California Literary Review


Book Review: Titian: His Life by Sheila Hale


December 12th, 2012

Seeing a paint brush on the floor, the emperor reached down to retrieve it and presented it to the painter. Had Charles bestowed a golden scepter upon Titian, the honor would have been no greater. Artists were still viewed as artisans by most of the nobility of Europe. In sullying his royal hands with a tool of Titian’s trade, Charles paid him the ultimate compliment.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Salvatore Giuliano, #65


August 2nd, 2012

There is a common refrain among academics and law enforcement officials who have studied the Italian Mafia, arguably the best known and in many ways the seed group for all other crime syndicates. To understand the Mafia, they say, you first have to understand Sicily.

Two New York City Exhibits Explore the Art and Culture of Renaissance Venice


June 6th, 2012

The Venetians during the Renaissance were a confident and resilient people. Even as their dominions were threatened by the Turks and global trade routes shifted away from the Mediterranean Sea, they found the inner resources to cope with these challenges. You have only to look at the magnificent portraits from the Accademia Carrara at the Metropolitan Museum to understand why the Republic of Venice lasted until Napoleon’s invasion in 1798.

Book Review: Naples Declared: A Walk Around The Bay by Benjamin Taylor


May 16th, 2012

Considering how “casual” the work is in its approach, you could, I suppose, call it a mere glimpse into the turmoil and tragedies that overcame Naples. Yet, in some ways, this technique proves far more vibrant than the traditional presentations of historical events which most of us have experienced in the course of our schooling. Not to say Taylor hasn’t studied his subject or done his extensive research.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Mafioso, #80


April 19th, 2012

“The Sicilians,” the agent said, “are very serious about what they do.” We see a lot of that in Mafioso, director Alberto Lattuada’s dark comedy that says so much about both the criminal organization and the fascinating island of Sicily that gave birth to it. In a 2010 article in the Daily Beast, Martin Scorsese listed the film as one of the 15 gangster movies that had the most profound effect on him as a writer and director. He cited Mafioso as “one of the best films ever made about Sicily.”

Book Review: Verdi and/or Wagner: Two Men, Two Worlds, Two Centuries by Peter Conrad


November 28th, 2011

Perhaps, the best way of approaching Conrad’s book is to regard it primarily as a meditation on creativity. As with opera itself, where passion and empathy lead, intellectual appreciation will follow. The key insight of this fine book is easy enough to grasp. In an age of strutting nationalism, both Verdi and Wagner gave the world music that ultimately transcends the limits of borders or political ideology, regardless of how subsequent regimes used it.

Purity and Danger: The Many Lives of the Italian Renaissance


August 25th, 2011

More importantly, the good-for-you, vitamin-enriched Renaissance we know today is itself a fairly recent, and largely American, historical construction.

Book Review: Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles


August 19th, 2011

Carthage, however, was not merely conquered by Rome. As the title of Miles’ book asserts, Carthage was destroyed. In three brutal wars, Carthage’s military power was annihilated by the legions of the Roman Republic. The city was ransacked and burned, down to its foundations. The people of Carthage were massacred or enslaved. The literature of the city was put to the torch. Not a stone was left upon a stone.

Book Review: How I Lost the War by Filippo Bologna


July 18th, 2011

Yet in Federico’s town, pools are pumped and wells are closed. They remove centuries old trees in the square and install a serpent-shaped fountain; they provide more jobs as the spa complex grows, at the same time bulldozing vineyards and cobblestone streets. Federico’s response is extreme but at the sight of his parched land perhaps understandable. He goes guerrilla.

Art Review: Cities of Splendor: A Journey Through Renaissance Italy, Denver Art Museum


May 16th, 2011

The shepherds look up in bewilderment at the announcing angel whose golden halo, rose-pink robes, and orangey-bronze wings seem to glow. Surely, this is what a supernatural visitation should look like. And yet the effect of nocturnal shadow shows the painter to be as interested in earthly experiences as heavenly ones – here already is the keenly observational eye of the Renaissance.

New Insights Into the Life of Caravaggio


February 14th, 2011

In his most serious brawl, about which the documents provide an entirely new account, Caravaggio killed a man. The brawl, like a Los Angeles fight between rival gangs, had been planned ahead of time with eight participants, whose names are now known.

Art Review: Alessi: Ethical and Radical at the Philadelphia Museum of Art


November 30th, 2010

The Tea and Coffee Piazza sets, produced in limited editions of ninety-nine, with three artist’s proofs, were a critical success. The project served to introduce Michael Graves to the Alessi “stable,” while traveling exhibits informed museum patrons on the ways that high art and industrial design could form working partnerships. Mendini’s original conception was vindicated.

Art Review: Michelangelo Pistoletto Exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art


November 3rd, 2010

Pistoletto first gained prominence in the world of art in the early 1960’s with his Quadri Specchianti. These “mirror paintings” positioned life-sized and astonishingly lifelike images of people on highly polished sheets of stainless steel.

Art Review: Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy and Germany, 1918-1936


October 4th, 2010

Chaos and Classicism tells the story of good intentions that went terribly wrong. After the carnage of trench warfare, sensitive spirits in Europe craved artistic depictions of beautiful bodies, unscathed by shrapnel, and timeless, uncluttered architecture inspired by the Greek and Roman past. Yet, it was not long before this craving for life-affirming art was transformed into the soulless ideology of Mussolini’s Fascist Italy and Hitler’s Third Reich.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano


March 17th, 2010

A startling achievement in a first novel, the work seems to have already touched a chord since it has taken Italy and Europe by storm and sold copies in the millions. It was undertaken by a young Italian physicist at age 27, who tells a haunting story. Better yet, he’s a natural, adept with characterization, knowing how to captivate and hold his readers.

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