The Passing of Samuel Edgerton

To the Williams community,

I write to share the sad news that Samuel Edgerton, Jr., Amos Lawrence Professor of Art, Emeritus, passed away on Sunday, April 25.

During his 27 years at Williams, Sam contributed deeply to the life of the college. Through his teaching and scholarship, he encouraged new ways of understanding the relationships between art and science and between art and politics, particularly in Renaissance Italy. His book, The Heritage of Giotto’s Geometry: Art and Science on the Eve of the Scientific Revolution, was awarded the 1992 Howard R. Marraro Prize of the American Historical Association. His work also won him a Guggenheim Fellowship, a grant from the National Endowment for Humanities, and membership into the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, among other recognitions.

A prolific writer, his publications also include The Mirror, the Window, and the Telescope (2009), Theaters of Conversion: Religious Architecture and Indian Artisans in Colonial Mexico (2001), Pictures and Punishment: Art and Criminal Prosecution during the Florentine Renaissance (1985), and The Renaissance Rediscovery of Linear Perspective (1975). In addition to his writing and his teaching duties, he lectured frequently on American art and architecture and Mayan art and culture at museums, colleges, and universities throughout the U.S. and abroad. 

“Sam’s interdisciplinary approach to the subjects of his books whether concerned with the rediscovery of linear perspective, criminal punishment as a source for 16th-century painters, or religious architecture in Colonial Mexico, always reflected carefully examined and intricately balanced archival sources,” said Liz McGowan, chair and Robert Sterling Clark Professor of Art History. “His contributions to the study of Renaissance linear perspective throughout his career were inflected with an irresistible sense of wonder at that era’s marvelous creativity and vision.”

With his B.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, Sam came to Williams in 1980 to direct the Graduate Program in Art History and to teach both graduates and undergraduates. He spent the previous 16 years as a professor of art history, including three as department chair, at Boston University. In 1985 he was named the Amos Lawrence Professor of Art at Williams. Remembered as a passionate educator and a giving colleague, he devoted many years to organizing the Art Department Faculty Colloquia, as well as Winter Study courses in Italy.

“When I came to Williams in 1993 as Sam’s successor as director of the Graduate Program he was unfailingly generous and supportive of me in that role,” said Mark Haxthausen, Robert Sterling Clark Professor of Art History, Emeritus. “His broad erudition, inexhaustible curiosity, and infectious enthusiasm, which he shared with Williams students for twenty-seven years, have been for me a continual source of inspiration.”

Sam is survived by his wife, Dorothy; his children, Mary, Perky, and Sam III; his grandchildren, Chloe, Kevin, Lela, Marina, Peter, Phoebe, and Zach; and his great-grandchildren, Gabriel, Nico and Xavi.

Details about a memorial service are not yet confirmed, but Sam’s family shared that he will be buried next to his son, Peter, in the Williams College Cemetery.

Our deepest condolences go out to Sam’s family, colleagues and friends.


Maud S. Mandel
Professor of History; Program in Jewish Studies