- Everyone holds up Anna Karenina as a milestone for realism—“We are not to take Anna Karénine as a work of art; we are to take it as a piece of life,” Matthew Arnold wrote—but Janet Malcolm raises an eyebrow at all that. “The book’s ‘astonishing immediacy’ is nothing if not an object of the exaggeration, distortion, and dissimulation through which each scene is rendered … If the dream is father to imaginative literature, Tolstoy may be the novelist who most closely hews to its deep structures.”
- Now at the Frick Collection: Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June, an iconic Victorian painting whose subject’s well-developed right thigh set the world on fire. “The beautiful woman asleep in some archaic past was a recurrent motif in Victorian art … The figure of the languid woman is more than just an object of erotic desire. She’s the opposite of the rationalist, ever-striving, murderously competitive spirit—once conventionally thought of as distinctively masculine. She embodies a yearning to relax, to retire from the fray and take pleasure in just being alive.”
- Jenny Diski is dying of lung cancer, and facing the illness the only way she knows how: in prose. “A marvel of steady and dispassionate self-revelation, Diski’s cancer essays are bracingly devoid of sententiousness, sentimentality or any kind of spiritual urge or twitch … they also testify to an inner life of undiminished hyperactivity.”
- Nesh, gloaming, cochineal, swamm, clart: writers pick their favorite words. “The chosen words are mostly regional, often monosyllabic, and frequently richly onomatopoeic: the natural poetry of the heterogeneous English-speaking tongue.”
- In which Orson Welles dabbles in pornography: in a pro-bono gig for the picture 3 A. M., the filmmaker “wound up editing a hard-core lesbian shower scene that he couldn’t resist cutting in Wellesian fashion with low camera angles and other trademark flair.”
This is the final week to see Charles Coypel’s extensive Don Quixote tapestries, paintings, prints, and books, on display at the Frick through May 17. Coypel, Louis XV’s painter, was commissioned by Paris’s Gobelins Manufactory to produce the series, which he worked on for a good portion of his life, from 1714 to 1734; it comprises twenty-eight episodes from the novel, in full-scale preparatory paintings that the manufactory later wove into tapestries. Coypel, himself a playwright, took a theatrical approach to the images, as evidenced by the gestures and poses of his characters; the curator Esther Bell writes, “His playful visual innuendos were targeted at both a rowdy parterre and aristocratic circles who equally embraced puns and dirty jokes, while the depiction of ballet and costume mirror both the repertoire of the Opéra and private performances for the privileged members of the King’s household.”
Coypel’s became the most influential eighteenth-century illustrations of Quixote; tapestries like the one above were indebted to his work. Read More
The Schiava Turca (Turkish Slave) is one of the many mysteries of art history. The painting, a 1530s Mannerist masterpiece by Parmigianino, is considered an icon of the artist’s hometown, but no one is sure of the sitter’s identity. Was it a noblewoman? A courtesan? Or just an ideal of feminine beauty? One thing is more or less certain: nickname aside, the woman pictured was almost certainly not Turkish. The painting acquired its commonly used moniker in 1704, when a cataloguer assumed its subject’s dress spoke of the East. Rather, her sumptuous costume and turban-like balzo headdress would have been characteristic of court dress of the Northern Italian Renaissance.
Aimee Ng, guest curator of the Frick’s current exhibition, “The Poetry of Parmigianino’s ‘Schiava Turca’,” has another theory altogether. As the show’s title indicates, she feels the portrait may have had everything to do with the literary culture of the era. She explains,
In the Renaissance, beautiful women and their portraits were often seen as poetic muses who inspired male poets and painters. This sitter is directly linked to poetry through the ornament on her headdress, which depicts a winged horse, the symbol of poetic inspiration. Perhaps, however, rather than a muse, the sitter is herself a poet. Seen in this light, her twisting pose … and forthright gaze would convey her creative force. She may even be identified with a specific female poet active in the area around Parma in the 1530s, such as Veronica Gambara, whom Parmigianino had many opportunities to meet.
- Behold, art and literature’s greatest monsters! Plenty of welcome departures from the norm here—Frankenstein and Dracula didn’t make the list. Neither did Chuck Palahniuk.
- In a synergistic turn worthy of the greatest CEOs, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch has caused a spike in attendance at the Frick, where its namesake painting resides. (There’s a tote bag now, too.)
- An intrepid sociologist gets at the roots of uptalk—the irritating tendency to inflect every sentence as if it were a question—by watching Jeopardy!
- Disparaging nondisparagement agreements: Byliner canned editor Will Blythe, and he’s not going quietly. Or rather, he is going quietly, but he would prefer to reserve the right not to.
New restaurants hold no interest for me, and neither did restaurant reviews—until two years ago, when Sam Sifton took over at the Times. Who else would write, of an aged duck, “It looked like an abscess, frankly. It tasted like godhead”? He was the first thing I read every Wednesday. Now that he’s gone to the National desk, do I have to start reading the news? —Lorin Stein
I’ve been enjoying Amor Towles’s Depression-era Rules of Civility with delight; it’s a good read in every sense. —Sadie Stein
I’m excited to see this spectacle of a concert at the New Museum on Saturday. Pitchfork and its sister site, Altered Zones have invited a lineup of ten performers and five DJs to take over the museum lobby, auditorium, and sky deck after-hours alongside an installation by Nuit Blanche New York. —Artie Niederhoffer
I was curiously entranced and chilled by the newly discovered photographs of Scott’s expedition to the South Pole. They’re bleak, beautiful, and suffused with doom. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn