California Literary Review


Italics: Italian Art between Tradition and Revolution 1968–2008 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago


January 4th, 2010

In Roberto Cuoghi’s 2006 portrait of Davide Halevim, one of the highlights of the section entitled “Representations of Mortality,” Halevim is covered in leaves, dirt, and twigs; his face is discolored; and rigor mortis appears to have set in. But Halevim was alive (and still is) when Cuoghi made this depiction of the Milan-based collector. To create this work, part of the artist’s series of portraits of art-world figures begun in 2001, Cuoghi made a cast of Halevim’s face, buried it in his garden to let the process of decomposition run its course, and then photographed the results.

Paul Bril’s Restored Paintings in the San Silvestro Chapel at Rome’s Sancta Sanctorum


November 30th, 2009

Born in Antwerp in 1554, Bril was working in Italy at the end of the century, where his landscapes marked the transition between what Paolucci called the “autumn of Mannerism” of the Renaissance and the birth of the Baroque style. The change was enormous, and Bril is acknowledged as among its authors.

A New Look at Rome’s Rousing Middle Ages


August 6th, 2009

When its doors first opened in 1734, the Capitoline Museum, which stands upon the hilltop that is the very heart of Rome, was one of the first European public museums and a favorite haunt of the wealthy Grand Tourists from all over Europe. As of July 30 this venerable museum offers something novel to all tourists—a chance for a fresh look at a relatively neglected period of Roman history and the arts, the Middle Ages.

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R.A. Scotti


June 29th, 2009

Not quite a century ago, on August 29, 1911, thousands of people began flocking to the Louvre (among them, Franz Kafka and his friend Max Brod) to gaze at a blank space on a wall. The 49-acre Louvre – still the largest museum in the world today – had been closed for most of the preceding week for the investigation of a singular occurrence: the most famous painting in the world had disappeared from that blank spot.

Celebrating Galileo in Florence


March 22nd, 2009

2009 is officially “The Year of Astronomy,” commemorating Galilei’s first observation of the Moon through his telescope in November of 1609. Born in Pisa, Galileo Galilei worked in Florence, where the fourth centennial of his discovery is being celebrated with a stunning and sophisticated exhibition which took four years to prepare.

The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found by Mary Beard


March 3rd, 2009

Nevertheless, in my personal library there are 130 books on Pompeii. Of all these, this is the one I would choose to read first.

The Patron’s Payoff: Conspicuous Commissions in Italian Renaissance Art by Jonathan K. Nelson and Richard J. Zeckhauser


February 4th, 2009

No less than the American financier who donates a museum wing on condition it bears his name, or the merchandiser who endows a university institute named for him, the results of Renaissance patronage had to be, first of all, highly visible.

Amarcord: Marcella Remembers by Marcella Hazan


January 6th, 2009

If we are what we eat, then Marcella Hazan, the author of what are often recognized as the best six Italian cookbooks ever published in English, has been writing her autobiography since 1973. That is the year when The Classic Italian Cookbook, her first effort, saw the light of day. Thirty-five years later, with increasingly sophisticated recipe books, restaurants and food industries in the United States, it is hard to remember how groundbreaking Hazan’s work has been.

Casanova by Ian Kelly


December 3rd, 2008

Ah, Casanova. Men want to be him, and women want to be with him. Or is it the other way around? He’s Romeo with cojones, Bond without the Beretta, a man more sinned with than sinning. In the annals of sexual conquest, there has seldom been a more entertaining and knowing chronicler. Casanova, according to Casanova, was a legend.

Dilettanti: The Antic and the Antique in Eighteenth-Century England by Bruce Redford


November 30th, 2008

A famous double portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds shows members of the Dilettanti Society sipping away while making rude gestures about vaginas while holding up gemstones from classical antiquity and admiring painted Greco-Roman vases.

Imag(in)ing America


July 1st, 2008

The confrontation between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was to the Italians the “political, intellectual, and moral equivalent of the first U.S. moon landing; and as a European I am stuck down here on earth watching the Yankee space ship make its landing way up there,” Valli wrote.

Notes from Italy: A Homer of the Dolomites


April 28th, 2008

Some say that the story of the Kingdom of Fanes is an epic that goes back to the Bronze Age in the Dolomites. How could such a story come down to us? No one in those parts knew writing, three thousand years ago or more. We don’t even know what languages people spoke then in the Dolomites. And what kind of kingdom could that have been?

Erotic Art of Ancient Pompeii


February 14th, 2008

A favourite theme which recurred again and again in wall paintings was the satyr creeping up behind a nymph to catch her by surprise. In at least one case the nymph, her veil ripped away, turns out to be a hermaphrodite, to the satyr’s theatrical dismay, and the observer’s amusement. Some wall paintings showed homosexual sex and, because African motifs were popular, another depicted picnicking pygmies enjoying a group orgy under a tent.

Notes From Italy: Villains, Romance, and Views


February 7th, 2008

Filettino was not always a happy place, in history or in fiction. In the time of the Caesars the people here were Aequi, an Italic tribe of rough herders whom the Romans subdued with difficulty. For many centuries, probably millennia, the Aequi practiced transhumance, leading their herds over the Serra in late autumn to spend the winter in pastures in the Liri valley far below, and returning to the uplands for summer.

Notes from Italy: Getting into the Mountains


January 10th, 2008

I did not know that Neanderthals once lived hereabouts; that farmers first settled here six thousand years ago; that nearby, down on the Campagna, the Gauls defeated the Romans in 390 B.C. before going on to take Rome itself. I knew dimly that the Allied forces had fought the Wehrmacht in these parts in 1944, but not that the day before the Americans took Marcellina, the Germans rounded up all the village men they could find and shot them in reprisal for the killing of two German grenadiers.

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