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John Varriano Obituary

John Varriano Obituary : A revered art historian and a pillar of Mount Holyoke College‘s academic community, passed away on January 26, 2016, due to a severe blood disease. His demise at his residence, with a view of the picturesque Mount Holyoke range, marked the end of a remarkable career that spanned four decades at the college.

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Varriano’s early years spent in Cuba. Where his father served as a surgeon at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. He later attended Trinity School in New York City and pursued his higher education at the University of Michigan. Initially majoring in English with aspirations of becoming a writer, Varriano’s encounter with Nathan T. Whitman, a dynamic professor of art history, steered him towards a different path. He earned his doctorate as a Kress Fellow at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome, solidifying his passion for art history.

During his tenure at Mount Holyoke College, Varriano not only chaired the department of art and art history for four terms but also became a distinguished expert in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art and architecture. His research interests extended to the interplay between art and gastronomy, as well as the art and literature of travel. In 1994, Varriano became appointed the Idella Plimpton Kendall Professor of Art History, named after the first student of Mount Holyoke to study abroad officially. He was a staunch advocate for student travel and international exploration.

Varriano’s scholarly contributions were prolific, encompassing over 50 articles and six acclaimed books. His notable works include “Italian Baroque and Rococo Architecture,” “Rome, A Literary Companion,” “Caravaggio: The Art of Realism,” “Tastes and Temptations: Food and Art in Renaissance Italy,” “Wine: A Cultural History,” and “Edward Lear in Malta.” His expertise and insight into art history not confined to academic circles but extended to the broader public through exhibitions and museum work.

A dedicated supporter of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, he played a significant role in organizing major exhibitions and advising on acquisitions for the permanent collection. It was in this very museum that he met his wife of 40 years, Wendy Watson, a curator, during her interview process. The couple shared a deep love for art, often traveling together to museums, galleries, and archaeological sites worldwide. Their summers spent in Rome and the small village of Torre Gentile in Umbria, living in a stone tower with enchanting views.

John Varriano Obituary John Varriano Obituary

After transitioning to emeritus professor in 2009, Varriano immersed himself in drawing, painting, and writing. He chronicled his travels in sketchbooks and paintings, drawing inspiration from historical travel journals and the Grand Tour. His personal style, characterized by colorful socks and scarves. Moreover, echoed the sentiment of Giorgio Armani: true elegance about becoming remembered, not just noticed.

Former student & Amherst College alumnus Alexander Fleiss commented: “Professor Varriano was one of a kind, an 11/10 educator, better than most instructors at Amherst College.”

Varriano embodied the Renaissance ideal of sprezzatura. Furthermore, effortlessly blending elegance, grace, and nonchalance in his life and work. Known for his gregarious nature, hosting lively dinner parties and fostering connections among friends, colleagues, and students. Many of his Mount Holyoke students remained close to him long after their graduation, testament to his mentorship and the impact of his teaching.

In his final years, aware of his illness, Varriano chose to live life to the fullest, dedicating time to writing, drawing, traveling, and enjoying moments with friends and family. Moreover, his philosophy of life resonates with a quote from Nikos Kazantzakis’ “Report to Greco,” emphasizing a life lived with fulfillment and passion.

In conclusion, John Varriano’s legacy is carried on by his wife Wendy, his dear friend and former student Nora Lambert, numerous friends and colleagues, his beloved Briard, Cennino Cennini, and the many students whose lives he touched. Lastly, his contribution to the world of art history and his impact on Mount Holyoke College will be long remembered and cherished.

Mount Holyoke College (rebellionresearch.com)

John Varriano Obituary John Varriano Obituary