I’ve been asked a few times about the painting that the National Gallery in London has recently cleaned and put back on display as Titian’s portrait of the physician Girolamo Fracastoro, as mentioned by Vasari in his Life of Titian of 1568. It’s a difficult one. The argument, as presented in an article in last month’s Burlington Magazine, is based partly on plausible provenance, but mostly on the fact that it it carried on the back of its frame a 19th-century note identifying its sitter as Fracastoro.
The painting is clearly Titianesque, but rather dull. As mentioned repeatedly in the press coverage, by far the most attractive area is the lynx fur worn by the sitter — compelling tactile eruption flecking through an otherwise rather bland surface. In any case, it pales in comparison with the other Titians in the same room at the National Gallery. None of this means the attribution is wrong, however: it is apparently quite damaged, which probably accounts in large part for its somewhat unconvincing appearance, and although very consistent, Titian did have bad days.
Another problem is the identification of the sitter. He looks quite different from known portraits of Fracastoro, such as the woodcut on right. The sitter in the painting is clearly slimmer of face and with a thinner, more elegant nose, but he is also clearly older in the woodcut, which might account in part for his fuller, more plump appearance. Plus, we still know very little about the extent to which, and how, painters at this time idealised, rejuvenated, and otherwise altered the appearance of their sitters . It’s an issue, which always makes identification of sitters in Renaissance (and later!) portraits difficult. The nineteenth-century label helps in this case, of course, but is far from proof, even if it repeats an older tradition.
Summing up, I don’t see any reason to disagree outright with the proposal made by the gallery, which largely convinces, but cannot help but feel a little uneasy about it.
TPB AFK. A lot of people are of course already unto this, and have only watched the beginning, but I’d still like to point in its direction: Simon Klose’s documentary on the Pirate Bay trial promises an important document about a important moment in the development of digital rights discourse. Youtube link.
Eddie Campbell on the ‘Literaries’ and reception of EC Comics. Yes! Campbell formulates much more precisely than I could important aspects of what I’ve been trying get at in my comics criticism of the past few years. A must-read for people interested in comics and how we read them.
David Frum on Booker T. Washington. I’ve only started digging into these stimulating posts occasioned by the publication of Robert J. Norrell’s biography of the early black American leader, but warmly recommend them. Washington has long needed the nuanced and revisionist treatment he seems to be getting now.
G. W. Bush, naivist painter. This is almost too weird — and good! — to be true, but these are supposed to be bathroom self-portraits by the erswhile president. His vacant expression is very well captured indeed.
And finally, this article on the problems faced by museums when accepting gifts with stipulations from the donor is an informative read. I’ve long thought that the control exercised by donors over what happens to their collections once donated to a worthwhile institution is often counterproductive, even onerous, especially in America. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is merely one egregious example that I’ve written about in the past.
I’ve always had a feeling I witnessed the Lunar landing and the now sadly passed Neil Armstrong’s Moon walk live as it happened. So vivid are my memories of my dad opening his box of clippings and laying them out on our large dinner table when I was a kid. His narration of the landing, along with LIFE Magazine photos and news clippings from the summer of 69, was like being there. It probably merged with a contemporaneous rerun of clips on our black and white television to convince me that I was there as it happened. Only some years later did the fact that it had happened six years before I was born dawn on me.
I guess the point here is that the Moon walk is such an extraordinary event, not just for science, but also for our collective imagination, that it continues to reverberate as if it just happened. At the same time, of course, it seems to belong to a different era. The optimism it expressed on our collective behalf seems naive and anachronistic, especially after the Obama administration’s mothballing of the NASA programme two years ago — something Armstrong strongly criticised. The recent launch of the Mars probe Curiosity is exciting, but manned space exploration seems like a chapter past. Sadly, because it seems to me an aspiration with the potential to unite us globally (however fleetingly) in a way few other things have ever done.
Obama in Martha's Vineyard on 18 August 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (used without permission, but hopefully fairly)
The week in review (kind of).
Haven’t done one of these in a while, and this is halfway through the week anyway, so it the timing is all wrong, but I have all these fine links that have been gnawing a hole in my drafts file for a while now that I figured I might as well share before we go into Angoulême mode here. Some are rather old and you might have seen them elsewhere, but if not here’s a chance to check them out.
The Obama memos. Following on from the State of the Union last night, one could do worse than reading this compelling examination of discussions had and choices made behind the scenes over the last three years in the White House. There are some revealing instances of Obama’s cynicism, as well as ample examples of his fetish for compromise, but also a very real sense of how difficult his job is. You could also do worse than supplementing it with Conor Friedersdorf’s sobering examination of the president’s transgressions of civil liberties at The Atlantic.
Ars Technica on internet piracy. Julian Sanchez examines and largely deconstructs the forcefully stated and strangely unquestioned arguments made in favor of fighting internet piracy by politicians and industry lobbyists — at the moment in favor of the highly dubious SOPA an PIPA bills (thanks Dirk!).
On Liu Xiaobo. This review at the NYRB of a recently translated collection of essays by the Chinese dissident and Nobel Prize-winner provides a compelling introduction to a clearly significant political thinker (now languishing in prison) and the country that fostered him.
Manga! Several excellent manga-related pieces have popped up online these past weeks. Yesterday jason Thompson examined smartly the decline in manga sales, in America as well as Japan. And Ryan Holmberg returned to his must-read but only intermittently updated column at The Comics Journal with a great essay on akahon manga, while the Hooded U republishes an excellent piece by Tom Gill on the great Tsuge Yoshiharu.
So, the US and its allies finally left Iraq. It seems they’ve been there forever. Whether the country will eventually become a better place to live than it was during the terrible decades of war, tyranny and crippling sanctions remains to be seen, though one might at least hope. I suspect that was also what led to the most conspicuous blindside of this week’s celebrity passee, Christopher Hitchens’ career, namely his unswerving support of the 2003 invasion. Besides old-fashioned stubbornness, his stance always seemed to me fueled at least in part by the hope shared by many at that time — even people who largely opposed the war — that it might at least eventually lead to a better life for Iraqis.
Perhaps I’m being too charitable, but it’s a motivation I understand, because I remember seriously entertaining it myself back when the war was brewing, even if it was clear that it would not be fought primarily or even secondarily for that reason, and that our governments were obviously lying to us about their rationale for invasion. Today, after at least 150.000 people have died and several Western democracies (including Denmark) have compromised themselves, all of this may seem moot, of course. Still, our armies leaving Iraq was a necessary step to for things to improve for everyone.
Hitchens. Sudhir Hazareesingh’s critical take on the the writer’s career in this TLS review of his autobiography from last year, Hitch-22, is a fine corrective to those (of us) who tended to overlook the bad in favor of the good in his work. Supplement with Jonathan Freedland’s critique of his and Martin Amis’ stances on Iraq and the so-called War on Terror from the NYRB. D.D. Guttenplan in his Nation review of Hitch-22 provides a more sympathetic and comprehensive overview of Hitchens’ life. Most importantly, and lest we forget that Hitchens was an inquisitive and sensitive writer, read his last column for Vanity Fair, published last week. It’s a killer.
Robinson and Simon. Two notable figures of the American so-called Golden Age of comics, Jerry Robinson and Joe Simon died within a week of each other. Revisit their remarkable careers in Gary Groth’s in-depth interviews with them here and here. His magazine, The Comics Journal, also has a couple of obituaries up: Robinson, Simon.
“Of course London’s riots weren’t a political protest. But the people committing night-time robbery sure as hell know that their elites have been committing daytime robbery. Saqueos are contagious. The Tories are right when they say the rioting is not about the cuts. But it has a great deal to do with what those cuts represent: being cut off. Locked away in a ballooning underclass with the few escape routes previously offered – a union job, a good affordable education – being rapidly sealed off. The cuts are a message. They are saying to whole sectors of society: you are stuck where you are, much like the migrants and refugees we turn away at our increasingly fortressed borders.”
– Naomi Klein
The picks of the week from around the web.
“An Empty Regard,” William Deresiewicz on the American reverence for its troops. I’ve long been mystified by the unquestioned reverence in America for its military personnel. It depersonalizes their (often admirable) efforts and suggests that they are somehow inherently more valuable human beings than everyone else. Deresiewicz addresses the question smartly.
Naomi Klein on the UK riots. Often prone to hyperbole and tendentious hypothesizing, Klein remains a great rhetoritician and this eloquent op-ed piece very effectively situates the riots and the pathetic official reaction to them in a valuable perspective.
Harold Bloom on his influences. Speaking of great communicators, here’s Bloom on five great works of literary criticism and the decrepit state of literary studies. You can’t argue with him, you just wanna hug him.
“How America Screws Its Soldiers,” writing on Memorial Day, Andrew J. Bacevich explains how perpetual war comes at a huge cost to the country and especially its soldiers. Nothing new here, but the argument is well-made and passionate (thanks, Noah!).
On the topic of Memorial Day, David J. Blight’s history lesson in the New York Times, unearthing a spectacular commemoration made by Union soldiers and freedmen in Charleston, SC, in 1865, is a fascinating read.
Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, or rather Geronimo Ji Jaga, passedaway in his adopted home in Tanzania yesterday. His death should give us pause to reflect upon a largely forgotten, but no less disgraceful passage in American history. A Vietnam vet and Black Panther, he was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit and imprisoned for 27 years on charges fabricated by the FBI. He is one of a large number of black, Latino, and American Indian activists and revolutionaries — some of the most visible “terrorists” of the day — subjected to gross miscarriage of justice at the hands of the government, its COINTELPRO, and other institutions, from the 1960s onward.
Here’s a short primer, from a 1984 episode of 60 Minutes:
His life was both an object lesson in the history of American institutional racism and suppression of dissent, and a rare example of transcending suffering. He never gave up, and when the conviction was finally reversed in 1999, he was unwavering in commitment to his cause without showing any despondency, bitterness, or resentment. This man’s story should be taught in schools.
And let us not forget that there’s still a large number of people in America serving long prison terms on dubious convictions. Mumia Abu-Jamal, on death row for almost 30 years, is but the most famous and visible of them. Whether guilty or not, many of them have not been given the fair trials promised in the Constitution. Why does it seem the book has been closed on them?
Better late than never: the new Comics Journal is off to a strong start, with plenty of interesting material posted in its first weeks. My favorites have been the first instalment of Ryan Holmberg’s history of alternative comics in Japan, Jeet Heer’s notes on racism in comics, Ken Parille’s reading of a story by Moto Hagio (smartly contested by Noah Berlatsky at HU), and Patrick Rosenkrantz’ history of autiobiographical comics.
I also found this piece on an alleged American-run wartime concentration camp in Chonquing intriguing. The writer, Xujun Eberlein, admirably attempts to untangle decades of Chinese propaganda to figure out what actually went on there and to what extent Americans were involved in massacres against Chinese communists carried out in the area.
Above: Youth Magazine (May 24, 1970), cover drawing by Chiba Tetsuya, design by Yokoo Tadanori. From Holmberg’s article, linked above.
Den 21. marts udkommer Bamsernes Befrielsesfront – hele historien på Politisk Revy. Danmarks største nulevende bladtegner Peter Lautrops legendariske føljeton fra Information sidst i 70erne i samlet udgave! Mød op til receptionen mandag den 21. marts kl. 16-18 på Information (hvor præcis, ved jeg ikke, men det må være til at finde).
“The tragedy of the Euromess is that the creation of the euro was supposed to be the finest moment in a grand and noble undertaking: the generations-long effort to bring peace, democracy and shared prosperity to a once and frequently war-torn continent. But the architects of the euro, caught up in their project’s sweep and romance, chose to ignore the mundane difficulties a shared currency would predictably encounter — to ignore warnings, which were issued right from the beginning, that Europe lacked the institutions needed to make a common currency workable. Instead, they engaged in magical thinking, acting as if the nobility of their mission transcended such concerns.
The result is a tragedy not only for Europe but also for the world, for which Europe is a crucial role model. The Europeans have shown us that peace and unity can be brought to a region with a history of violence, and in the process they have created perhaps the most decent societies in human history, combining democracy and human rights with a level of individual economic security that America comes nowhere close to matching. These achievements are now in the process of being tarnished, as the European dream turns into a nightmare for all too many people. How did that happen?”
– Paul Krugman
The picks of the week from around the web.
Paul Krugman: “Can Europe Be Saved? Great, provocative and lucid analysis of the recession in Europe and the problem of single currency. A must read.
Two from Hooded Utilitarian. James Romberger has recently been writing on the great cartoonists Alex Toth and his latest piece, a personal reminiscence of growing up reading his comics, is the best so far. Wonderful. Also, Sean Michael Robinson has just interviewed the great manga ambassador to the West, Frederick L. Schodt, who is always worth listening to.
“You’ve heard of Too Big to Fail — the foreclosure crisis is Too Big for Fraud. Think of the Bernie Madoff scam, only replicated tens of thousands of times over, infecting every corner of the financial universe. The underlying crime is so pervasive, we simply can’t admit to it — and so we are working feverishly to rubber-stamp the problem away, in sordid little backrooms in cities like Jacksonville, behind doors that shouldn’t be, but often are, closed.”
John Cassidy asks “What Good Is Wall Street?” Fairly lucid and readable New Yorker-survey of the services banks provide the international community and why large parts of their actitivites today are entirely superfluous and put the same community at risk.
Slavoj Žižek reviews Richard McGregor’s The Party, about China’s Communist Party, and relays not only some of McGregor’s fascinating insights into how China’s political system works, but also his own always idiosyncratic but provocative perspective: “China is barely under control. It threatens to explode.”
BBC’s “A History of the World in a Hundred Objects”. For those residing outside Britain, you might be unaware of this brilliant radio programme, in which British Museum director Neil McGregor pieces together a history of human civilisation from individual pieces in the museum’s collection, presented in 15-minute installments, each featuring almost invariably well-informed guests. Beyond the impressive feat of routinely evoking an object the audience cannot see (well, you can see them online), this is simply great radio.
An interview with Bill Gaines. This 1983 Comics Journal interview with the EC comics publisher, conducted by Dwight R. Decker, Gary Groth and Peppy White, is not only a great historical document, but a fantastic read.
The Hooded Utilitarian goes archival. The comics blog to which I occasionally contribute has added a new feature: the representation of academic and critical texts of note for the internet audience. Fabrice Neaud’s late 90s review of Aristophane’s Conte Démoniaque is a great example of what comics criticism can be, while Andrei Molotiu’s 2006/2007 essay on the aesthetics of original comic art is a fine scholarly analysis.
Image: Ain Sakri Lovers figurine, found near Bethlehem. More here.
Sam Lipsyte on Wilson. A fine review of Dan Clowes’ latest comic. One of the few I’ve read that seems to get it.
“1000 Years of Pretty Boys”. Guest-blogging for the Hooded Utilitarian, JR Brown provides a great, detailed survey of homosocial depictions of bishounen, beautiful young men, in historical Japan as a framework for understanding especially shoujo and yaoi manga.
“the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth”
– Paul Krugman
The picks of the week from around the web.
Busy times, but this week I’ve had a little time to poke around the web. Here’s what rose to the top.
The New York Times: “How Did Economists Get it so Wrong?” Economist, columnist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman offers an analysis of the developments in macroeconomic theory through the 20th Century that led us to a situation where the vast majority of influential economists were unable to predict the recession. Great, lucid writing on a complex issue.
The Guardian.This piece, by Rebecca Solnit, on the fourth anniversary of Katrina depressed the hell out of me, but serves as reminder of what should have been a wakeup call to the American mainstream.
Wired: “The Good Enough Revolution” interesting analysis of the development, last half a dozen year’s, in consumer behaviour and technology towards a preference for cheap and accessible. Think point-and-shoot digital cameras, MP3s and Predator Drones.
David Bordwell on Archie. The great film scholar and discrete comics fan brings his always insightful analysis to bear on the latest developments in one of America’s most resilient comics properties.
Bookforum: Jeet Heer on Crumb’s Genesis. Your comics link of the week is one of the best pieces of comics criticism I’ve read lately. Looking forward to that book! (please note: apparently requires registration).