In Memoriam

Diana Kleiner, art historian and founding director of Yale Open Courses

Kleiner, an art historian known worldwide for her expertise on the art and architecture of the ancient Romans, died on Nov. 12. She was 76.
Diana Kleiner
Diana Kleiner

Diana Kleiner, an acclaimed art historian known for her expertise on the art and architecture of the ancient Romans, and a primary contributor to Yale distance learning and media initiatives for a decade and a half, died on Nov. 12 after a long illness. She was 76.

Kleiner, the Dunham Professor of the History of Art and Classics, Emerita was the author of numerous books on Roman art in its political and social context. Her most well-known work, “Roman Sculpture,” became “the fundamental reference on the subject,” according to Milette Gaifman, the Andrew Downey Orrick Professor of Classics and History of Art History Chair of Art History at Yale, and the book any student in the field had to know.

Kleiner also did seminal work on Roman women, giving them a voice. Her research culminated in the ground-breaking exhibition “I Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome,” and in the book “Cleopatra and Rome,” a work which opened a new perspective on one of the most intriguing women who ever lived. Her scholarly contributions, including her visual guide to Roman architecture, her books on Roman funerary reliefs, her interactive e-book “Roman Architecture: A Visual Guide” (which includes maps, geolocation links and more than 250 photographs), and her dozens of essays, exhibition catalogues, chapters, articles, and reviews made her one of the leading experts in her field.

An exceptional teacher, Kleiner’s popular lecture courses galvanized students. Her guidance, as Professor Gaifman noted, “attracted undergraduates and graduate students from the four corners of the campus” and “led to a host of Ph.D.s who went on to become leading scholars in their own right.”

Diana Elizabeth Edelman Kleiner was born in New York City and received her B.A, from Smith College and her Ph.D. from Columbia. She taught first at the University of Virginia and then as an assistant professor at Harvard before coming to Yale in 1980.

It was Kleiner’s human touch, even beyond her knowledge and devoted teaching, that distinguished her, said colleague Edward (Ned) Cooke, Montgomery Professor of American Decorative Arts in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences: she patiently sought out students or colleagues after lectures and online discussions, and was able to move seamlessly between talk about Roman art and personal matters in a way that made her stand out.

During her courses she often urged students to travel to Rome, and then guided them, as her son noted, “not only to the ‘Top 10 Monuments,’ but also to the ‘Top 10 Gelaterias.’” Kleiner's family noted that learners sometimes logged on from remote villages,  where they had limited internet connectivity, to speak with her, and that she would stay up late on most nights chatting in online message boards and building personal relationships with admiring students.

Many who did not know Kleiner as a scholar or teacher encountered her as the deputy provost for the arts in the Office of the Provost from 1995 to 2003, where she nurtured and cared for all of the arts at Yale.

And perhaps most importantly, as the founding director of Open Yale Courses, she pioneered Yale’s digital faculty presence and enabled dozens of Yale’s influential faculty to offer their courses online, and thousands of students and others to appreciate and learn from them. Their presence online serves as a living tribute to her accomplishment, colleagues say.

Kleiner is survived by her husband Fred Kleiner, Professor of Art History and Archeology, Emeritus at Boston University; her son Alex and his wife Alexandra Daum; and their children, Teddy and Samantha. A private burial was held in the Grove Street Cemetery followed by a memorial reception for friends and family.

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