David Dollenmayer’s most recent translation is of Martin Walser’s A Gushing Fountain.
 (May 2016)

A Surprise in Munich

Jan Brueghel the Elder: View of a Seaport with the Temperance of Scipio, 1600.
Karel van Mander (1548–1606), the renowned biographer of the Netherlandish painters, concludes his life of Pieter Brueghel the Elder—the famous “Peasant Brueghel,” circa 1530–1569—with these sentences: He was survived by two sons, both good painters themselves. The one named Pieter studied with Gillis van Conincxloo and paints likenesses from nature.

The Continual Homecoming

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot: Solitude, Recollection of Vigen, Limousin, 1866
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification in 1989–1990, the cultural climate of Western Europe has undergone a considerable change. Nowhere is the drop in temperature more noticeable than in the relationship between France and Germany. The aesthetic and social fascination that French literature, art, cinema—indeed, the …

Dürer and Renoir

Albrecht Dürer: The Adoration of the Magi, 1504
Germany’s Greatest The year was 1928. On the four hundredth anniversary of Albrecht Dürer’s death, the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg organized an impressive Dürer exhibition accompanied by a slim, softcover catalog of 124 pages. The information on the exhibited works was brief to the point of being laconic. The public …

The Queen of Cathedrals

The procession of King Louis XV after his coronation at Reims Cathedral in 1722; painting by Pierre-Denis Martin, 1724
This essay is based on a talk given in the Reims Cathedral on its eight hundredth anniversary in 2011. The France of the ancien régime had sites of sacred commemoration—above all in cathedrals and abbeys—where the monarchy and the church entered into a ritual alliance of immense symbolic significance. The …

On Christa Wolf

Günter Grass and Christa Wolf at the Leipzig Book Fair, March 21, 2002. Wolf was awarded a prize for lifetime achievement.

Christa Wolf belonged to the generation in which I also count myself. We were stamped by National Socialism and the late—too late—realization of all the crimes committed by Germans in the span of just twelve years. Ever since, the act of writing has demanded interpreting the traces that remain.

Germany: When Faces Defied Death

Albrecht Dürer the Elder; portrait by Albrecht Dürer of his father, 1497
The birth of the portrait at the dawn of modern society was much more than a mere event in the history of art. It stimulated the self-representation of emperors, kings, and princes and changed the way the rich and famous satisfied their craving for recognition. In painted panels that captured …

The Master Returns: Konrad Witz in Basel

Konrad Witz: Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene in a Church, circa 1440–1445
Twenty years after German reunification a notable aesthetic and emotional shift is under way, a rediscovery of the expressive character that sets Germanic art apart from the more polished, harmonious creations of its neighbors to the west and south. This shift is evident in the reawakened interest in neglected or …

It’s All in the Head

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt: The Artist as He Imagined Himself Laughing, 1777–1781 (left), and An Arch-Rascal, 1771–1783 (right)
Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783) is one of those elusive eighteenth-century figures who confront us with the nocturnal side of the Enlightenment. There was always something unsettled about his biography, the life of an outsider. He was born in the small town of Wiesensteig in Württemberg, the son of a tanner.

The Painter’s Painter: Velázquez After 350 Years

Diego Velázquez: Philip IV on Horseback, 1634–1635
“C’est le peintre des peintres.” Such was Édouard Manet’s homage after seeing Diego Velázquez’s work in the Prado in 1865. It was the era of France’s craze for all things Spanish, but Romantic enthusiasm for the Spain of opera and passionate adventure was not what interested the painter of Olympia.

The Best Faces of the Enlightenment

Jean-Antoine Houdon: Napoleon I, 1806. For more images from the exhibition see the NYR blog, blogs.nybooks.com.
The ideas of France’s philosophers, the refinement of its language, and the sumptuousness of its fashion defined the eighteenth century. French paintings from the Age of Enlightenment gleam from the walls of great museums from St. Petersburg to New York. What would the Wallace Collection be without Watteau, the Frick …