Hugh Honour is the author, with John Fleming, of The Visual Arts: A History, which has recently been published in its sixth expanded edition. (November 2002)

Islamic Venice?

Wordsworth got it wrong. Venice never held “the gorgeous East in fee” as he declared in his sonnet “On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic,” published in 1807. Although Venetians grew rich from import-export business with the Levant and ruled part of the former Byzantine Empire for half a century …

The Triumphs of Tiepolo

The publication of a book on Giovanni Battista Tiepolo by Svetlana Alpers and Michael Baxandall, two of the most stimulating contemporary writers on the history of art, was unexpected. Alpers, known mainly for her work on Dutch and Flemish painting, has consistently sought an alternative to the way in which …

Burma: Splendor and Miseries

In the 1970s and early 1980s, when I first went there, Burma could both repel and charm. General Ne Win had seized power in 1962 and set the country on a wayward course, what he called “the Burmese Way to Socialism,” different from all others and puzzling to political theorists.

The Master Builder of Venice

Visitors to St. Mark’s in Venice, overawed by the Byzantine solemnity of the architectural space, bemused by the shimmering mosaics, and dazzled by the enamels and gems on the opulent twelfth- to fourteenth-century Palo d’Oro—the great high altar-piece—rarely pay much attention to later works of art in the church. Few …

The Wonders of Angkor Wat: A Diary

November 29, 1991. 4:30 AM at Bangkok’s huge new Don Muang airport. Very few people about. Nor were there many vehicles on the usually traffic-jammed road as we came out here in the warm and, for me, delightfully steamy darkness—I love all this rank humidity—past high-rise condominiums and exotic shopping …

From Here to Eternity

“Rome has never been so much Rome, never expressed its full meaning so completely as nowadays,” the English essayist and novelist Violet Paget wrote under her pseudonym, Vernon Lee, in 1900. This change and desecration, this inroad of modernness merely completes its eternity. Goethe has an epigram of a Chinese …

The Battle Over Post-Modern Buildings

“Do you seriously imagine, reader, that any living soul in London likes triglyphs? or gets any hearty enjoyment out of pediments?” When John Ruskin asked this question in 1851 the answer was far less obvious than he wished to suggest. For most people, then as now, it was capitals, columns, …

Bringing Back Algardi

Last November the London Times ran a front-page headline: “£1 MILLION ALGARDI BUST BROKEN IN MUSEUM FALL.” A workman in the Victoria and Albert Museum had fallen from a ladder, knocking over and shattering a terracotta bust which, according to the museum’s regulations, should not have been left in the …

From the House of Life

Long before he died in Rome last March at the age of eighty-six, Mario Praz already seemed a figure apart. He stood alone among his contemporaries, and younger men as well, with a detachment that was ironical rather than defiant or disdainful. Although too urbane to be described as a …

From Alberti to Zoppo

In his Cultural Guide to Italy, Ernest O. Hauser writes of the Renaissance: “While it has long been understood as a spontaneous upswelling of the Italian genius, scholars now view it as a more complex phenomenon, the coming-to-a-head of a slow evolutionary process. However that may be, something new did …

Piranesi’s Year

Piranesi year is over. His drawings and etchings have returned to their solander boxes in the print rooms of Europe and America, his great bound folios have been put back in place and—presumably—additional shelving has been set up to support the weight of the avalanche of recent publications devoted to …

What Chateaubriand Saw

Chateaubriand was the first major European writer to describe American scenery and life from personal observation. The abbé Prévost had conjured up the background for the last pages of Manon Lescaut—that arid, treeless desert near New Orleans—from his imagination. It was from highly spiced but hardly accurate reports of travelers …

Luxe et Veritas

According to Thomas Jefferson, writing from Paris in 1785, “There could be no question raised as to the sculptor who should be employed” for a statue of George Washington, “the reputation of Mons. Houdon, of this city, being unrivaled in Europe.” And although this judgment would not have passed unquestioned …

Unsinkable Painting

On July 2, 1816, a French government frigate, La Méduse, carrying troops to Senegal, ran aground on the West African coast. The captain and senior officers commandeered the few seaworthy lifeboats, while the rest of the passengers and crew—149 men and one woman—were cast adrift on a make-shift raft, with …

Sturm und Drang

There is more than a touch of irony in the relationship between Henry Fuseli and William Blake—between the fiery little cosmopolitan Swiss who became Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy in London and the peculiarly English, entirely independent, violently anti-academic poet and visionary. They moved in much the same …