Photograph: Howard McParlin Davis; Photo credit: Arnold Browne, Columbia College Today.
Howard McParlin Davis, Moore Collegiate Professor Emeritus of Art History at Columbia, died September 9 of heart disease at the age of 79.
Davis was a legendary teacher at Columbia, where he began as an instructor in 1944. His classes in Italian Renaissance painting and on Northern European painting were among the most popular undergraduate courses at Columbia.
Generations of Columbia College students graduated with an especially deep appreciation of the art of Giotto and of Jan van Eyck.
Davis was often honored for his teaching. He received Columbia's Mark Van Doren Award in 1968 and the Great Teacher Award of the Society of Older Graduates of Columbia in 1970.
The citation read in part: "His qualities as a teacher are disarmingly simple, but profound in effect. They are not communicated by means of conventional classroom rhetoric. Howard Davis is no performer. Rather, he teaches by the example of his own passionate commitment and integrity, his belief in the life of the individual work of art, and his basic respect for the imagination of its creator.
Davis was born on Sept. 18, 1918, in Baltimore. He graduated from Princeton in 1936, where he majored in French language and literature; he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in art history from Princeton in 1939.
He was awarded a Fulbright Senior Research Grant to Italy in 1950-51, where he began his studies of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, an artist then not yet part of the canon in this country.
Following his graduate career at Princeton, he joined the curatorial staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, first in the department of medieval art (1938-42) and then in the department of prints (1942-44). In 1942 he began teaching as a part-time lecturer at Hunter College in New York City.
He was named Moore Collegiate Professor of Art History in 1980. He served as chairman of the department of art history and archaeology from 1969 to 1972.
"A Classic Teacher Nears Career's End at Columbia" read the headline of an article published in The New York Times (Oct. 15, 1984) as Davis turned the then-mandatory retirement age of 70.
He served on the board of directors of the College Art Association, as secretary from 1957 to 1960, and, in 1959-60, as vice-president.
At Columbia he was particularly associated with the course known as "Art Humanities," masterpieces of Western art, an integral part of Columbia College's core curriculum.
One of the early designers of that course, he remained committed to it, making visual literacy a serious goal of general education.
Throughout his career at Columbia, Davis served as a dedicated advisor to pre-medical students, a position he took as seriously as his teaching.
His name was well-known to medical school admissions officers; many of his most ardent admirers and friends among Columbia alumni are physicians.
Contributions may be made to the Howard McP. Davis Fund, department of art history and archaeology, Columbia University, New York, N.Y. 10027.