Christopher S. Wood

  • Albrecht Dürer, Philosophia, ca. 1502, woodcut on paper, 8 1⁄2 × 5 7⁄8"


    Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art, by Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019. 632 pages.

    ACCORDING TO AN ANCIENT TEXT attributed to Aristotle, black bile “can induce paralysis or torpor or depression or anxiety when it prevails in the body; but if it is overheated it produces cheerfulness, bursting into song, and ecstasies and the eruption of sores and the like.” Such “fits of exaltation” were believed to be conducive to creative achievement. “Maracus, the Syracusan,” the text tells

  • Artist unknown, Martin Luther im Kreise von Reformatoren (Martin Luther in the Circle of Reformers), ca. 1625–50, oil on panel, 26 5/8 × 35 3/8".

    “The Luther Effect”

    THE GLOBAL AMBITIONS of Christianity were ignited less than two months after the death of Jesus. When “cloven tongues like as of fire” appeared above their heads, the apostles acquired the ability to make themselves understood in any country. Reversing the myth of the destruction of the Tower of Babel, which pictured humankind scattered into linguistic plurality, the mission launched at Pentecost proposed to reunite the far-flung peoples within the Gospel. The apostle Andrew preached in Asia Minor and, according to legend, Georgia; James went to Spain; and Thomas voyaged as far as Madras, India,

  • Gordon Matta-Clark’s telegram to Vassar College, reproduced in his artist’s statement for the exhibition “26 × 26” at the Vassar College Art Gallery, Poughkeepsie, NY, 1971.

    Molly Nesbit’s The Pragmatism in the History of Art

    IN THEIR COMMON SENSE (2000), Molly Nesbit interpreted Cubist lines as “an embrace of the language of industry.” Art was steered into that embrace, she argued, by the French sculptor and arts administrator Eugène Guillaume and minister of fine arts Antonin Proust, who introduced rationalized methods of drawing into the nation’s school curriculum in 1881. Art, when it adopted the technical line, a graphic system “equated with truth” and no longer grounded in ordinary vision, “fell outside itself and produced its own inversion, rupture.” “Art history,” Nesbit continued, “speaks of this rupture as

  • Albrecht Dürer, Left Wing of a Blue Roller, ca. 1500–12, watercolor and gouache on vellum, 7 3/4 x 7 7/8".

    Albrecht Dürer

    IN HIS TREATISE on human proportions, published in the year of his death, 1528, Albrecht Dürer (born 1471) wrote that “one man may sketch something with his pen on half a sheet of paper in one day . . . and it turns out to be better and more artistic than another’s great work at which its author labors with the utmost diligence for a whole year. And this gift is miraculous.” With this “strange speech,” which “only powerful artists will be able to understand,” Dürer defined his own activity no longer as the artisanal, labor-intensive crafting of splendid objects, but rather as the ongoing

  • Michael Baxandall

    “MONEY IS VERY IMPORTANT in the history of art.” Everyone was struck in 1972 by this placid assertion, so lucid and disillusioned, on the very first page of a slim, learned tract on Renaissance painting. That study, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style, immediately installed itself on every university curriculum and in every museum bookshop. It is still the first book that many people read about Renaissance art. The author, Michael Baxandall, a philologically inclined scholar trained at Cambridge University, the Victoria and Albert

  • Gustave Courbet, L’atelier du peintre, allégorie réelle determinant une phase de sept années de ma vie artistique (The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory Summarizing Seven Years of My Life as an Artist), 1855, oil on canvas, 11' 10“ x 19' 8”. © Art Resource, New York.

    Gabriele Guercio and Joachim Pissarro

    IN THE ENCOUNTER with an artwork one cannot escape the sense, as Gabriele Guercio writes, “that someone is there.” Orthodox art history and art criticism have no language for such an experience, focused as they are on the what, the how, and the why rather than the who. In his history of the monograph, Art as Existence, Guercio contends that art history has discredited the study of an artist’s life and works because it cannot “afford to deal with the instability produced by considerations of someoneness and singularity.” In the twentieth century the monographic discourse, “drained of its powerful

  • Hans Holbein

    IN AUGUST 1867, AN AGITATED museumgoer in Basel climbed onto a chair to have a closer look at a painting. His wife, already alarmed by the effect the work was exerting on her susceptible husband, worried about a possible fine. She disengaged him from the picture and soothed his nerves in a neighboring room. The painting, Hans Holbein the Younger’s Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, 1521, is a life-size depiction of a supine, nearly naked corpse in a long, narrow box. The right eye slips up behind the eyelid; the mouth gapes. The right hand is elegantly flexed but pierced and discolored. The

  • the best books of the year

    Linda Nochlin

    Two books very different in approach and subject matter stand out this year: Richard Meyer’s Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art (Oxford University Press) and Georges Didi-Huberman’s L’Image survivante: Histoire de l’art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg (Editions de Minuit). Meyer deftly combines a close reading of individual works and intelligent social and political synthesis. Outlaw Representation not only sheds light on such important figures as Paul Cadmus, Andy Warhol, and Robert Mapplethorpe but demonstrates the remarkable

  • Adolph Menzel, Iron Rolling Mill, 1872–75, oil on canvas, 62 3/16 x 100".

    Christopher S. Wood on Michael Fried

    Michael Fried, Menzel’s Realism: Art and Embodiment in Nineteenth-Century Berlin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002. 313 pages. $55.

    ADOLPH MENZEL (1815–1905), an improbable, cross-grained character who might have walked out of one of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s eerie tales, lacked by his own admission the “glue” that binds us to the rest of humanity. Instead he stood just to one side of the world, holding a pad in one hand and pencil and stump in the other—whether left or right did not matter, for he was graphically ambidextrous. He drew constantly. At age seventeen Menzel began a course of study at the academy in Berlin, but soon abandoned it and taught himself to paint. Eventually, with his brilliant historical mirages of