Since the Mona Lisa affair was reported, other petitions and protests have emerged. Earlier this month (September 17) the protests agains the huge cruise ships that pass through the lagoon in Venice were renewed with vigor. The invaluable Tomaso Montanari has organized a petition against the privatization of the Brera in Milan. At the beginning of the month, in the United States, the New York Times demoted Allan Kozinn, one of its more intelligent music critics, who has been writing for them since 1977 and a staff member since 1991. He is now a "general cultural reporter." Norman Lebrecht, who announced the bad news, received an avalanche of mostly angry and disgusted comments. Petitions were organized on Facebook, urging the Times to change their mind...but to no avail. Kozinn's gone. For some years it has been hard to imagine that once upon a time Paul Griffiths wrote music criticism for The New York Times, and both he and Andrew Porter for The New Yorker.
When Daniel Gallagher began his 500th birthday tribute to Giorgio Vasari in late September with an article on the Salone del Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, he had little idea that the investigation into the survival and location of the remains of a lost wall painting by Leonardo da Vinci, about which he wrote so benignly, would lead to the sudden storm of protest which has now brought the work to a halt.
Vasari’s partiality toward Tuscan artists may have been for good reason. Classicism had become the standard, and nobody did classicism better than the Tuscans. By the time Vasari wrote the Lives, the Tuscans, unlike the Venetians and Flemish, were already showing signs of a “school” rather than merely a distinct “style.” Of all the major art centers in Europe, Florence was the most international, combining the best techniques available from north to south. Having perfected the art of representation, they only needed someone to put its rules into some kind of order.
Before entering this exhibition, take the time to examine the building that houses it. Study its façade at close range and from the opposite bank of the Arno. Contemplate its severe, stately economy. Notice the columns that seem to support more weight than they should. Allow your eye to scan the stretch of monolithic architraves, the repetitious ordering of portals. Only then will you begin to appreciate that the core of this exhibit is not in the Uffizi, it is the Uffizi.
It’s not a matter of deciding whether to celebrate Giorgio Vasari’s 500th birthday, but where to start. The author of the Vite de’ più eccellenti Pittori, Scultori e Architettori traversed the entire Italian peninsula researching his literary masterpiece, so there are many possibilities. Perhaps the most appropriate site is the Florentine Palazzo Vecchio, for it was there that Vasari made a triumphal return after two of his staunchest supporters in the city were murdered in 1530. Not until Duke Cosimo I invited him back in 1554 to decorate apartments begun by Battista del Tasso was Vasari vindicated. In typical fashion, he immediately altered Tasso’s plans, raising the ceilings to make room for imaginative frescoes based on the plan of humanist scholar Cosimo Bartoli. With the help of an eager crew of collaborators, Vasari completed the project in less than three years.
Whenever a work of art changes hands there is always a story behind it. When a collection appears on the market an entire lifetime emerges, or, in the case of figures like Robert Lebel (1901-1986), a chapter in history. In the catalogue to the sale of his old master drawings, Sotheby's manages to condense Lebel's extraordinary range of interests and experience into a single paragraph. To say that he "defied classification" is not an exaggeration. An art historian and collector, he wrote essays, novels, as well as the first biography of Marcel Duchamp. He was a friend of André Breton, Max Ernst, and Jacques Lacan. During the Second World War the circle went into exile in New York, where Matta, Tanguy, and Claude Lévi-Strauss joined them. At this time Lebel acquired as special interest in American Indian art, especially Eskimo art. His pioneering collection of Eskimo masks was sold at the Hôtel Drouot in 2006. Now Sotheby's has dispersed his important collection of old master and 19th-century drawings.