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The Place of Narrative’

In response to:

How to Read a Fresco from the May 16, 1991 issue

To the Editors:

I was in a great flap when I discovered that Diagrams 1 and 2 on page 7 of my book, The Place of Narrative, had been switched. The transposition occurred in some mysterious way after I had approved a perfect set of page proofs; the University of Chicago Press immediately issued an errata slip with apologies. Everyone assured me, moreover, that because my verbal descriptions were so clear, what had happened would be perfectly obvious.

Not so to John Pope-Hennessy, judging from his review [NYR, May 16]. He starts right off by describing the first pattern (The Double Parallel) as though it were the second, and follows with the second pattern (The Wraparound), described as though it were the first. He thus not only repeats the unfortunate mistake but reveals that, rather than reading, he was just looking at the pictures. If he had actually read the text, he would not have made the further mistake of reporting that I created a fresco-cycle computer database (I wonder if he had ever written that word before) in order to track the patterns of disposition. The truth, which I describe as the basis for writing the book, is exactly the opposite: previously unrecognized patterns of narrative organization were discovered only while amassing the material that constitutes the database.

Like the garbled opening passages, the rest of the review is something of a disappointment. Aside from several pontifical assertions that my arguments are “wrong,” “pretentious,” and “gratuitous,” Sir John is unexpectedly mild, considering the venom he usually reserves for American lady art historians. Yet, what he has to say is not totally innocuous. Although he seems to think I should have written a different book (one about attributions and datings), he found in my survey of the history of conceptual planning for Italian mural decoration the occasion for some masterful observations on several great monuments of the Renaissance, formal observations totally irrelevant to the subject at hand but characteristic of a man who was one of the most impressive and influential art historians of the twentieth century.

Marilyn Aronberg Lavin
Department of Art and Archaeology
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey

The Editors replies:

We regret to say that John Pope-Hennessy was never sent the correction issued by the University of Chicago Press.

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