Reviews and News:
The Colosseum’s wild plants: “When the botanist Richard Deakin examined Rome’s Colosseum in the 1850s, he found 420 species of plant growing among the ruins. There were plants common in Italy: cypresses and hollies, capers, knapweed and thistle, plants ‘of the leguminous pea tribe,’ and 56 varieties of grass. But some of the rarer flowers growing there were a botanical mystery. They were found nowhere else in Europe.”
Winston Churchill’s horses: “Horses provided Churchill with an escape during a neglected childhood and were his transport in the wars he virtually ‘collected’ in his youth. They proved his pathway to regimental popularity (he played polo into his fifties), gave him his favourite form of exercise (he declared, ‘if there is a more admirable and elevating sport than fox hunting, it has yet to be discovered’) and in later years brought him pleasure as a racehorse owner.”
C. S. Lewis’s love story revisited: “In an era when romance is dead and divorce is considered a natural part of life, Shadowlands, now playing at the Acorn Theater in Manhattan, is both an old-fashioned love story and a reminder of the sacred nature of marriage.”
An intimate look at Michelangelo: “Fame often does an artist little good. Quite apart from the moral temptations, there is the danger of sticking with what works, closing oneself off to new ideas, refusing new challenges, becoming a brand. In Michelangelo’s case, fame’s ill effects, limited in his lifetime, in the long run turned disastrous. To be sure, Michelangelo never let success freeze his creativity; he remained brilliantly creative down to the end of his long life. But once he had achieved his place in the world of Renaissance art, he confined his creative energies within rather strict guiderails. He stopped taking certain risks.”
Moody’s downgrades the higher education outlook from “stable” to “negative”: “In a report, the agency cited financial strains at both public and private four-year institutions, mainly muted growth in tuition revenue. But it also cited ‘uncertainty at the federal level over potential policy changes.’”
Naples’s corruption: “Nicola Pugliese’s Malacqua — finally translated into English — is a powerful morality tale of a great city in decay.”
Essay of the Day:
In Standpoint, Alasdair Palmer asks: “Can the depiction of rape, torture and murder be beautiful? Should it be?”
“Mannerists strove to create figures of great beauty, and they often succeeded. And herein lies the problem, because they were capable of making acts of hideous violence — abduction, martyrdom, even crucifixion — beautiful. Depictions of violence by artists a generation earlier, or a generation later, are not beautiful. When Donatello in the 15th century depicts Judith beheading Holofernes, it is not beautiful. It is a horrifying image, and it is meant to be. The same is true in the 17th century of, for example, Rubens’s painting The Massacre of the Innocents, or Bernini’s sculpture The Rape of Proserpina, in which Proserpina struggles desperately against an overpoweringly strong, and overpoweringly ugly, Pluto.
“But Giambologna’s bronze sculpture of The Rape of a Sabine Woman (as it eventually came to be called) is beautiful rather than horrifying or disgusting. Indeed, if you did not know that a prelude to rape was what Giambologna intended to depict, the sculpture itself would not force the conclusion on you. It could, just about, depict a consensual athletic display, with the man lifting up the woman in a form of dance. But once you know that its creator meant his work to be about abduction and rape, it is impossible not to see it in that way. It is an example of the way that understanding what an artist’s intentions were does not necessarily make it easier to appreciate his work. (Interestingly, there is no such ambiguity about the huge stone sculpture that Giambologna carved between 1574 and 1582, and which is now in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence: that piece is un-equivocally about abduction and rape. It is also a much less graceful work.)“The knowledge that you are looking at something that depicts the prelude to rape can affect how you respond to Giambologna’s bronze, and in a very negative way. Should it? Should it be impossible, or at least impermissible, to appreciate a work as beautiful once you know that it depicts rape, or indeed any act of violence?”
Poem: Federico García Lorca, “The Mown Field”
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This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard