After graduating with a B.A. in English literature from Harvard College in 1964, David Alan Brown went to Cambridge University, England, on a Fulbright Fellowship, and he received a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University in 1973. After teaching briefly at Yale, in 1974 he became the first curator of Italian Renaissance painting at the National Gallery of Art. At the Gallery, he has organized numerous international loan exhibitions, including Berenson and the Connoisseurship of Italian Painting in 1979, Raphael and America in 1983, Titian, Prince of Painters in 1991, Lorenzo Lotto in 1997, and Virtue and Beauty: Renaissance Portraits of Women in 2001.
The author of numerous scholarly articles and book reviews, Brown also wrote a monograph on the 16th-century Lombard painter Andrea Solario, which earned the Salimbeni Prize, Italy's most distinguished award for art books, in 1987. His study Leonardo da Vinci: Origins of a Genius (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1988) won the Sir Bannister Fletcher Award in 2000 for the most deserving book on art or architecture. This book presents evidence for the young Leonardo's first surviving effort in painting-a share in his teacher Verrocchio's Tobias and the Angel in the National Gallery, London. Brown has recently published an article claiming that a picture in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, is Titian's first extant work ("Titian and Bellini: From Pupil to Rival," Arte cristiana 93, 2005).
In recognition of his achievement in furthering the knowledge and appreciation of Italian culture in America, Brown was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy in February 2003.