He was the Meyer Schapiro Professor emeritus of Art History at Columbia University and a graduate of Columbia College. He received his PhD from Columbia in 1965 and was awarded a Fulbright fellowship in 1961 and a Guggenheim fellowship in 1974.
David joined the Columbia University Department of Art History and Archaeology faculty in 1964 and served twice as chairman of the Department. He served as chair of the Society of Fellows in the Humanities, director of Art Humanities, chair of the Department’s Wallach Art Gallery Committee and served on the Avery Library Joint Faculty Committee.
His scholarship focused on the Italian Renaissance and on the history and criticism of the graphic arts. His publications in the field include Titian and the Venetian Woodcut (1976—co-authored with Michelangelo Muraro), Titian (1978), Painting in Cinquecento Venice: Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto (1982; rev. ed. 1997), The Meaning of the Mark: Leonardo and Titian (1988), Myths of Venice: The Figuration of a State (2001), and Drawing Acts: Studies in Graphic Expression and Representation (2002). In the area of American painting he has published Robert Motherwell on Paper: Drawings, Prints, Collages (1997) which accompanied an exhibition in the Wallach Art Gallery and The Invention of Painting in America (2004). His most recent book, Véronèse: Painting in cinquecento Venice was published in 2012.
He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti and the Ateneo Veneto in Venice, and served for many years on the board of the Renaissance Society of America, which honored him with the Paul Oskar Kristeller Lifetime Achievement Award (2007). He was project director for Save Venice, Inc., an organization dedicated to the conservation of the art and monuments of Venice.
Reed College online streaming-audio lecture: “Things Never Seen: Graphic Fantasy and the Dreaming Draftsman” (October 26, 2009)