Henri Zerner, Professor of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard, is the author of Renaissance Art in France: The Invention of Classicism and Écrire l’histoire de l’art: Figures d’une discipline.

Red-Hot MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has changed radically over the years since it was founded in 1929 and moved into its own building on 53rd Street in 1939. What is most striking in the new building that has just opened is the change of scale. For it is, indeed, …

Scenes from the American Dream

In Pictures from an Institution, Randall Jarrell’s 1956 novel of college life, the athletic and eternally youthful president of Benton College for women was a remarkable fund-raiser. He was especially successful with the alumnae in Hollywood: President Robbins appealed to them sitting in somewhat Hawaiian swimming-shorts at the grassy verge …

Passion Painter

The life of Eugène Delacroix, a life devoted to hard work and serious thought, has never tempted a film-maker. A painter of the passions, Delacroix was a reserved man and somewhat cold in manner. The modern public is as curious about the artist’s person as about his or her oeuvre.

The Vision of Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci was convinced of the power of vision as an instrument of knowledge. He felt that it was above all through our eyes that we grasp and understand the world, that visual representation is the primary method of recording knowledge, and, most importantly, that such knowledge enables us …

Mysteries of a Modern Painter

“No nineteenth-century artist of Gericault’s stature remains as enigmatic; no oeuvre, despite its small size, so rife with problems of attribution; no chronology, despite its too-brief span, so inadequately documented.”[^1] The splendid exhibition organized this autumn at the Grand Palais in Paris for the bicentennial of Géricault’s birth challenged so …

The Judgment of Paris

The railroad station known as the Gare d’Orsay was built for the World’s Fair of 1900 in the very center of Paris as a prestigious display for the Orleans Railroad Company. The bold iron structure, constructed with the most up-to-date technology, was hidden under traditional decoration with profuse ornaments and …

The Passions of Géricault

Géricault was passionate about horses, passionate about art, passionate by temperament. He was the archetypal Romantic artist not only in his work, but also in his life. Three years younger than Byron, he died in the same year, 1824, after a feverish life. Like Byron he had a desperate and …

The Unhappy Medium

Someone once said that it is not history that repeats itself but historians that repeat each other. When it comes to the history of nineteenth-century painting, however, it might be better if they repeated each other more often, or at least more judiciously: one of the difficulties about recent writing …

Enemies of Realism

One evening at a dinner party, a lady is supposed to have turned to Degas and asked him aggressively, “Monsieur Degas, why do you make the women in your paintings so ugly?” and he replied, “Because women are generally ugly, Madame.” The story may not have all the authority one …

What Is, and Is Not, Realism?

The avant-garde is a historical construction rather like the French Revolution. The more one studies the French Revolution, the less one is sure exactly which events belong to it, who engaged in it, and for what motives: the events seem not to hang together with the continuity one had imagined, …

Proto-Photo

The catalogue of a brilliant exhibition called Before Photography at the Museum of Modern Art earlier this year contributes wonderfully to our understanding of the nineteenth century without attempting, as is now fashionable, to upset the traditional evaluation of the artistic development of the period. Whatever is original about this …

Masterwoodworks

Limewood does not come, as I used to think before reading. Michael Baxandall’s admirable book, from some kind of citrus tree. The lime tree is a linden tree and it is the broad-leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos)—as opposed to the small-leaved variety (Tilia cordata)—that provided the basic material for sculpture in …

The Permanent Revolution

In 1849 the young sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, who was later to execute the famous group La Danse for the façade of the Paris Opera, regretfully abandoned his studies with François Rude, the greatest of French romantic sculptors (and a major figure in Hugh Honour’s Romanticism). Carpeaux went to work with …

The Sense of Sense

E.H. Gombrich started his career as an art historian by straying from art history. As a student at the University in Berlin he was disappointed with Heinrich Wölfflin’s lectures, later published as Italy and the German Feeling for Form. (It is a disappointment that has stayed with him today to …

Solving the Correggio Problem

In 1880 Giovanni Morelli, the founder of modern connoisseurship, who aimed to establish the attribution of works of art on a more systematic or “scientific” basis, made a sensation in the art world by announcing that Correggio’s Reclining Magdalen was a mere pastiche by a late seventeenth-century Dutch painter. The …

Survival of the Fittest?

So much the worse for Raffaelle. I have been a long time hesitating, but I have given him up today, before the St. Cecilia. I shall knock him down, and put up Perugino in his niche. Such was the young Ruskin’s brashly subversive project, and Francis Haskell presents it with …

The Mark of Bewick

Readers of The New York Review have often seen the vignettes of Thomas Bewick. But even they may be somewhat surprised to read Ruskin’s bold claim: “I know no drawing so subtle as Bewick’s since the fifteenth century, except Holbein’s and Turner’s.” Wordsworth was still more eloquent: Oh, now that …

The Revival of Official Art

In 1974, the centenary of the first Impressionist exhibition, the National Museums of France celebrated the occasion in Paris by a small, select show of Impressionists and their friends—a show which also came to New York—and a vast presentation of the official art of their time, the pictures that could …

Master of Arts

Meyer Schapiro, who could plausibly claim to be the most interesting art historian today, has not yet written a book. This is part of the legend that surrounds him, as well as one of the reasons why he is still a controversial figure. It is not, however, strictly true. In …

Mind Your Maniera

On the first page of Painting in Italy 1500-1600, Sidney J. Freedberg describes the first decades of that century as “the most extraordinary intersection of genius art history has ever known.” This evaluation, indeed, goes back to the sixteenth century and remained essentially unchallenged until the nineteenth, and it was …