A Modern Master

For over thirty years, from, say, 1912 to 1945, people who wanted to be “in the movement” used to maintain that the subject of a picture was unimportant, and, if presented too insistently, positively harmful. Aesthetic satisfaction was achieved by shapes and color alone. This extraordinary proposition, which was unprecedented …

The Master Builder

Leon Battista Alberti was not a modest man. The piece of writing referred to by scholars as the Anonymous Biography, because it is written in the third person, is an obvious self-portrait. “In all by which praise was won,” he writes, Leon Battista was, from his childhood, the first. Of …

Stories of Art

From about 1864, the year of the publication of Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s New History of Italian Painting, the study of Italian art turned from the imaginative interpretations of Ruskin to the task of amassing information. Ruskin foresaw the change and recommended Crowe and Cavalcaselle as “a book which they have …

The Genius of Aubrey Beardsley

In September 1893 there appeared a new art periodical called The Studio; and, to the scandal of all established art lovers, the principal section was devoted to the drawings of an unknown boy of twenty-one named Aubrey Beardsley. The scandal was not due simply to the fact, regrettable enough in …

Leonardo’s Notebooks

Leonardo da Vinci’s mental and calligraphic energy overflowed into innumerable notebooks; “innumerable” because, although a daunting collection of these notebooks has come down to us, we shall never know how many there were originally. To give three indications of how much is lost: Francesco Melzi, his devoted disciple and heir, …

Spellbinder

The first thing to say about Roger Fry, the English art critic and painter, is that he was one of the most beguiling human beings I have ever known. His quick intelligence and responsiveness to all forms of art made him an enchanting talker, but he was never a monologuist.

The Mannerist Style

Ever since the 1920s when Max Dvorak, the most inspiring teacher of his day, gave the term fresh currency, art historians have been debating the definition of the word mannerism. As usual in such debates there has been a division between expansionists and contractionists, enthusiasts and precisionists. On the one …

Classical Tourism

During the last sixty years many young students of art history must have dreamt of writing a great book on the continuity of the classical tradition. It is an epic theme: the miraculous discovery in Greece, the long attenuation under the Roman Empire, the near destruction of the seventh century, …