James Fenton is a British poet and literary critic. From 1994 until 1999, he was Oxford Professor of Poetry; in 2015 he was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize. He is the author of School of Genius: A History of the Royal Academy of Arts and, most recently, Yellow Tulips: Poems, 1968–2011. (July 2018)
Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now)
an exhibition at the Met Breuer, New York City, March 21–July 22, 2018
Painted Spanish sculpture had flesh tones and realistic wounds and tears and glass eyes, and it gave Protestants the creeps. But here’s the thing: Italian sculptors of the Renaissance also colored their works and were seemingly happy to do so. If we tend to forget this, it may be because the evidence we are looking at has been rigged: painted terracottas of the Renaissance have been stripped of their color, just as innumerable wood carvings of the northern schools have been stripped and “antiqued” in a manner acceptable to past taste and the antiques trade.
Zurbarán’s Jacob and His Twelve Sons: Paintings from Auckland Castle
an exhibition at the Meadows Museum, Dallas, September 17, 2017–January 7, 2018; and the Frick Collection, New York City, January 31–April 22, 2018
If the standard you expect from Francisco de Zurbarán is set by one of his devotional images—by, for instance, the Saint Serapion at the Wadsworth Atheneum, in which the dying saint is hung by ropes tied to his arms, and the painter has apparently lavished the most attention on the …
John Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London
an exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery, New York City, September 15, 2017—January 7, 2018
Founded in 1993 and operating out of two townhouses on New York’s Upper West Side, Bard Graduate Center has produced an admirable series of exhibitions and scholarly catalogs on subjects in its fields of study: decorative arts, design history, and material culture. Its monographic shows have focused on such figures …
Cristóbal de Villalpando: Mexican Painter of the Baroque
an exhibition at the Palacio de Cultura Citibanamex–Palacio de Iturbide, Mexico City, March 9–June 4, 2017; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, July 25–October 15, 2017
It is good to see Cristobal de Villalpando’s huge altarpiece at the Met placed at the very center of the Robert Lehman wing, where it can be admired from two levels, top-lit by daylight. At just over twenty-eight feet high by fourteen feet wide, it benefits from isolation, both from the objects in the Lehman collection and from the small selection of lesser works by Villalpando exhibited in their own gallery nearby. The lower half of the crowded composition depicts Moses raising the Brazen Serpent; the upper, the Transfiguration of Jesus. What we are not shown is the way it is displayed in its permanent Mexican home (for which it was painted) in Puebla cathedral.
I must have landed in the foothills, for the first impressions I had were of piles of rocks, as if emptied casually from a bag. And among these rocks and cactuses, a leafless tree with yellow flowers, a profuse flowerer, unfamiliar to me. Well, some things have to be unfamiliar; I have never visited this part of the world before.
Who knows in how many directorial breasts a conflict rages between a desire for intimacy and the yearning for the very grandest of effects? On the one hand, there is the ambition to mount, in the smallest of theaters, a drama of the most intense kind, in which the actors are never obliged to raise their voices to suit the acoustics of the space, because nothing is going to be missed. Working through improvisation, perhaps, or through other revered techniques of self-discovery, the performers arrive at dangerous levels of intensity and verisimilitude.
Hearing that the same men who brought us South Park were mounting a musical to be called The Book of Mormon, we were tempted to turn away, as from an inevitable massacre. How could the Mormon faith, with its wobbly stories of golden tablets dug up and then lost to view, its pseudo-archaeological racism, its prevarications over the practice of polygamy, its almost exact resemblance to a cult, stand up to all that gleeful juvenile ragging?
Strictly English nationalism comes with a sense of diminishment. It is like a falling back to a defensive position, a withdrawal to the last redoubt. The Empire has long gone. Ireland has mostly gone. Scotland and Wales keep threatening to be next. England is what we will be left with, more of a consolation prize than “England’s green and pleasant land.” William Blake’s “Jerusalem,” with its vision of building the Eternal City in the squalor of the “dark Satanic mills,” is sung by a young girl in a fairy costume at the opening of Jez Butterworth’s play—named for Blake’s poem—in front of what the play text stipulates: a “faded cross of St. George.”