That aesthetic discernment can exist entirely on its own, devoid of human warmth, is demonstrated by the lives of the art connoisseurs Bernard Berenson and Kenneth Clark. As leading arbiters of taste in their day, both enjoyed all the trappings of success. Berenson, the oracle on Italian Renaissance paintings who had gotten his start by helping Isabella Stewart Gardner build her collection in Boston, held court at his Tuscan villa, I Tatti, in the hills above Florence.Read more
One of the benefits of living in a monarchy is that whenever an Englishman feels miserable he can always point to some hapless royal whose lot is worse. As the British aristocrat Richard Grenville-Temple noted back in the days of George III:Read more
As Charles Dickens’s Child’s History of England makes plain, Charles II was not an upstanding individual: “Whenever you see his portrait, with his swarthy, ill-looking face and great nose, you may fancy him at his court in Whitehall surrounded by the worst vagabonds in the kingdom (though they were lords and ladies), drinking, gambling, indulging in vicious conversation and committing every kind of profligate excess.”Read more
Whenever a French president visits Washington and White House speechwriters need to come up with something nice to say about France, Lafayette is cited as the man who came to America’s aid in its war of independence. Whether this produces the intended emotional echo in the visitor’s mind is a different matter: While in the United States his statues are liberally scattered up and down the East Coast, in his home country Lafayette is almost forgotten.Read more
In the history of art, self-portraiture constitutes a world of its own, presenting us with moods ranging from the lighthearted to the sordid. There is sheer delight in Rubens’s painting of himself and his first wife Isabella Brant in a bower of honeysuckle bliss; acute menace when Caravaggio decks himself out as Bacchus, looking like some exceedingly poisonous rent boy, and veering into grisliness when he lets the severed head of Goliath carry his own likeness.Read more
In the annals of villainy, Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Richard III holds a special place: In the 1955 film version of Shakespeare’s play, Olivier’s Richard brims with malevolent energy, all the more lethal for being witty.Read more
Lucian Freud (1922-2011) did not tolerate lateness, as Mick Jagger’s onetime wife Jerry Hall found out the hard way back in 1997. For four months, she had been sitting for her portrait, in which she was breast-feeding her and Jagger’s son. But being punctual was not among Ms. Hall’s virtues, and after arriving late on a number of occasions, Freud abruptly canceled the project, informing his agent: “The painting’s had a sex change. . . .Read more
While the Second World War is considered the necessary war against Nazi evil, World War I is widely seen as a pointless tragedy, an impression first shaped by the British trench poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, then reinforced by Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August (1962). That book, which was on John F. Kennedy’s mind during the Cuban Missile Crisis, held the Great Powers equally responsible, and blamed the outbreak of war on mobilization timetables spinning out of control.Read more
Type in your email
address to get started:
Thank you for signing up for the Jonathan V. last newsletter! You should receive your first newsletter very soon.
We're sorry, there was an error processing your newsletter signup.