Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Dealing with the media

First - sorry about not dealing with all the comments that people have kindly sent. I am having trouble with posting responses.

A young friend asked me for advice in dealing with the media. Although I have some training in this area, the following is based on personal experiences rather than fully authoritative. This is an edited version.

Basically the media / journalists are interested in “stories” that get their articles / programmes published / commissioned in the face of stiff competition. “Sources” like you and me are means to those ends. This does not mean that are are not interested in causes and rightness - and there are some very good, committed programme-makers -  but the final reality is commercial. TV programmes generally need an American market if they are medium or high budget. America likes sensation. Detailed cases, such a an elaborate scholarly provenance for a work of art, is not their priority.

The basic tenor of articles / programmes is confrontational. That is to say any case needs counter-arguments for the sake of what is called “balance”. This may mean trawling around very peripheral/marginal/dubious “authorities” to oppose what you and I might be saying.  We should always ensure that we know to whom they are talking and ensure that our contributions answer their opposition. If possible, it is good to see an outline and then the script.

With journalism, the “story” is everything. The journalists want something that gets them column inches.  This does not mean to say that truth counts for nothing, and journalists would rather get things right.  Make it clear what is off record and what is not. Most stories are ephemeral. It is good to bear this in mind if thinking of responding.  Often a response simply draws attention to the opposition, and in some cases plays into the hands of those who thrive on polemic.  Any response is best founded on gross errors not opinions. In responding, it is always best to emphasis the positive from the start, not to get on the back foot in relation to any attack. Defensiveness is the worst tactic.

At each stage you should make it clear what you are offering to do / disclose, and on what basis. I give one free consultation (often off the record), and make it clear what is confidential at that stage. Any further engagement with a projected programme needs some kind of agreement/contract (which my agent handles). You are in a less strong position than me, for obvious reasons, but you should make it clear that you need to be treated on a professional basis. At the end of the day, even the best of producers are interested in getting the best out of you and me for the smallest amount of money in order to serve their ends. The only way to modify this is by: 1) having exciting material that they cannot do without; 2) developing a good, collaborative, professional  relationship with all involved in a way that develops trust.

The big rule is, do not over-react. It’s easy to get a reputation for being “difficult”.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

PASCAL AND THE MANY MONA LISAS

Now that Pascal’s book is out in all its visual glory, and in the wake of the media interviews, edited as always to emphasise difference, it is worth laying out briefly how his researches look to me. It represents an extraordinary body of dedicated effort. He asked me for comments for his website - knowing that I disagreed with some of his interpretations.  He is a good guy.

The LAM technique undoubtedly provides an important new weapon in the armoury of those interested in scientific examinations of layered paintings. The Holy Grail of scientific examination is to disclose the successive layers that lie below the present surface. Pascal’s mode of analysis, adapting mathematical techniques from signal processing, is revealing far more from the deeper layers than was previously possible, but it does not definitively isolate information from a single layer. We are also unclear as to what is happening as the different frequencies of light penetrate the paint layers to varying degrees and interact in diverse ways with the varied optical properties of the materials within the layers of the picture. This means that tricky acts of interpretation are necessary – even more difficult than is the case with x-rays and infrared. There is always the danger of seeing what we want to see. None of us are immune from this.


Looking at a selection of the LAM images as an art historian, I can see things that are wholly consistent with Leonardo’s creative methods, such as the indication of the use of cartoon and the restless manoeuvrings of contours. Some of what Pascal sees and reconstructs, such as the elaborate headdress, makes no sense to me in terms of design procedures or in terms of Renaissance paintings. I have difficulties with his detailed reconstructions of finished or semi-finished paintings under the surface of the present one. Leonardo’s processes were very fluid, with things coming and going, and with varied levels of finish across the picture. There is obviously a question of presentation here, and I would have resisted the temptation to translate the complex and often ambiguous images from the lower layers into such definite “pictures”.

My strong sense, at this early stage in our understanding of what we are looking at, is that we are witnessing something consistent with the documentation and with Leonardo’s ways of proceeding. I see the painting beginning as a direct portrait of Lisa – building on the innovations of Leonardo’s Milanese portraits – and becoming increasingly conceptualised as picture that combines the combines the tropes of Renaissance love poetry with a profound interest in the microcosm of the human body and the “body of the earth”. I see a steady evolution from portrait to “picture”. The change in her draperies from a Florentine style (as Pascal shows) into a more conceptualised array of veils etc., is part of this process of generalisation. All this is consistent with the idea I first expressed in my 1981 monograph, that Giuliano de’ Medici asked Leonardo to finish the beautiful and remarkable picture when they were both in Rome from 1513-16.


Pascal is opening up very important fields for analysis.  We are at the beginning, Anyone is unwise to pronounce with certainty at this stage. I will have to make some sense of all this for the monograph of the Mona Lisa that I am currently writing with Giuseppe Pallanti.

Friday, 4 December 2015

La Bella Principessa "Forgery" again again - framed

I have been looking at Jeanne Marchig's testimony to the New York court on 17 Jan 2012.
She testified that "I had inherited the drawing from my late husband, Giannino Marchig (1897-1983), who was an art restorer and artist, and an expert in Italian Renaissance art. At that time the Drawing was in an antique ornate Florentine wooden frame, which it had been before I married him in 1955".
François Bourne of Christie's, rejecting the idea that it came from the Renaissance, as her husband and she firmly believed (though no mention by anyone of Leonardo), said that "your superb German drawing in the taste of the Italian Renaissance fascinates me. I think it is an object of great taste". He advised her "to change the frame in order to make it seem an amateur object of the 19th century not an Italian pastiche". The old frame (now disappeared), which looked like an Italianate mock-up from the 19th, was removed and replaced against Jeanne's wishes, and she did not approve of its cataloguing as German, but she felt she "no choice but to accede".

The date of 1955 rules out Greenhalgh (as do many other things), and works strongly against any other forgery theory, since the scientific examinations reveal features of which no forger could have been aware at that time. This applies to the scurrilous and unsupported identification of Marchig as the forger and to any other pre. 1955 forgery.

All that is left is for opponents to divert the argument into claiming that Jeanne Marchig lied profusely. She seemed to me to be a person of great credibility. I wish she were still with us to confirm the truth, which is evident to anyone who looks at the evidence with an open mind.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

More on La Bella Principessa forgery

Having changed my email and password, I can now get into my own blog. This is a revised version of the comment I posted:

More on the forgery daftness.
The motivation for the absurd claims is clear. Greenhalgh and the writer / filmmaker Waldemar Januszczak are promoting their book and film. It is difficult to think  that Waldemar really believes  the claims to be sustainable. We have to believe that a 17-year old in 1978 knew more than anyone in the world about Leonardo, about his techniques, about the Sforza court and its art, about costumes and hairstyles at the court and about techniques of scientific examination then unknown.


Michael Daley of Artwatch spoke at the attribution conference he has just organised and continued to repeat his errors as fact. He is reported as saying that Leonardo only used parallel shading inside forms not outside them. This is wonderfully ignorant. In Popham's The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci (only a selection) I counted 24 drawing with parallel hatching being used to create a background for the drawn forms, including No 215, the Vitruvian Man and 210-11 the Leda heads!  He used it when he want to create a special degree of “rilievo” (relief), with the object standing out against its background.

One of the problems with much of the debate that is has been conducted by people using only online sources and not looking in details at the books written by Pascal Cotte and myself. The level of debate has been disappointingly poor. 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Bombing Syria

Why do we never learn?

Obviously it is difficult to argue that we do nothing in the face of the slaughter of innocent people by ISIS. But we should ask how we got here - by repeating massive mistakes. The history of major interventions in non-European countries in my lifetime is disastrous.

I can as a child remember the Korean War. The North Korean regime testifies the failure of that enterprise. Then Vietnam. Then Afghanistan, where we failed to learn from Russia's failure. Then Iraq, followed by the Arab spring, which has left a chaos of instability across North Africa.
Intervening militarily in complex, factionalised, hierarchical cultures that we do not properly understand is a terrible idea. Not least, the  "experts" who are paraded to advise and pontificate in the media on what we should do are discredited. This applies to the civilian pundits as much as the military men.

What should we do? We could try diverting the huge costs of military adventures into diplomacy, education, intelligence and above all investing in the poor communities in which young people are vulnerable to perverted promises of glory.

We should also remember that the perpetrators of monstrosities are someone's son or daughter, probably someone's brother or sister, maybe someone's husband or wife, father or mother. It is said that they are "animals" or "inhuman". We need to assert or core of mutual humanity with them (and everyone in the world) before they plunge into nihilism.

La Bella Principessa is a "forgery"!!!

The silly season for Leonardo never stops. This now applies as much to the profile portrait on vellum, the portrait of Bianca Sforza known as La Bella Principessa, as it does to the Mona Lisa.
The latest in the Sunday Times is the hilarious claim from the convicted forger Shaun Greenhalgh that he forged the portrait in 1978. He is effectively promoting his forthcoming book.
There are many reasons why the story is ridiculous. I give just three for the moment.

1) We have lead isotope dating undertaken by the University of Pavia that shows the white pigment in the sitter’s cheek to be a minimum age of 250 years old. This means that it is not a recent forgery;
2) If someone fakes a Leonardo why do they not promote it as a Leonardo? There was no suggestion from 1978 to 2007 that it was by Leonardo.
3) Obviously anyone with a decent level of technical knowledge can read what Pascal Cotte, myself and other scholars have published and say, “that’s how I did this or that”. But many of the “thises" and “thats" were not known in 1978. A nice case in point is the hand-print technique in the flesh tones as revealed by Pascal's multi-spectral analysis, a technique that we did not know about until the 1980s. 

Faced with the pigment dating, Greenhalgh then claims that he used "organic" materials of appropriate age, including "iron-rich clays" he dug up. You cannot obtain lead-based pigments (non-organic) this way so as to pass the isotope test. No forger in 1978 could have anticipated the recent high-tech tests against which he would have to protect his creation.

The plus side of all this is that it provides another picturesque story for the book I am writing called Living with Leonardo, to be published by Thames and Hudson. Ha Ha!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Labour Party election, Jeremy Corbin

It is notable that prominent figures in the Labour Party, most notably the leadership candidates, simply do not understand why members are deserting them for someone who believes what he says. No-one wants yet another central party office political technocrat who has risen integrally through a discredited system. The repeated claims that the party must appoint a leader who makes the party electable indicates that being electable is the priority, not a set of ideals or radical policies. Burnham has belatedly scattered some radical star dust over his middling policies, but his radicalism is opportunistic and shallow. The candidates'  ganging up to denounce the election of Corbin as tantamount to the annihilation of the party is similar to the negative bullying that almost buried the "no" campaign in the Scottish referendum.  People do not like being bullied, and it is counter-productive.
The Labour Party have bought into the system of international finance and multi-national companies that operate outside international control. Saying, as senior figures do, that the party lost the election because they were too "anti-business" tells us that it has lost its heart and soul.
The other day The Guardian, without apparent irony, covered on following pages the degrading conditions in the refugee camp at Calais and the lush life in the Hamptons in the USA, where the indulgent rich grow fat on money that makes money. Such inequalities become steeper by the year. Where is the political will to do something about this on a national and global basis? Perhaps Corbin has such a will, but I doubt he can do anything about it if he has to grapple with leading such a soulless party.