Jews & Muslims on Pilgrimage Together in the 1300s

From Mark Cohen’s Under Crescent & Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages: An aspect of Jewish-gentile sociability under Islam that seems to lack a counterpart in the Jewish-Christian world is the world of shared popular religious practices… particularly in the joint worship of saints. Here, interdenominational religiosity has its basis in the fact that the Qur’an honors biblical figures […]

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The Mysteries of Mérode

For some reason the Mérode Altarpiece, painted in the late 1420s by Robert Campin, has become an obsession of mine. I can look at it for hours, and its strangeness never ends. Better than any TV show, I’ve found one of the best uses of a flat-screen is putting the Mérode up on it, and staring. Held in the Cloisters […]

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Voices from 1900-1914

Below are a few dozen voices from the early twentieth century, culled from Philipp Blom’s The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914. In an almost uncanny way their concerns aren’t much different than ours: there’s worry over the spread of new technology and its invasion into and cheapening of everyday life; a deep paranoia over changes in previously stable gender roles, with […]

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The Melancholy of William Blake

No matter how poor he got, and no matter what of his belongings he had to sell to get by, William Blake always held onto a print of Albrecht Dürer’s 1514 work, Melencolia I; it was found in his workroom when he died. And so it is worth looking in detail, again and again, at anything which an artist and […]

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Martin Luther Reinvents the German Language

When, in 1522, Martin Luther agreed to a staged kidnapping that would keep him safe from Catholic and other authorities, he soon found himself out of danger, but also bored to tears. Hiding out in castle called the Wartburg, near Eisenach, he soon admitted, “I sit here idle and drunk all day long.” Thomas Cahill picks up the story: …this […]

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20th Century Poetry #9: Susan Miles

One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here.   Microcosmos The brown-faced nurse has murmured something unintelligible […]

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The Painting that Lit a Million Conspiracy Theories

It’s too bad Nicholas Poussin’s Shepherds of Arcady/Et in Arcadia (Even in Arcadia, there am I) can’t get much attention except as a link to the Holy Blood-Holy Grail/Dan Brown stories. It’s magnificent enough on its own. You can also read more about it, including the conspiracy stuff, here. Click on the painting to enlarge:  

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Aldous Huxley Saves the Day

from Thomas Cahill’s Heretics and Heroes: In a collection of travel essays published in 1925, Aldous Huxley had called Piero [della Francesca’s] Resurrection, the fresco that decorates the Museo Civico of Sansepolcro, “the greatest picture in the world.” In the last days of World War II, as British soldiers began shelling Nazi-occupied Sansepolcro with the intention of reducing it to […]

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Primo Levi’s Hardest Thoughts on the Holocaust

From Primo Levi’s 1986 book, The Drowned and the Saved, remembering the concentration camps: On Levi’s own—and others’—guilt at having survived the concentration camps: At a distance of years one can today definitely affirm that the history of the Lagers [from Konzentrationslager, concentration camp] has been written almost exclusively by those who, like myself, never fathomed them to the bottom. […]

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A Working Definition of Yawheh

After rattling off the usually long list of reasons why the God of the Hebrew Bible is everything from in a bad mood to gleefully sadistic, Donald Akenson provides one of my favorite paragraphs from any book on the history of religion, and the great difficulties of belief: But not liking Yahweh is irrelevant. The reason the god of the […]

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Images: The Saint & the Lion

One of the great jazz standards of Medieval & Renaissance art, here’s only a selection of all the depictions of St. Jerome: studying indoors or out, with or without his lion or skull, probably translating the Bible as he goes, reading or writing always. All a good excuse for artists to place him in contemporary landscapes, or familiar book-lined rooms. […]

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One of the Most Haunting Paintings

At least for me, John Singer Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” is one of the more haunting paintings. What it appears to say about family, isolation, childhood, the lives of women and girls, and perhaps even the deleterious effects of being rich, seem quite endless. And the history of each of the girls’ later lives only adds to […]

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Images: The Painting Salvador Dali Couldn’t Get Away From

Salvador Dali - Archeological Reminiscence of Millet's Angelus (1935)

The way I heard it, Salvador Dali saw a reproduction of Millet’s Angelus in his classroom during childhood, and it became one of his great personal images: Jean-Francois Millet – The Angelus (1857-1859) Salvador Dali – Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s Angelus (1935) Salvador Dali – Atavism of Twilight (1933-1934) Salvador Dali – Gala and The Angelus of Millet Before the […]

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Scholarly Peace: Muslim, Christian & Jewish Translators in Medieval Spain (essay)

  In the year 949, among the palaces and gardens of Madinat al-Zahra outside the city of Cordoba, a conference was being held. The host was the caliph of al-Andalus, Abd al-Rahman III, and his guests were representatives from the Christian emperor Constantine VII, who had just arrived from Constantinople. Only two centuries before, the first Abd al-Rahman had fled […]

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