Cover photo for Robert Louis "Bob" Mode's Obituary
Robert Louis "Bob" Mode Profile Photo
1940 Mode 2024

Robert Louis "Bob" Mode

June 26, 1940 — January 23, 2024


Robert Louis "Bob" Mode, 83, of Nashville, TN, passed away peacefully on January 23, 2024, with his beloved wife Carol by his side. Bob, an art historian by profession and passion, lived a rich life full of travel, study, wit, family and friendship before transcending to the next chapter. He will be greatly missed by all those lucky enough to have known him.

Bob was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 26, 1940, to Arthur and Ruth (Rosenthaler) Mode. His father modernized the family business, Mode Furniture, while his mother was a female pioneer in the field of public relations and marketing. Bob attended Walnut Hills High School, where he and his brother, Arthur (Art), excelled in their academic pursuits. Art grew up to become a psychiatrist, while Bob pursued a career in the Humanities. Bob's first introduction to the arts came through his parents, who took their sons to performances of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, plays at the Albee Theater, and exhibitions at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

After high school, Bob earned a bachelor's degree in English at the University of Rochester, and a master's degree and a doctorate in the history of Art at the University of Michigan. In 1967, while working on his dissertation and teaching a summer course at Washington University in St. Louis, Bob met the love of his life, artist Carol Ann Levin who was studying painting there. The pair soon married, and after completing their degrees, relocated to Venice, Italy, where Carol painted and learned to cook Italian food (their favorite cuisine) while Bob worked under the terms of a Fulbright Fellowship. It was a year the two would never forget, and Italy became a cherished destination for the couple throughout their lives. Before returning to the United States, Bob was recruited to the faculty at Vanderbilt University by F. Hamilton Hazlehurst, the head of the Department of History of Art and Architecture, who later became Bob's mentor and friend.

Bob began teaching at Vanderbilt in the fall of 1968 and, over an illustrious career that spanned 45 years, mentored and educated thousands of students before retiring in 2013. He served as department chair, director of graduate studies, and director of undergraduate studies for the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt. In addition, he was active in public art issues with the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies, the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt, and avidly supported the artists and arts institutions of the Nashville community. A rigorous researcher and scholar of Italian Renaissance art, Bob wrote foundational articles that helped to define the field. His work was published in esteemed art history journals, including The Burlington Magazine and The Art Bulletin. Later in his career, he expanded his research to include 18th-century British art, particularly as it pertained to the artist William Hogarth. He was beloved by students and colleagues alike and known for his intellect, approachability, and good humor.

Travel was a large part of Bob's life. In Europe he frequently researched art, guided Vanderbilt Study Abroad trips, and led alumni historical tours. With his family he shared his love of culture through vacations to historic locales and museums, which brought him great joy and fulfillment. The expression "When you love what you do, you never work a day in your life" never carried such weight.

Bob's wife and children were the light of his life and he encouraged them with genuine care and devotion. Later in life, Bob and his brother developed a profound connection and the pair spoke weekly about the arts, sciences, and life.

In addition to his loving wife of 59 years, Bob is survived by his daughter Emily R. Mode (and wife Sally J. Berger), son Daniel P. Mode (and wife Laura A. Schulthies), brother Arthur S. Mode, cousin P.J. Mode, extended family, close family friends, and the Nashville arts community.

Known for his ever-present smile, he will be remembered as generous, kind-hearted, curious, fun-loving and dedicated to equity and education in the arts. He will never be forgotten.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery or to Nashville Classical Radio WPLN or toward scholarships for the Vanderbilt Department of History of Art and Architecture.

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