Monday 17 December 2012

gun control

Another tragic set of killings. This time of teachers and children at Sandy Hook. The same fatuous statements from the gun lobby, and unfortunately from ministers in the churches. The Christian right and gun lobby lie together in the same incestuous bed, while the victims lie in harsh earth.

The basic logic of the situation is that guns are specifically designed to kill. That is why they were invented and perfected. Other potentially lethal objects, such as knives, were not designed specifically with killing in mind. A gun is designed to kill in a detached manner. Stabbing someone with a  knife is more directly tactile and bloody - and, in a strange way, needs more courage.

No private citizen should have the right to own a device whose only primary purpose is killing.   Someone who owns a gun is saying, I can easily kill you with the motion of one finger.

Firing a lethal weapon cannot be classified as "sport", least of all when the targets are animals. Obtaining pleasure from killing, which is what hunting is about, is amoral and degrading for those who gain the pleasure and those who spectate. It may be that famers have the right to possess shotguns, but even that needs scrutinising.

The gun lobby claims that people have a right to bear arms to defend themselves. By defending the universal right of citizens to bear arms, they defend the right of potential killers to bear arms. Who is a potential killer is not safely definable. It may be you or it may be me.

As I understand it, the right to bear arms in the Constitution was formulated to allow the ready raising of a militia in the face of continued threats to the fledgling republic. Even if that is not what was meant, I cannot think that Jefferson and the founding fathers would even begin to defend the current situation. They could not have envisaged some 10 million potent modern weapons in the hands of almost anyone who wants to obtain one. Their humane principles would have demanded that the Constitution be amended. The right to carry a gun is trumpeted as an inalienable American right. It is simply and hideously wrong.

The day after the killings, a local pastor trotted out the homilies about Christ having triumphed over death and the necessity of evil in the world. Obama announced that god has "called" the children to him. Why are we not celebrating if they are joyous in the arms of god? The teachers children are cold corpses. The agonised parents relatives and friends face the reality. The rest is political and religious cant.

Friday 19 October 2012

abortion, evidence and Jeremy Hunt

Listening to Jeremy Hunt on the Today programme, being asked about his views on abortion....  His declared view, presumably not unrelated to his Catholicism, is that the limit for abortions should be reduced to 12 weeks.  As Health minister he was rightly pressed to say on what grounds he supported such a radical lowering of the age limit. Was it a matter of evidence or faith? Or both? He refused to say or even give a hint on what basis he might adopt his stance. Given that he is an elected member of parliament and health minister, we ought to know. This was even more evasive than his unwillingness to take responsibility for what his adviser was doing in the BSkyB affair.

He parroted the now stock reply of any politician dealing with issues that involve science that his decisions will be "evidence-based". Does this mean that in other areas evidence does not matter?  More seriously, what does "evidence-based" really mean? Evidence is collected according to hypotheses and then evaluated before a more conclusive proposal is made. (Yes, I know its not as tidy as this.) A different hypothesis may well result in different modes of evidence gathering. Even with the same mode, evidence is subject to interpretation. No evidence interprets itself. The same evidence is frequently interpreted in widely divergent ways.

In the abortion debate the main point of recent reference to evidence seems to involve the age at which the foetus can live outside the womb. This seems to me not to be a workable criterion or even a valid one. In practical terms it is likely that medical science will be able to push that age back even further than now. We know that a very early foetus can live for a time outside the womb during transplantation. The key issues are at what time does the foetus become a "person" with a right to life, and how do we define a "person". Is the prerequisite for becoming a "person" a certain level of consciousness?  And what are the rights of that "person" with respect to the rights and wishes and health of the woman who is carrying the foetus. These are complex, slippery issues, and are ultimately ethical and emotional in nature. They cannot be decided by scientific evidence.

What is clear is that the visuals exploited by the anti-abortionists is often hugely rigged. This is an except from a piece I wrote in Nature some time ago (2005!). It was written in response to a two-hour
programme Life before Birth made in Britain by Pioneer Productions and directed by Toby McDonald. 
The film was screened in Britain as In the Womb

There were some glimpses of relatively raw scans, but most of the spectacular visuals relied on animated models made by Artemis. The foetuses were sculpted in wax, cast in silicon and hand painted. Animation specialists MillTV — better known for the creation of aliens in Doctor Who and for special-effects work in the film Gladiator — then set them in motion. The skill and imagination behind the models were of the highest order, and the results were seductive, visually and emotionally. We felt that we were eye witnesses to a beauty and conscious life previously unseen. But at no stage was it clear what we were seeing. The credits named the companies responsible, but didn’t explain how the images were generated, and they were all implicitly accorded the same level of “visual truth”.
Only on MillTV’s website is the process made clear: “After months of research, courtesy of 4D
ultrasound scans, medical books and pictures of mummified foetuses, MillTV developed anatomically
accurate CG recreations of month-four and month-seven foetuses.” Each elaborate and laborious animation involved such methods as “multilayering”for “shadowing, depth of field and colour correction flexibility”.

Where is the visual evidence here? Portraying something that cannot be "seen", other than by scanning with non-visible rays, involves high contrivance and deliberate choice. If we think that are four-month foetus has all the pink and pliable appeal of a Raphael bambino, our instinctive the attitude to the termination of its life is likely very different  from only seeing an ultra-sound scan. 

Not an easy issue. My stance is to support a woman's right to decide, given a balanced setting for that choice. But I really don't have "scientific evidence" for that stance. 

Friday 28 September 2012

Leonardo da Vinci. The Isleworth Mona Lisa


In an extraordinary bout of promotion, the Mona Lisa Foundation has captured incredibly wide media attention through the announcement on Thursday that they are in possession of the “earlier version” of the Mona Lisa – the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco de Giocondo. The announcement, ostensibly comes from a non-profit research foundation, but the directors of the Foundation are to be identified as belonging to the syndicate of owners.

David Feldman, the major stamp dealer who is a director of the Foundation, kindly arranged for me to be sent a high resolution image and a copy of the glossy, gilt-edged book, which contains their “proof” that they own the first version of Leonardo’s portrait. I have not seen the painting in the original, but some things are so clear from the image and from their mish-mash of suppositions in the book that seeing the original is most unlikely to change my present conclusions.

The book, apparently written for the most part by Feldman’s brother, Stanley, is as physically impressive as it is historically slippery. There is no sense of how to distinguish core evidence, evaluate sources and construct arguments methodically. The piles of unstable hypotheses, stacked one on another, would not be acceptable from an undergraduate.

They (he?) says there must be a first Mona Lisa – the evidence shows this. Let’s cut back to basics. We now know, courtesy of the annotation by Agostino Vespucci in his edition of Cicero’s Letters to Friends, that the painting was underway in 1503. Vespucci, who knew Leonardo, mentions her “head” and that the painting was incomplete.
The next possible mention is the travel diaries of Antonio de Beatis, who visited Leonardo's French residence in the service of the Cardinal of Aragon. Antonio noted three pictures, one of which was of “a certain Florentine woman portrayed from life at the instance [instanza] of the late Magnificent Giuilano de’ Medici”. This might be the Mona Lisa , though Antonio’s precision as a source is questionable. He says that Leonardo suffered paralysis in his right hand and that we “cannot expect more good things from him”. Leonardo was left-handed. If the portrait is the Mona Lisa, it is possible that Giuliano, whom Leonardo served in Rome 1513-16, expressed interested in obtaining the portrait.  

In any event, the next really solid reference is in the 1525 list of the possessions of the cunning Salaì, who had obtained some key Leonardos that were in the master’s possession at his death. “La Gioconda” (i.e. the wife of Francesco de Giocondo) is recorded in the list designed to facilitate the division of the late Salaì’s possessions between his two sisters.  The best of Salaì’s Leonardos, including the Leda and the St Anne, entered the French Royal Collection at an unknown date, presumably during the lifetime of Francis I, Leonardo’s patron.

Where is the evidence for an earlier version of the younger Lisa? The most straightforward explanation consistent with the evidence is that there was one autograph portrait, never handed over the commissioner but retained (like other paintings) by Leonardo himself. We know that he was notably slow painter, and the physical evidence in the Louvre painting – different modes of handling and crack patterns – favours an extended period of execution. The painting may not even be quite finished now.

The book claims that none of the evidence of scientific examination indicates that the Isleworth picture is not by Leonardo. Nor does it show that it is not by Raphael. Even this ineffectual claim, with its double negative, is not justified. The infrared reflectogram and X-ray published on p. 253 do not reveal any of the characteristics of Leonardo’s preparatory methods. Leonardo, as the infrared images of the Louvre painting show, was an inveterate fiddler with his compositions even once he had begin to work on the primed surfaces of his panels. The images of the Isleworth canvas have the dull monotony that would be expected of a copy.

The carbon dating of the canvas on p. 246 produces a date band (broad as ever for carbon dating) that effectively ends in the early 15th century! Either the technique had gone awry or the linen was in existence at least 100 years before  the painter used it.

I see lots of dossiers of “scientific evidence” attached to purported Leonardos. It often seems enough to have the texts with the data, diagrams and images to “prove” the authenticity, whether or not the they actually tell us anything that actively supports Leonardo’s authorship.

When we come to look really carefully at the “Isleworth Mona Lisa”  it is evident that the copyist has failed to understand significant details and the suggestive subtlety of Leonardo’s image.  I could give a big list, but here are a few:
1) Lisa’s dress, as revealed by the gathered neckline in the Louvre painting, consists of a miraculously thin, translucent overlayer with thicker opaque cloth underneath. The copyist does not understand this structure and renders it lamely;
2) the spiralling veil over her left shoulder, rendered by Leonardo with depth and diaphanous vivacity, is transformed into a series of dull stripes of inert highlight;
3) Lisa’s  hair has that characteristic rivulet pattern in the Louvre painting, but is rendered in a routine manner in the Isleworth picture;
4) the veil beside Lisa’s right eye floats over the sky, rocks, water and her hair with extraordinary delicacy, with its meandering edge marked with a minutely thin, dark border – but not in the Isleworth version;
5) the folds of draperies in the latter are hard, routine and show little sense of the folding processes that are apparent in the Louvre painting;
6) the mid-ground hills / mountains in the Isleworth picture are painted in a thick, heavy-handed and opaque manner, with none of the optical elusiveness of Leonardo, and none of his living sense of the “body of the earth”;
7) the island on the left of the painting is truly bad – a literal blot on the landscape. There is no logic to the reflection and no other sign of the water that is responsible for the reflection;
8) the head in the Isleworth picture has been conventionally prettified in stock direction of the standard Renaissance image of the “beloved lady”. The idea, in the book, that Renaissance portraits of mature women can be used as accurate registers of the their actual age is misguided.

Everything points to the Isleworth painting being a copy. There is a comparable copy – island and all – in the National Museum in Oslo. Another is illustrated on p.199. There are families of copies of the Mona Lisa. This family of three is not the best.

And, on this flimsy but noisy basis, the Mona Lisa Foundation has the world-wide media jumping to attention. Any Leonardo story is mega-news. It is this phenomenon that is really notable in the current episode of Leo-mania. Leonardo would have been pleased. He was certainly looking for enduring fame.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Marilyn again

Recorded a Radio 2 programme on Marilyn (no need for a surname). Christ to Coke has had an affect - I now get asked about other iconic images, e.g. Munch's Scream, which generally means some rapid homework. I wrote a blog for the Oxford University website about Marilyn's "Happy Birthday Mr President. It begins:

It’s John F. Kennedy’s 45th birthday at Madison Square Garden on 19 May 1962. Only it’s not. His real birthday is ten days in the future. The compelling mass schmaltz that Americans do with an underlying, knowing absurdity saturates the event. After she has characteristically missed her cue on at least two occasions, the host Peter Lawford finally (and with inadvertent irony) introduces the “late Marilyn Monroe”.
In a glittering faux-nude dress tighter than her own skin and enveloped in a soft fur wrap, that most desirable of female bodies shuffles with exaggerated mini-steps towards the podium, like a penguin on speed. Her floss hair has long given up any pretence to organic life. She is unwrapped by Lawford and ups the sexual ante with mute lip squirming directed at the microphone, which she holds tenderly like a living member. Everything is comically kitsch yet irresistibly powerful.
The rest can be seen on the Univ Press website:

For the radio homework Judd lent me disks of The Prince and the Showgirl. Also My Week with Marilyn by Simon Curtis.
The Olivier / Monroe conjunction  is fascinating. He was a great actor and mastered film. Monroe was film. There's a passage in the coronation in Westminster Abbey where the whole narrative of the majestic event is carried by her printed programme and her face. Micro-millimetres of fleeting facial nuances. Whether this is "the method" or natural talent and intelligence is difficult to know. I suspect the latter.
My Week.. has a special resonance - the young man, Colin Clark, who accidentally becomes Marilyn's human outlet during the circus of performing animals, is the son of Kenneth Clark, Lord Clark of Civilisation. Clarks's catalogue of the Windsor drawings by Leonardo remains one of the greatest ever works of art-historical scholarship, and his monograph (for which I provided an intro for the Penguin revised ed.) is as good as any monograph of any artist in its perception and beauty. As so often with such biopics, the first time I saw Branagh as Olivier in the film I thought "you're not Olivier". The first time I saw Michelle Williams I thought "you're not Monroe". A short way into the film, I lost the sense that Branagh was not Olivier. He became a character who was analogous with Olivier. I never lost the sense that Williams was not Monroe. This is not a matter of acting as such, since Williams is superb. It comes from 2 things: 1) Williams is always imitating Monroe, which Branagh does not do with Olivier unless it is when Olivier plays the prince; 2) more importantly, Monroe's magnetic presence on camera is such that it never fades (for me at least), however hard William tries.
I visited the Marilyn exhibition in the Salvatore Ferragamo (shoe) Museum in Florence. Very well done, if too many SF shoes included for thin reasons. Wonderful costumes borrowed from major collectors good film clips. Her notebooks of which there are facsimiles are a revelation. Questing, sad, enigmatic and poetic. One, after she had attended some university classes in Los Angeles in 1950, lists family trees of Florentine artists, Donatello, Masaccio, Lippi et al. I missed my vocation. I could have tutored MM on Renaissance art.

Sarah Simblet's talk

Aaah. That last one was posted by Judd, my excellent PA, who has been grappling with the site as well. What she says is right - a talk by Sara Simblet who worked with me for TV reconstructing the technique of the Leonardo portrait on vellum.  She spoke about her new version of John Evelyn's Silva (1664) on England's woodland trees. What she is doing is extraordinary in her quest for artistic and functional perfection.

I've found at the moment that if I remain signed in I can post blogs. But I not counting on it...

Saturday 7 July 2012

The New Sylva

Aaahh... What a great talk in the tiny village hall in a little West Oxfordshire village last night.

Sunday 1 July 2012

banks and bonking

Still struggling to get into my own blog... On signing in I keep being told that I don't have a blog. I have to re-set everything each time, sometimes with success, sometimes without.

More bankers bonking to the pop of Bollinger corks. The focus is on bankers, but the all big corporations do similar things. Through the major national boards on which I have served, and my contacts with top 100 companies who sponsor exhibitions I have seen at least a glimpse of the ethos that now permeates huge firms. I have also seen the incestuous nature of remuneration committees, whose members are for the most part determining the comparators for their own levels of remuneration.

The culture is of macho management (perpetuated by boards whose members belong to the same  cadre) that sets up the climate for smart-ass manipulators of mechanisms whose only aim is to exploit the financial system, regardless of whether this screws the clients whose interests they are supposed to be serving.

The massive rewards are justified on the grounds that we have to pay for the best at an international level. We can see what the "best" have done. I would be happy to see the best defined in terms of probity, public service, responsibility and competence. Surely we could find people to do this for £1 million a year. Does someone who is paid £2 million work 2X as hard and with 2X the dedication as someone paid £1 million? And so on up the scale. Let other countries pay for the macho manipulators if they want to.

As I have said previously, the nature of what is called the "market" is that it serves to facilitate businesses charge the maximum they can get away with. Since they are all doing this, the predominant impetus is towards ever higher prices for customers, not reduced prices through competition. Competition acts only as an intermittent and partial restraint. At the level of huge corporations the only serious competition is to become big enough to ingest or crush other companies. Since Google and Facebook do not look like traditional companies we should not think they are any different.

But there are no viable political parties that are even thinking about such things.

Friday 29 June 2012

blog and Facebook

A hiatus. I have experienced big and continuing problems with logging in to my own blog. I'm not confident that it is sorted out for good. I might have to go elsewhere - if it's worth continuing at all. I have reservations about the self-indulgence of the exercise.

I am withdrawing from Facebook. Their decision to reset everyone's default email address to @Facebook is unethical. They did not ask. They did not inform. No doubt the some obscure clause in the terms and conditions let's them do this. It's clearly done for their own self interest.
The pattern is familiar. A company starts with enthusiasm and even idealism. In this phase it is necessarily customer-orientated. Over a certain critical size - probably a combination of staff size with attendant management structures and sheer financial mass - stock corporate behaviour kicks in. The collective interest of the corporation, as defined by one or a few dictatorial  managers and powerful investors, takes over as the end in view. This kind of corporate arrogance is all of a piece with Facebook's lying at the time of the stock market flotation. The one consolation is that in this world of fast moving technological fads, the existing dinosaurs, with their ponderous lack of agility, will be wiped out by the next impact of a meteorite strike  from a nerd in a bedroom. Where is My Space? Ingested by NewsCorp (ugh!) and then sold on. I give Facebook 12 years, Google 20.  Maybe that's too long. I have been to Google's headquarters and seen the bureaucratic ossification close up. It is not a pretty sight, though they try to pretend it's not happening with open-knecked shorts, knackered jeans and California-speak.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

The Prado Mona Lisa

The amount of press attention given to the copy of the Mona Lisa in the Prado is astonishing.’s+lover+probably+painted+the+Prado’s+Mona+Lisa/26047
etc. etc.
Would the story have even have made the papers if it had been about Raphael? The idea that a copy should be produced in workshop is hardly a surprise. In our book on the Madonna and the Yarnwinder,  Thereza Wells and I showed that the two prime versions developed alongside each other, in this instance with Leonardo's participation in both. The only surprise is that a copy should be made of an intimate, domestic portrait of a bourgeois sitter. Perhaps Francesco del Giocondo wanted two versions. But it is odd. The implications of the landscape for the dating of the Mona Lisa - the background in the copy is aligned with drawings dateable to after 1510 - provides useful confirmation that the painting took a long time, but is not surprising. Was it ever completely finished? Were any of his paintings completely finished? The London Virgin of the Rocks, which was supplied for the frame in S. Francesco in Milan, is not finished. Only the Louvre seemed to think that the ML was completed before Leonardo left Florence in 1507.
Perhaps I shouldn't complain. It all helps sustain interest and helps sell (my) books.
By the way, we have absolutely no reliable evidence about what Salai looked like - and almost no firm evidence of how he painted. The pretty boy with ringlets, often identified as Salai, was a favourite facial type for Leonardo well before Salai came on to the scene.

guns and the Countyside Allaince

The new Executive Chairman of the Countryside Alliance, Sir Barney White-Spunner (could Hardy have invented a better name?) is urging children to take up shooting to identify with the country. Sir Barney, please note:
1) guns were designed for killing at that is still their primary function. Even children know that;
2) putting a gun in kids' hands is to identify them personally with the images of violence that permeate our media;
3) guns should not be domesticated in town our country. They should be available and used only excpetionally;
4) using them for "sport" is predicated upon the user gaining pleasure from the death and suffering of a living creature. Such pleasure is degrading;
5) if shooting is necessary in the countryside for certain specific reasons, it should be considered as a necessary evil rather than a source of delight.
There is of course abundant natural slaughter in nature within the complex interactions and balances between hunters and preys. This does not justify our adding to it for motives that gratuitous, unnecessary and unethical.

Thursday 15 March 2012

Leonardo Battle

Much kerfuffling about the announcement from Florence about the discovery of pigments on a layer of wall underneath Vasari's  Battle of Marciano fresco. At one point my 2 'phones at home and my mobile were ringing simultaneously with press queries. The questions continue to come, including one set from Chile.  The search is important. It has been underway, on and off, since the late 1970s. It needs to be resolved one way or the other. Maurizio Seracini, who is leading the investigation, has the skills to pursue it. If the unfinished Battle of Anghiari - the central knot of fighting horsemen - is discovered in legible condition, it will be one of the greatest art finds of any era - much like the unearthing of Laocoon.  The timing and handling of the announcement is, however, unfortunate, and is clearly driven by political, media and, I guess, financial imperatives. The mayor is pressed by critics, and Maurizio presumably needs funding to be sustained. The timing is also related to screening of the National Geographic TV programme on the search. The whole project over the years has been dogged by premature ejaculations via the press. This, as I know from the story of the portrait in vellum, is precisely how not to secure scholarly assent. I have been fed bits of somewhat garbled information by the media.

It is said that there is "proof" that Leonardo's lost Battle has been discovered. My reactions are:
1) the published data about Vasari having built a wall specifically to protect Leonardo's painting is inconclusive;
2) I have seen no evidence that the layers behind Vasari's fresco feature a continuous, flat, primed and painted surface;
3) the "manganese" pigment that has been identified in the core sample taken by the small bores is said to match that in the Mona Lisa. Manganese is a standard component in umber or burnt umber, and cannot be taken specifically to signal Leonardo;
4) the "red lacquer" in the press reports is presumably a red lake pigment - based on an organic dye. The best red lakes were expensive but were used in tempera and oil painting. They could also be used on walls with a binder;
5) it is claimed that there was no other painting in the Council Hall from its construction in 1494 until Vasari's intervention. The idea that the hugely important Council Hall would have been left with bare plaster walls during the almost 20 years of the Republic is untenable. The precise location of Leonardo's horsemen is not certain, and the pigments could well be traces of other decorations in the hall, such as heraldic shields;
6) if Vasari did wall up Leonardo's painting, what might remain? The long-term adhesion of oil paint on a wall in such circumstances is hugely questionable. We might well have only a micro-jigsaw puzzle of fragments fallen off the surface.

Let's wait until something really definite is found, and let's get the technical material in the public domain at the same time as the press stories. This is what we attempted to do with the new evidence about the origins of the vellum portrait in the Sforziad in Warsaw. The internet facilitates such simultaneous publishing. It would be wonderful to recover Leonardo's painting, but we are a long way from that. Let's hold our horses.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

out of the train window

On the train to Manchester, passing Banbury, Leamington...
A million miracles of life in the sweep of an eye. Tender green shoots of early spring grass, urgent cellular buds on the  dry twigs of mighty oaks and sycamores. Fitted into the cycle of life, death, decay, new lives, over the millennia, ravaged by gradual and savage change in ages past but always gravitating towards critical states of balance. The old farms the same. Nature transformed into cropped fields and mapped hedges, but they live in intimate collaboration with each new state of balance to preserve the viability of the harvests.
Along the flat, dark tarmac of the sharp roads scuttle our enamelled armadillos. They consume, consume, excrete, excrete, converting noxious substance into noxious substance. They know no cycle, no renewal. They are metaphors for what WE are doing to the earth.
I drive fast cars. Not good.

Shell oil spill

On the news it was announced that Shell had settled private damage claims for the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The news said it was "a" leak not "the" leak.  How long does it take for a news item to become about "a" rather than "the"? Not long it seems.

Titian and the National Galleries

So the two National Galleries (Scotland and England) have jointly purchased the second of the great Diana paintings by Titian, having bought the Action painting a few years ago.  This seems about the best that can be done in the circumstances. But the circumstances are not good. Let me give some background.
When I was a trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland in the 1980s, the Sutherland Trustees decided they needed to raise money and approached Sotheby's (not the National Galleries, where the Sutherland paintings had been held for many years). Sotheby's said they thought they "should test the market with a Titian". When the Nat Gall got word of this they contacted the Sutherland estate, and opened negotiations to secure a good deal with the available tax concessions. "We" secured a Tintoretto (which cleaned up a treat), a somewhat damaged Lotto and a Steen and the estate got the sum it wanted.  Sotheby's of course acted as agents for the sale to the nation and advertised their public-spirited role.
There 3 bad circumstances at work here:
1) the auctioneers have a prime interest in getting a work into their salerooms not into public collections. They should be disqualified from acting as agents for the sale to the nation because they have no interest in giving their clients the best advice;
2) the National Galleries have held the paintings for many years, conserving them, protecting them, researching them, facilitating public access. They would be within their rights billing the Sutherland trustees for the services they have rendered, accepting of course that the Galleries have benefitted from their presence;
3) the Sutherland Trustees seem to operate a bottomless pit. How long before the auctioneers want to "test the Market" with the Raphael?

Saturday 25 February 2012

Marius Neset

I went with a friend to the Spin Jazz Club in Oxford. The obligatory semi-slum, dark paint peeling off distressed walls, banks of unused spots amongst which a brass chandelier hangs impotently, and an overworked bar selling concoctions whose names promise paralysis. A surprisingly wide age range - more so that in the classical concerts.
The star of the show, the 25-year old Dane, Marius Neset, was simply astonishing. He moves like a rag doll high on speed, and plays with a passionate virtuosity, drawing sounds from the saxophone that ranged from singing voices to growling animals, from deep echoes to birds tweeting.  Somehow, he played  duets with himself in a kind of counterpoint. The quartet kept up with him!
I felt as I did when I heard Andreas Scholl, the German counter-tenor, sing for the first time.  Walking on like a gawky schoolboy, he promised little. But the first notes were those of an angel.
It takes only a few moments to know that someone special has arrived.


I have 2 former students working (or in one case being thrown out of work) and one art historian friend in Greece. The situation is dire, and we should not feel superior for not being part of it - at this stage.  It seems bizarre the the old monetarist programme of austerity should be automatically applied to an economy that has no capacity to cope with it. A starving patient is being put on a diet to loose weight. This is a symptom of the bankruptcy of thinking in the worlds of government and finance. Where are the creative alternative analyses that do not predicate growth on a sinking raft of debt?

Sunday 15 January 2012

the latest fantasy

A reply to M Domoretsky .

This search for mystic geometry is totally misguided, as, in general, is the search for "codes". None of the huge body of evidence about the design of Renaissance paintings (Leonardo's included) provides the slightest encouragement for the imposing of detailed surface geometry (using thick lines on small reproductions) on paintings in this way. The most there may be is an adherence to certain canons of bodily proportion, but none of his drawings for specific works of art contain even this. Renaissance paintings contain allegories and symbolism, but there are no "codes".  The nature of a code is that it's meaning is as unlike surface appearance as possible. Allegory and symbolism convey deeper meanings that are consistent with the immediate content of the image.
"Da Vinci" is not his name - that's an ugly Americanism. It's like calling me "from Woodstock". It was not a surname.