Sydney J. Freedberg '36, Porter professor emeritus of Fine Arts, who taught in the department for 29 years and was its chair for seven years, died at his home in Washington D.C. on Tuesday. He was 82.
After graduating from the College summa cum laude, Freedberg continued his studies at Harvard, earning his masters in 1939 and his Ph.D. in 1940. He began teaching at Harvard in 1954.
As one of the preeminent scholars on High Renaissance art, Freedberg helped develop the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti outside Florence, Italy.
"He was one of the chief scholars who helped define [the center's] mission," said Walter Kaiser, director of the Villa I Tatti, in a news release.
While at Harvard, Freedberg also served as acting director of the Fogg Art Museum from 1978-79.
But Freedberg's passion for art extended far beyond Harvard.
Upon retiring from Harvard in 1983, he became the chief curator of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
In 1988, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by former President Ronald Reagan. Freedberg is the only scholar to have ever received the accolade.
Freedberg's love and care for Renaissance art pre-dated his years of teaching at Harvard. While serving in the U.S. Army during the Second World War, Freedberg refused to cooperate in gathering information on Rome out of fear that the data would be used in military operations against the city and lead to the destruction of its art treasures.
Nevertheless, Freedberg was named an Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire for his war-time service.
In 1966, when Italian art was threatened by flooding, Freedberg once again came to its rescue. He chaired the Committee to Rescue Italian Art from 1966 to 1974 raising money to preserve those works damaged by the floods.
Freedberg was also one of the founding members of Save Venice, and served the organization until his death.
For his work on the preservation of Italian Art, Freedberg was made Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1982, Italy's highest honor for a non- National.
"We have lost someone who cared greatly about art because he cared about life," said President Neil L. Rudenstine in a news release. "The authenticity and uniqueness of his care were as evident in how he lived, as in how he wrote."
Two of Freedberg's sons, William Freedberg '64 and Sydney Freedberg Jr. '95, attended Harvard College. His third wife, Catherine, received her masters from Harvard in 1961 and her doctorate from the University in 1981.
Freedberg is also survived by his son Nathaniel and his daughter Kate, as well as a brother and three grand-daughters