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A Week in Culture: Angus Trumble, Curator

July 28, 2010 | by


4:45 A.M. Reviewing two new books about Caravaggio—books that are about as different from each other as it is possible to be: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, by Andrew Graham-Dixon, and The Moment of Caravaggio, a series of illustrated lectures by Michael Fried. Almost everything we know about the man himself comes from evidence meticulously transcribed by hugely diligent notaries attached to the Roman civil and criminal courts: a litany of threats, assault, battery, and, ultimately, cold-blooded murder.

6:00 A.M. Until two years ago it was axiomatic that Caravaggio did not draw. Thanks to a new infra-red camera, however, we may now observe what was previously thought not to exist, namely short choppy lines in ink—unmistakable evidence of fairly extensive under-drawing by which the artist set down on the primed canvas his principal points of reference. There is also evidence of scored lines and even tracing, à la carbon paper. None of this overturns the basic fact that draftsmanship was not very important to him. But at least we now know Caravaggio certainly practiced it when he needed to, the crafty devil.

12:30 P.M. I am re-reading My Memories of Six Reigns, by H. H. Princess Marie-Louise, having some months ago suggested it as an ideal summer book for readers of the Yale Alumni Magazine, especially connoisseurs of that neglected subgenre of dotty royal memoir. “Cousin Louie,” as she was known, was the fourth child of Queen Victoria’s bad-tempered middle daughter, Princess Helena. Her book is a fantastically weird combination of out-of-sequence table-rapping reminiscence; reverent reflection upon the burdens of monarchy, and innumerable flecks of interesting detail1.

1:45 P.M. Louie’s Edwardian wedding to Prince Aribert of Anhalt was the bright idea of Cousin Willie, the Kaiser, but more accurately an example of his total lack of judgment. It seems the Prince was soon afterwards caught in flagrante with an attractive young male servant in, on, or more probably beside the marital bed, and, concluding from this that her marriage was no longer viable, Louie promptly undertook an extended tour of Canada and the United States. Returning to Britain she immersed herself in charitable and artistic work, set up a Girls’ Club in Bermondsey, kept an eye on her mother’s nursing homes, and lent modest support to the imperial trade in dried fruit. Wholly guileless, Princess Marie Louise is irresistible. Read More »


  1. For example, during the darkest days of the Blitz, Louie and her older sister Thora (Princess Helena Victoria) were discreetly evacuated with the Polish ambassador and his family to borrowed accommodations in the attic of an old house near Ascot. She radically overstated the spartanness of the arrangement.