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.
The outrageous sentence of two years in labour camp for the members of the punk/art collective Pussy Riot in Moscow the day before yesterday is the most high-profile recent example of the fragility and corruption of the Russian judicial system. Without knowing much of anything about the subject, I think that suggestions that the Church, rather than the government, may have played the greatest role in the conviction rings true, despite Putin getting most of the bad press. In any case, it reflects terribly on both.
It is also a reminder of the power of art and activism based on creative work to call attention to injustice. Not only is their really very innocuous manifestation (see above) is just plain fun — a perfect youtube phenomenon — the support of a Madonna or a Paul McCartney seems also to have come more naturally because of the nature of their dissent. It certainly carries a different and potentially broader kind of visibility than the usual statements of support for activists of more straightforward political stripe. Fair or not.
Jay-Z and the New Jersey Nets. I liked this article on Shawn Carter’s investment and stake in the New Jersey Nets and their imminent move to Brooklyn. Another example of Hova’s contribution as an hip hop entrepreneur.
Last week, another of the pioneers of early hip hop culture, Rammellzee passed away. A versatile multimedia artist and cultural theorist, he remained at the margins of hip hop culture as it evolved into a worldwide, commercially successful phenomenon, marching to the beat of his own drum.
From hitting the A train is 1974 and bombing the metro as part of several of the seminal crews in the following years, emceeing at the Amphitheater at the close of Wild Style and recording the classic track “Beat Bop” with K-Rob for Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1983, to writing his treatise on the liberation of the letter from the alphabet Iconic Panzerisms, his work is emblematic of a greater movement in formation, of a time when these cultural manifestations were still being formulated and the possibilities seemed endless. Continue reading ‘Rammellzee RIP’
As you might be aware, legendary impresario and cultural activist Malcolm Mclaren passed away about a week and a half ago. It’s a little late, but I wanted to add my own little tribute here, because besides his cred as the Man at the Crossroads of punk, he had a brief but fruitful involvement with hip hop, producing some classic material with The World’s Famous Supreme Team, who were rocking WHBI in New York from 1979 through the early 80s.
That’s Mclaren’s voice you hear on “Buffalo Gals” — “round the outside, and dosy-doh your partners!” (see above) — irreverently appropriating the American blackface traditional, hip hop style (and notably later referenced by Eminem on “Without Me”). That and the tune “Hey DJ”, especially, continue to reverberate through hip hop culture, so what was essentially a dalliance became a mainstay. Continue reading ‘Malcolm Mclaren RIP’
This is just to note that the Hooded Utilitarians’ enlightening roundtable on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (1989-1996) has now come full circle — hop over there to check the entries by Noah Berlatsky, Ng Suat Tong, Tom Crippen, Vom Marlowe and Kinukitty. There are lots of good thoughts there and the comments are also well worth it if you’re interested in this, one of the quintessential comics series of the 90s. If nothing else, they’ve instilled in me the fear of rereading the series, but also awakened my dormant enthusiasm for same. I hope I get around to sometime before this anniversary year is over, although that might not happen. (In the meantime, there’s my recent, somewhat meagre post on Coraline).
Oh, and just to mark the occasion, check out the above video, shot at the recent Amanda Palmer (ex-Dresden Dolls) gig at the Union Chapel, London, last Saturday. There’s Neil, and he’s actually pretty hysterical (thanks to Richard for the heads up). Enjoy!!
I owe Michael Jackson a huge debt. In many ways, he gave me a music I could call my own. Thriller hit at just the right moment for me, opening a musical path different from that of my parents. Youngsters were already popping and locking on the corners around my neighbourhood and tags were being scrawled on the walls on the way to school. I didn’t have a tape recorder myself, but friends would play the album when I was over, and we would imitate the bigger kids on the block with our own interpretation of the uprock and electric boogie.
Of course, Michael wasn’t hip hop, but he came from the same place, and he related directly to the culture and of course influenced it considerably—the moonwalk, for example, is intimately related to dance steps first taken on concrete. Before moving on to the Rocksteady Crew, Run DMC, and the Fat Boys—and eventually more broadly the music of Black America, including his great paragon, James Brown—he was the voice of the streets for me. Continue reading ‘Out of Time’
OK, so for about five minutes it sounded like the great Mike Patton was going to collaborate with Alan Moore for the musical part of the apparently autobiographically derived multi-media project, Unearthing, on which the Northhampton scribe has been working with photographer Mitch Jenkins (more here) and others for a couple of years. It turned out to be a rumour though, but for the three of us who care, there’s a bit of equally exciting news in the announcement of the project’s release through the quality British independent label Lex Records next year — MC Doseone is part of the project!
Al Smith Dinner 2008 (above). It took me a while to believe this was recent, and for real. But it was. McCain is actually funny!! Obama tries. And the atmosphere is congenial. A weird moment in the exciting — and on the Republicans’ part — farcical presidential campaign. Oh, and Obama mentions Jor-El, so there’s your comics link for the week!
Congrats to Paul Krugman! This year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, Krugman is an economics professor at Princeton and has done groundbreaking research. We mortals however know him best as the New York Times‘ most consistently excellent op-ed columnist, so what better way to celebrate than read his latest column, on the British bailout plan?
Old School (mostly for our Danish readers). Finally on the Tube: DR’s great documentary on the origins of hip hop in Denmark: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Lidtekstra baggrund her.
New York Times. Michael Pollan, one of the best writers on the intersection of food/culture/politics these days, offers up a stirring policy manifesto.
Forty years ago, British modern dance was essentially nonexistent. Today several of its choreographers are internationally renowned, among them Michael Clark, Akram Khan, and not least Richard Alston, artistic director of London’s first (and still foremost) centre for modern-dance training, the Place. Alston trained at the Place himself, as a student in the ‘60s, and created his first dances there. Forty years on, Alston has conceived a new program for his Richard Alston Dance Company that is partly a retrospective, partly an offering of new work, as a kind of reverse present in honor of his 60th birthday.
Simply titled 40/60, the show premiered last week in London and is now on a short UK tour through the fall. The company’s performances last week at the Cambridge Arts Theatre provided eager audiences with the chance to see anew—or indeed to encounter for the first time (the stalls at Tuesday’s show held a conspicuously youthful crowd; a dance school mass-booking perhaps?)—the vital place that Alston holds in British dance history. Other choreographers’ work might be more theatrically interesting, more morally charged, and certainly more “cutting edge”: it is hard to find anything even mildly provocative about Alston’s work, unless you are a pre-adolescent girl set atwitter at the mere sight of toned thighs in tights. But none more than Alston can convey such a relentless, expansive delight in dance-making itself. Inherent to his style is a joy in the body’s sheer expressive range, manifest (in his best pieces) in masterful footwork, rich ensemble patterning, high-stretching lines, and sharp, precisely delineated individual performances. Plenty of these qualities were on display in 40/60, and both the new offerings and the retrospective survey struck high notes of invention and charm. Continue reading ‘Shuffling it Right’
Here’s the climactic scene from The Hustler (1961) in which Newman had his first great role. A fine mix of self-confidence and vulnerability. And then there’s the slightly surreal egg-eating scene from Cool Hand Luke (1967), in which he interestingly, and quite hilariously, subverts his own macho image.
As a little gesture to honor the creative work and vision of Anthony Minghella, whose untimely death last week marks a real and serious loss to the British film industry, I wanted to refer you to my favourite piece in his director’s oeuvre: Play, his unforgettable film version of the stage play by Beckett. The whole thing can be seen on YouTube, posted in two parts and lasting just under 15 minutes (also posted below). Once you start Part 2, keep watching; the clip is not mislabeled, ‘though if you are new to this piece then you are excused for thinking so. Continue reading ‘Play This Twice’
Samuel Beckett’s austere existential vision of the loneliness of the individual facing the inevitable—death—has become familiar. Not cosy, exactly, but familiar. For revivals of the best-known plays (Endgame, Happy Days, Krapp’s Last Tape ), I reckon, the consequences of this familiarity have mostly been positive: conceived for an audience not just prepared but eager to engage a bleakness once thought distasteful or performance-averse, these productions are free to explore the great range of tones and tenors present in Beckett’s marvelously variable prose. It is now standard, for example, for directors to articulate the humour and farce inherent in his character’s inexplicable conditions, as well as the anticipated tragedy. Continue reading ‘CelebriDays’