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Art History Today
Midlands, United Kingdom
Professional Art Historian, Phd in Poussin,
Interests: music, art history, films, (classical through to rock), literature (mainly modern crime mystery).
Recent Activity
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Telamone & Southwards Our short Etruscan journey ends up the coast at Telamone in Tuscany (Etruscan name Tlamu) where on a promontory is found a continuation of the Theban saga unearthed at Pyrgi (above). Greek associations are rich here since Telamon was the father of Homer’s Ajax, hero of the Trojan War. Here in the museum stands another pedimental decoration (mid second century B.C) with a more diffuse narrative containing other heroes like blind Oedipus and Amphiaraos who was swallowed up by the earth as he ran away from Thebes. The expressive nature of this group suggests associations with the... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Art History Today
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A Note on the Etruscan Banquet. “On the right wall reclines a very impressive dark red man wearing a curious cap, or head-dress, that has long tails like long plaits. In his right hand he holds up an egg, and in his left is the shallow wine-bowl of the feast. The scarf or stole of his human office hangs from a tree before him, and the garland of his human delight hangs at his side. He holds up the egg of resurrection, within which the germ sleeps as the soul sleeps in the tomb, before it breaks the shell and... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Art History Today
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Tarquinia 2: The Painted Tombs. “Not until Pompeii is there such an effective survival of painting in the Classical world.” Nigel Spivey. Apart from the royal tombs of Macedonia, the wall paintings in the Tarquinia tombs are the most impressive to have been vouchsafed to the eyes of modern viewers. This is in contrast to most of ancient painting: we know from sources that buildings like the Stoa (porch) in Athens were decorated by the cream of Greek artists like Parrhasios, Zeuxis, Apelles- but the sight of their achievements had been vanquished by time. Tarquinian tombs are different from those... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Art History Today
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Tarquinia 1: The Palazzo Vitelleschi. “We soon saw Tarquinia, its towers pricking up like antennae on the side of a low bluff of a hill, some few miles inland from the sea. And this was once the metropolis of Etruria, chief city of the great Etruscan League. But it died like all Etruscan cities, and had a more or less medieval rebirth, with a new name. Dante knew it, as it was known for centuries as Corneto- Corgnetum or Cornetium- and forgotten was its Etruscan past.” D.H. Lawrence, Etruscan Places.” After an altercation with Roman officials about his passport, Lawrence... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Art History Today
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Pyrgi As we move away from Cerverteri towards Tarquinia, we veer west sharply to the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea to visit the small hamlet of Pyrgi, today the town of Santa Severa. Since 1964, when a series of gold lamina and bronze plaques were found, Pyrgi has been a site of intense archaeological activity. These plaques had inscriptions which were both Etruscan and Phoenician, thus linking the Etruscan goddess Uni not with the Greek Hera, but the Phoenician Astarte. Pyrgi was excavated by Giovanni Colonna who maintained that he had found evidence of the attack upon the port by... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Art History Today
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Cerveteri. “The whole room has been converted into one of art’s strangest still lifes- truly a natura morta; one walks into it, from post to post, with amazement.” Otto Brendel on the Tomb of the Reliefs. Anybody in search of Etruscan art in Italy has a lot of centres to choose from, but in the south the most attractive to both archaeologist and tourist would be the coastal cities of Cerveteri, Tarquinia and Vulci. But a tour of southern Etruscan art must start in the Villa Giulia in Rome (the core of the Vatican Etruscan collection) where artefacts from Cerveteri... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Art History Today
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The Etruscan & the Ionian in Italy. “Some take the arrangement of columns belonging to the Tuscan order and apply it to buildings in the Corinthian and Ionic styles, and where there are projecting antae in the pronaos [ vestibule of a temple], set up two columns in a line with each of the cella [main centre of the temple] walls, thus making a combination of the principles of Tuscan and Greek buildings.” Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture, The Etruscans had a league of cities (something like the renaissance network of city states or principalities) and encouraged trade amongst other... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Art History Today
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The Etruscans & the Greeks in Italy. “!But we can justifiably deplore the demeaning of interaction between one ancient culture and another, since this model of infallible Greek superiority owes more to anecdotes of modern Western colonialism than to the archaeological record.” Nigel Spivey. [1] As stated above the standard against which Etruscan was judged was exclusively Greek art; but as Spivey’s quote indicates- taking on Berenson and other detractors of Etruscan culture- a great deal of what we call Etruscan art was produced by Greeks. Though the origins of the Etruscans are clothed in more mystery than the Greeks,... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Art History Today
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On the Road with D.H. Lawrence and the Etruscans. “…there is really next to nothing to be said, scientifically, about the Etruscans. Must take the imaginative line.” D.H. Lawrence, letter of 1926. Archaeologists would certainly not agree with Lawrence’s research conclusion that imagination would constitute a legitimate form of enquiry into Etruscan art. Such a lack of empirical methodology would be dismissed as romantic and unrealistic to say the least. Nevertheless, despite the obvious problems with Lawrence’s account of Etruscan art, he cannot be ignored. He is one of the first real English traveller-writers to not only praise the Etruscans,... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Art History Today
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“The Greeks took the road that led to Michelangelo and Bernini and Thorvaldsen and Rodin. A rake’s progress. These Etruscans were on a better track. If only people had had the sense to follow it! Or at least get back to it. But nobody has, except perhaps poor old Maillol. They’ve all allowed themselves to be seduced away.” Aldous Huxley, “After the Fireworks.” Taking the Etruscan Road. These lines, spoken by a character in a short story by Aldous Huxley, reveal a view of art history that was, to say the least, uncommon, and indeed rather recherché in the twentieth-century.[1]... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Art History Today
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What I remember most about Nabokov’s short story “Cloud, Castle, Lake”( first published in Russian in 1931, then English in 1958) is the title. The actual story is O.K: a Berlin man wins a prize and is taken on some kind of package tour in the country with a set of travellers. These are obnoxious in the extreme, bullying, and even thumping him at the end of the tale because he doesn’t want to return to Berlin. Our hapless prize-winner- one of those symbols of Nabokovian individualism against the brutal collective - breaks away from the pack and finds himself... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Art History Today
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Gluttonous guests in his hotel, missing pictures at the Museo Correr, and the perils of leaping into a river boat. Alan Bennett’s lugubrious diary in the LRB, (scroll down to November) and article in less up-market Daily Mail. Continue reading
Posted Jan 12, 2017 at Art History Today
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For the next few months I’m going to be posting course notes on the above subject. For those who are interested, here’s a short description. This course is an art history travelogue focused on Southern Italy- the boot and toe of that country, though we shall extend our grasp out to Malta. The course begins with visits to Tarquinia, Cerveteri and parts of Rome to see wall and vase painting and sculpture by the mysterious Etruscan race. This is followed by an exploration of Roman art in Rome and Pompeii, and both serve as a classical base for later topics.... Continue reading
Posted Jan 9, 2017 at Art History Today
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“Torpid Smoke" by Nabokov. What a title! What a story! The philosophy of poetic composition distilled into a series of memorable observations uniting original impressions of sight, sound, touch and objects as conceived by a young versifier lying on a couch in 1930s Berlin. In this story VN alludes to L'Inconnue de la Seine, the unknown young woman fished out of the Seine in the late 1880s. Artists were fascinated by this tale and a mask was made which purported to be the face of a drowned woman. According to the critic Al Alvarez "she was finally displaced as a... Continue reading
Posted Jan 7, 2017 at Art History Today
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After reading a few short stories by Vladimir Nabokov, I fell to musing on the link between snow and the Russian revolution that is present in some of his writings. Fortunate Nabokov was born into aristocratic privilege in St Petersburg; but with the advent of the Bolshevik storm in 1917, his family had to flee Russia and escape into the jaws of exile and a long period of poverty. For long years VN eked out a living through writing poetry, his first novels, and of course his short stories, most of which were written during the Russian emigration in Berlin... Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2017 at Art History Today
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Here’s a John Berger-related post I wrote way back when…. Continue reading
Posted Jan 3, 2017 at Art History Today
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John Berger has died. I named one of my regular courses after his ground-breaking 70s “Ways of Seeing” TV series. Watch as he cuts a Botticelli to pieces to demonstrate how art had changed in the age of mass media. Continue reading
Posted Jan 2, 2017 at Art History Today
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I didn’t have time in my course on Russian art to say anything about Nabokov. Yes, Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita who was born into the aristocracy, but fled Russia for Germany when the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917; and thence to America where he eked out a career as a teacher of literature before finding fame and fortune with the novel about the demon nymph herself. Though known for his writing Nabokov had ambitions to be a painter; he had drawing lessons from Mstislav Valerianovich Dobuzhinsky (above) who judged him the worst pupil he’d ever had. Ruefully,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 2, 2017 at Art History Today
1) Photograph of Pushkin Museum, 1937 with Schulkin’s Matisses in place. 2) Henri Matisse, Zorah on the Terrace, 1910, oil on canvas, 116 x 100 cm, Pushkin Museum, Moscow. 3) Andrei Rublëv, The Archangel Michael, 1410s, tempera on wood, 158 x 108 cm, Tretyakov, Moscow. 4) Photograph of Oustroukhov & Tretyakov staff in front of Viktor Vasnetsov’s Bogyars. 5) Boris Kustodiev, Portrait of Igor Grabar, Art Historian & Restorer, 1916, oil on canvas, 83.5 x 61.7 cm, Private Coll, Moscow. 6) Photograph of Tretyakov board with Grabar. 7) Boris Kustodiev, Portrait of A. I. Anisimov, Art Historian & Restorer, 1915,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2016 at Art History Today
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Coda: Between Russia & America. While researching her The Avant-Garde Experiment in Russian Art, the young scholar Camilla Gray supported herself by working at the New York Public Library. Working in NYC, she was able to gain access to the director of MOMA, Alfred H. Barr who- outside Russia- was the leading authority on twentieth-century Russian art. Barr had visited the Soviet Union during the 1920s, and had spoken to many of the deceased members of the avant-garde as well as Grabar who he thought was the scholar most responsible for saving Russia’s icons; Gray however would have to make... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2016 at Art History Today
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The Influence of Russian Icons on Russian Modern Artists. After the samovar the most famous object in Russian cultural life might be the icon- but how did the art experimenters deal with this religious imagery which didn’t fit comfortably into their laboratories of modern art? Mashkov painted a Cézanne-inspired still-life with a skull and icon (above) , though no samovar which would have no place in an avant-garde world full of objects like Malevich’s Suprematist teapot. As far as the icon was concerned, it definitely had its place, so we see the colours and rhythms of a Novgorod Descent from... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2016 at Art History Today
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Russian Realisms. The Black Square launched the movement known as Suprematism which put simply was a form of pure abstraction consisting of geometrical shapes arranged in configurations; when viewed they recall architectural plans or engineering diagrams. Suprematism also inaugurated a debate about realism in painting which was exemplified in Malevich’s essay “From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: the new painterly realism.” Not content with using the term “painterly realism” in his writings, Malevich used it in descriptions of his work. Hence compositions appeared with titles like Painterly Realism of the Footballer and Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2016 at Art History Today
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Icon Ground Zero: Malevich’s Black Square. As the late Charles Harrison said, Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square is “the most art-historically notorious” of all the Russian master’s works.[1] The Black Square is also an icon of modern art, and when that devout image entered the modern world its meaning changed completely. In 1916 Malevich described the Black Square “as the first step of pure creation in art.” It is perhaps right to see it as the ground zero of modern art since Malevich’s intention was to reset art for a new era. No less importantly, the Black Square has become almost... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2016 at Art History Today
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“No, we don’t want her in Moscow.” For virtually all of her after-life, Mona Lisa has maintained her supremacy and status, but in the era of modern art her standing took a short dip since she represented the art establishment that the moderns were supposedly rebelling against. As Hans Belting notes, by the time the Mona Lisa had been stolen from the Louvre in 1911, the idea of the masterpiece was dead; it had turned into an “empty cliché.”[1] Six years later Marcel Duchamp would draw a moustache on the Mona Lisa ushering in a century and more of pranks... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2016 at Art History Today