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!