and it engaged other scholars, philosophers, and artists. An active professor, lecturer, writer, and humanist, Schapiro maintained a long professional association with Columbia University as a student, lecturer, and professor.

1904-1919: Childhood and early education

Meyer Schapiro was born in Šiauliai, Lithuania on September 23, 1904 to a Jewish family that immigrated to the United States in 1907, when Schapiro was three years old. Meyer was the second of four children (Morris, 1903; Meyer, 1904; Mary, 1906; and Jacob 1911) to the parents Menahem (Nathan) and Fayge (Fannie) Schapiro.

Prior to moving to the United States, Schapiro's father Nathan was a child of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) movement in Lithuania. Nathan lost interest in religious studies and become, by his own account, a politically active free thinker that disassociated with religion and migrated towards an engagement with the secular world. These philosophical traits where transmitted to his son, Meyer, who actively engaged in a wide range of artistic, educational, and political pursuits in his early age.

The Schapiro family moved to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, where Schapiro attended Public School 84 and/or 85 and graduated from the Boys High School, where he graduated and where one of his activities was to be involved in the Latin club. Schapiro's political and artistic pursuits at this time included being active with the Young People's Socialist League and attending evening art classes taught by painter John Sloan at the Hebrew Settlement Home.

1920-1929: Columbia University and Schapiro's college years:

Schapiro entered Columbia College in 1920 at the age of 16 with three scholarships, the Columbia, the Pulitzer, and the New York State Regents. He graduated with a bachelor of arts in 1924. His course load included a wide variety of classes on literature, anthropology, philosophy, mathematics, and art history and was influenced by his professors Franz Boas and John Dewey. Two of his roommates in his college years would continue to be his friends throughout his life, Clifton (Kip) Fadiman and Whittaker Chambers.

Schapiro would continue his graduate work at Columbia University, where he completed his master's thesis "The sculptures of Moissac" in 1926. As a graduate student at Columbia, Schapiro worked with Professor Ernest DeWald and took many of his classes, as evidenced by his course notes in his archival collection. During his college years, Schapiro was influenced by the art historian A. Kingsley Porter and, through his knowledge of Yiddish, learned French and German and became acquainted with the work of Wilhelm Vöge and Alois Riegl.

To complete research for his doctoral dissertation, Schapiro traveled for the first time to Europe and the Near East in 1926 through 1927 on a grant awarded by the Carnegie Corporation. This period of his life is documented in the Getty publication, Meyer Schapiro abroad: letters to Lillian and travel notebooks.

Schapiro completed his doctoral dissertation "The Romanesque sculpture of Moissac" in 1929 and his PhD was the fist in fine arts and archeology awarded by Columbia University. In 1931, Selections of his dissertation were published in the journal The Art Bulletin to critical praise because of his methodology of synthesizing diverse ideas to reinterpret the artistic production of the Romanesque. While Schapiro completed his academic work in 1929, he would not be conferred his doctoral degree until 1935 due to administrative bureaucracy. Schapiro's academic success at Columbia was unparalleled, and he was appointed to the faculty of fine arts in 1928, the same year he was married to Lillian Milgram Schapiro, a pediatrician who graduated from New York University and specialized on childhood tuberculosis.

1930-1949: The cultivation of Schapiro's professional life and the pre-war political horizon:

Schapiro's professional and scholarly life began to ascend as soon as earned his doctorate. His writings and reviews began to appear throughout journals, magazines, and newspapers. Schapiro's critique of historians using schematic approaches to understanding art and its production began in the early 1930s, such as his review of La Stylistique Ornamentale dans la Sculpture Romane by Jurgis Baltrusaitis.

In 1933, Schapiro moved with his wife, Lillian Milgram Schapiro, to the Greenwich Village neighborhood in New York City, where he would reside until his death in 1996.

Schapiro would continue to engage with politics, such as participating in the first American Artists' Congress in 1936, where he delivered the paper "The Social Bases of Art." But he was adamant of not reducing art to a disciplinary schema. As he writes in the aforementioned article, he sought not to "reduce art to economics or sociology or politics." He would continue to publish in political magazines such as The Marxist Quarterly, where he published "The Nature of Abstract Art," yet another critique on his friend Alfred H. Barr, Jr.'s exhibition "Cubism and Abstract Art."

In the 1930s, Schapiro visited Europe twice, once in 1931 and the other in 1939. He would meet and become acquaintances with many individuals associated with the Vienna School of art history, such as Ernst Gombrich, Emil Kaufmann, Otto Pächt, Hans Sedlmayr, and Fritz Saxl. Schapiro broke off his communication with Sedlmayr in the mid-1930s due to his increasing anti-Semitism. At the urging of his friend Theodor Adorno, Schapiro met with Walter Benjamin in 1939 in Paris, several months before the philosopher's death.

Throughout the years proceeding and following World War II, Schapiro was a consistent point of contact for refugees fleeing the hostile and repressive climate of Germany and Russia. He was a point of contact for many German and Jewish academics, philosophers, and artists fleeing Europe for the United States and he was a vocal critic of repressive regimes, such as Nazism and Fascism. After the atrocities committed under Stalin, Schapiro became disillusioned with politics, yet he continued his admiration for the political and maintained correspondence with political figures such as Leon Trotsky.

In 1936, Schapiro would be promoted to Assistant Professor at Columbia University and, by 1948, he would become an Associate Professor at the university.

Schapiro had an admiration for artists and continually sought to nurture their intellectual acuity through his lectures. Many artists have credited Schapiro with developing their historical and philosophical understanding of art history, especially at Columbia University, where students such as Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell and Ad Reinhardt attended his courses.

That Schapiro was a practicing artist himself added to his interest in being in constant dialogue with artists. As Wolf Kahn once noted, "For Meyer Schapiro art making and art history have always appeared as intrinsically related. What brings them together is seeing."

Throughout 1930s and 1940s, Schapiro was also a lecturer at New York University, New School for Social Research, and the Pierpont Morgan Library. Many artists became aware of his lectures, teaching methodologies, and philosophies through those venues, such as Alice Neel, Barnett Newman, Gordon Onslow-Ford, and Frank Stella.

1950-1979: Schapiro's continued rise as a prominent American art historian:

Starting in the 1950s, Schapiro's professional career became ever more active. In April 1950, he was invited by the gallery owner Samuel Kootz to co-curate with art critic Clement Greenberg the exhibition "Talent 1950: 23 artists receive a showing under the sponsorship of Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg." He first books were also published in that decade, Vincent van Gogh in 1950 and Paul Cézanne in 1952. His theories on style, form, content, and abstraction continued to be developed, and he became an ongoing advocate of Modern art.

While the end of World War II and the on-going anti-Communism in the United States were sources of disillusionment for the political left in the late 1940s and early 1950s, several New York intellectuals, including Schapiro and Irving Howe, founded the political magazine Dissent.

Schapiro continued to teach at Columbia University and in 1952 he was promoted to Professor and in 1965 became a University Professor, the second such honor bestowed to a faculty member at Columbia at the time. His students in the 1950s and 1960s at Columbia and other institutions include several prominent artists, such as Allen Ginsberg, Donald Judd, Allan Kaprow, and Jack Kerouac.

Throughout the 1960s, Schapiro became a highly regarded fellow, visiting professor, and guest lecturer, both in the United States and Europe. In 1961, he delivered the Patten lectures at Indiana University which was devoted to Impressionism. Schapiro was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences from 1962 to 1963 at Stanford University. In 1965, he delivered the Weil Lecture at the Frank L. Weil Institute at Hebrew Union College. In 1966, Schapiro was the Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard University, where he delivered the now published lectures on Romanesque architectural sculpture. At Oxford University, he was the Slade Professor in 1968. In that capacity, he delivered the Slade Lectures in the Fine Arts that was focused on Abstract art.

His work in both Romanesque and Modern art continued to be published in the 1960s. In 1964, the College Art Association of America published Schapiro's The Parma Ildefonsus: A Romanesque Illuminated Manuscript from Cluny, and Related Works. Schapiro's most famous published work of that decade, however, was the 1968 article "The Still Life as Personal Object" which rejected Martin Heidegger's philosophical interpretation of a painting by Vincent van Gogh that depicted a pair of shoes. Schapiro's article became a touchstone for the study of iconographical interpretation, semiotics, and art history.

In 1966, Schapiro received two recognitions: an honorary degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the Brandeis Commission Award for Notable Achievement from Brandeis University.

Schapiro's intellectual interest in semiotics and its relation to visual representation was made apparent in the 1973 publication Words and Pictures: On the Literal and the Symbolic in the Illustration of a Text.

By the early 1970s, Schapiro's influence in the field of art history began to be recognized in various forms at Columbia University. By 1973, he was promoted to the position of University Professor Emeritus. In 1975, he received an honorary doctorate from the university and also accepted the Alexander Hamilton Medal awarded by the Columbia College Alumni Association.

In 1974, a committee was formed to establish a chair in art history at Columbia University in Schapiro's honor. The group, who included George Jaffin, Barnett Newman, and William Rubin amongst others, was known as the Committee to Endow a Chair in Honor of Meyer Schapiro, and organized several artists to create original prints in an edition of 100 for a portfolio to raise funds for the position. Artists who contributed included Stanley William Hayter, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Alexander Liberman, Roy Lichtensetein, André Masson, Robert Motherwell, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Saul Steinberg, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol.

Schapiro taught his last Columbia University course, which focused on Romanesque sculpture, in 1977.

By the late 1970s he was awarded several prestigious awards. The National Institute of Arts and Letters gave Schapiro the "Distinguished work in the arts" award in 1976. In 1977, the country of France bestowed its highest honor, the Commandeur de l'Order des Arts et des Lettres, to Schapiro.

At this time, Schapiro began to assemble his writings from the 1930s in order to publish them as collected volumes. The publishing firm George Braziller, Inc began to this project in 1977 with the first volume Selected Papers I: Romanesque Art. In 1978, the second volume Selected Papers II: Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries was published and, by 1979, Schapiro's third volume of collected papers, Selected Papers III: Late Antique, Early Christian, and Medieval Art, was released.

1980-1996: The final years and continued legacy:

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Schapiro would continue to lecture on the two art periods he was an expert on: Romanesque and Modern art. In 1979, his lecture " Hiberno-Saxon art: experiment with forms" was given at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and in 1980 he delivered the lecture "The unity of Picasso's art" at Columbia University.

In 1987, Rainer Crone and Elizabeth Ferrer curated the exhibition "Meyer Schaipro: Works of Art, 1919-1979" at Columbia University's Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery. For the first time, the public was able to view 65 works of art that Schapiro had created and finally introduced Schapiro to the public as a draftsman and painter. The exhibition also included a publication with essays by Thomas B. Hess and Wolf Kahn.

Throughout the 1980s, Schapiro, with the support of his wife Lillian Milgram Schapiro, focused on organizing and editing published and unpublished material and compiling these as sources for future publication. In many instances, these manuscripts were never published and included titles such as "Pablo Picasso's Guernica, " "The serpent with a woman's head in the temptation of Eve: researches on the invention of an image," "Sigmund Freud's Gradiva, " "Words in pictures: the perspectives of the viewer and the reader," "Relativity and the interpretation of modern painting," "Vico on the visual arts," and "Wolvinius Magister Phaber: the crowning of an artist in the early Middle Ages."

One further volume of his collected work was published during Schapiro's lifetime, the 1994 release of Selected Papers IV: Theory and Philosophy of Art: Style, Artist, and Society. In 1995, Mondrian: On the Humanity of Abstract Painting was published. In the same year, Schapiro's authoritative bibliography was issued by George Braziller, Inc., which was compiled by Lillian Milgram Schapiro.

In 1994, the Brooklyn Museum named its West Wing the Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing in honor of Schapiro and his brother, the financier and philanthropist Morris A. Schapiro. In the same year, a special symposium titled "The significance of Meyer Schapiro: a symposium in honor of his 90th birthday" was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Speakers in the program included David Rosand, Linda Nochlin, Theodore Reff, John Plummer, Linda Seidel, Michael Taussig, and Henri Zerner. Artists, such as Louise Bourgeois, Allan Kaprow, and George Segal also spoke at the symposium.

Meyer Schapiro passed away in his Greenwich Village home on March 3, 1996. He was survived by his wife, Lillian Milgram Schapiro, a daughter, Miriam Schapiro Grosof, and a son, Ernest Schapiro.

After his death, Lillian Milgram Schapiro would continue her husband's efforts in editing and compiling material for publication with the help of Schapiro's long time assistant Robin Sands, her nephew Daniel Esterman, and publisher George Braziller. With her efforts, the following books were published posthumously: Words, Script, and Pictures: The Semiotics of Visual Language (1996); Impressionism: Reflections and Perceptions (1997); Worldview in Painting—Art and Society: Selected Papers, Vol. 5 (1999); The Unity of Picasso’s Art (2000); Meyer Schapiro : his painting, drawing, and sculpture (2000); Language of Forms: Lectures on Insular Manuscript Art (2005); and Romanesque architectural sculpture: The Charles Eliot Norton lectures (2006).

Lillian Milgram Schapiro passed away on August 6, 2006 and, two years later, the Getty Research Institute published Meyer Schapiro abroad : letters to Lillian and travel notebooks. The book focused on Meyer's correspondence with Lillian Milgram Schapiro as he traveled across Europe and the Near East from 1926 through 1927.

Schapiro's scholarly legacy in the fields of early Christian, Medieval, Romanesque, and Modern art historical studies, and his role in shaping the landscape of art historical scholarship both in the United States and internationally, continues to be of intellectual and philosophical interest to historians and artists alike.

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