Sonia Chalif Simon, Art Historian and Professor Emerita, Dies at 96

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A scholar specializing in Medieval, Baroque, and 19th-century art, she taught at Colby for 14 years

Associate Professor of Art, Emerita Sonia Simon
Associate Professor of Art, Emerita Sonia Simon at her home in Araguás del Solano, Spain, in the Pyrenees.
By Laura Meader
February 22, 2022

Colby remembers the life and scholarship of Associate Professor of Art, Emerita Sonia Chalif Simon, who passed away Feb. 4, 2022, in Jaca, Spain, at 96. An art historian specializing in Medieval, Baroque, and 19th-century art, she taught at Colby from 1982 to 1996.

Simon’s scholarly work focused on one of the most important Carolingian manuscripts, the Drogo Sacramentary (c. 850), written and painted for the personal use of Drogo, bishop of Metz and son of Charlemagne. Later, she shifted her scholarly interests to the Romanesque capitals of the cloister of Jaca Cathedral and their iconography.

“Sonia was a wonderful colleague and a role model,” said Professor of Art Véronique Plesch. “Whether delivering a lecture or chatting in the corridors of Bixler or at a dinner party, she displayed wit, erudition, and great warmth.”

Simon came to Colby with her husband, David Simon, the Ellerton and Edith Jetté Professor of Art, Emeritus, who had been hired as chair of the Department of Art. Sonia Simon team-taught the two halves of the Survey of Western Art course in addition to courses covering Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art. For the academic year 1989-90, she and David co-directed the Colby in Salamanca, Spain, program.

Associate Professor of Art, Emerita Sonia Simon (center, front) in a photo from the 1993 Oracle. Pictured are her Art Department colleagues (left to right) David Simon, Harriett Matthews, Scott Reed, David Lubin, Michael Marlais, Hugh Gourley, and Kenneth Ganza.

Simon studied at Vassar College in the 1940s and then resumed her education later, earning three degrees from Boston University: a B.A. in fine art in 1966; an M.A., also in fine art, in 1970; and a Ph.D. in art history in 1975. As a graduate student, she was a recipient of a Samuel H. Kress Fellowship to conduct research at the British Museum.

She authored a dozen papers and published several articles in leading journals, including in the prestigious Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa, one of the preeminent venues for research on Romanesque art. She spoke French and Spanish and had a reading knowledge of Italian and German.

Her teaching career spanned 25 years and included positions at UMass Boston, campuses of the State University of New York, and the College of New Rochelle. From 1975 to 1980, she was director of the Ruth E. Dowd Fine Arts Gallery at SUNY Cortland. She also served as regional director for the State of Maine’s “Census of Stained Glass Windows in America, 1840-1940.”

Simon was a member of the Bishop’s Commission for the Diocesan Museum in the city of Jaca and a member of the Asociación Sancho Ramirez, an association dedicated to Jaca’s historical patrimony. 

“Sonia was also one of the most gracious hostesses,” said Plesch, recalling dinner parties at their antique-filled home in Waterville, Maine. In 2019 Plesch visited the Simons in their Pyrenean retreat. “I loved seeing Sonia and David in their house in the small village of Araguás del Solano, in the province of Huesca, not far from Jaca, which they had lovingly restored over many decades.”

Simon’s survivors include her husband, David Simon, four sons, and three granddaughters.

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