Ingrid D. Rowland is a Professor of History and Classics at the University of Notre Dame’s Rome Global Gateway. Her latest books are The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art, cowritten with Noah Charney, and The Divine Spark of Syracuse. (July 2020)


He Made Stone Speak

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, 1993

Michelangelo, God’s Architect: The Story of His Final Years and Greatest Masterpiece

by William E. Wallace
Because all creative people start out as young people, we have a tendency to ascribe creativity to youth itself, but mature masters like Michelangelo remind us that the urge to create has nothing to do with age or the lack of it, but rather with that inventive spirit both he and Vasari called ingegno—inborn wit, cleverness, genius. The spirit often manifests young, but like wine and wood, it depends on age to reveal its full complexity. When Michelangelo turned seventy, as he does at the beginning of William Wallace’s Michelangelo, God’s Architect, he had nineteen more years to live, every one of them spent at work.

The Master’s Master

Verrocchio, Il Maestro di Leonardo [Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo]

an exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi and the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, March 9–July 14, 2019

Verrocchio: Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence

an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., September 15, 2019–January 12, 2020
Andrea del Verrocchio’s statues may lack the silken sheen of Benvenuto Cellini’s metalwork and the epic grandeur of Michelangelo’s marbles, the works that shaped artistic taste in Vasari’s time. But their achievements depended absolutely on the legacy of this man of many talents: his skill as a teacher, his pioneering experiments with casting metals, and his efforts to portray the human figure in space, not only in sculpture, but also in painting, and above all in the activity that Vasari himself considered the fundamental underpinning to every kind of art: disegno, a word that meant both drawing and design.

Filling Our Eyes with Sunshine

Olafur Eliasson: The weather project, 2003

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life

an exhibition at Tate Modern, London, July 11, 2019–January 6, 2020

Olafur Eliasson: Experience

edited by Anna Engberg-Pedersen, with an essay by Michelle Kuo
No one who saw it has ever forgotten it: a fat yellow sun hanging inside the colossal Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern gallery, glowing through clouds of swirling mist. Olafur Eliasson’s The weather project, which opened in October 2003, was a magical microclimate created at a moment when weather …

‘A Painter Not Human’

Antonello da Messina

an exhibition at the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia di Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo, December 14, 2018–February 10, 2019

Antonello da Messina

an exhibition at the Palazzo Reale, Milan, February 21–June 2, 2019
Antonello’s real subjects are universals rather than particulars: love, despair, sorrow, amusement, and, above all, light. No one, not even Leonardo or Piero della Francesca, has ever paid such penetrating attention to the way light works. He knew nothing of photons or electromagnetic waves, but he understood, and recorded with uncanny penetration, the differences among beams, rays, reflections, glow, luminosity, and radiance. At the same time, he was a master of psychological detail and of nature, taking care to paint the reflections of infinitesimal ducks on a distant pond, or to set Saint Jerome at ease in his study by surrounding him with a scholar’s ideal company: a placidly loping lion and a sleeping tiger cat.


Facing Off with the Old Masters

Jacopo Carucci Pontormo: Visitation, circa 1528–1529; Bill Viola: The Greeting, 1995

One of the favorite sports of Renaissance artists was a contest called the paragone, the “comparison,” the age-old debate about the most expressive form of art. Like sport itself, the fun lay in playing the game with headlong passion, insisting that painting, or sculpture, or architecture reigned as queen of all the other arts. This spring and summer, the Florentine exhibition “Bill Viola: Electronic Renaissance,” organized around the work of the acclaimed American video artist Bill Viola, has brought the paragone into the twenty-first century.

An Island in a Cold Sea

Migrants who have arrived by boat from North Africa at the port in Lampedusa, March 27, 2011

As Donald Trump denies entry to the already small number of pre-screened refugees the US had agreed to accept—among them Syrian and Iraqi families fleeing terrorism who have been carefully vetted and approved by the UN Refugee agency and by the US Department of Homeland Security—Europeans face a far more dire situation: the hundreds of thousands of desperate people from North Africa and the Middle East, who, without any UN help, are attempting to reach their shores. This is the focus of the haunting documentary Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea).

Breakfast in the Ruins

In September 2015, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles acquired the first photographs ever taken of Palmyra, the great trading oasis in the heart of the Syrian desert. With a history that extends back nearly four thousand years, Palmyra has risen and fallen many times. The worst destruction, certainly, was inflicted between June and September of 2015 by the militants of the Islamic State, who obliterated the ancient buildings amid accusations of paganism and idolatry.