This week: Cicero, the British Army, Rob de Oude, the art market & more.
How to Grieve: An Ancient Guide to the Lost Art of Consolation, after M. Tullius Cicero, translated by Michael Fontaine (Princeton University Press): Of all the writers of antiquity, there is perhaps none for whom the political, the philosophical, and the personal were as closely intertwined as for Cicero. So when in 45 B.C., with his beloved Roman Republic in shambles, the death of his adult daughter Tullia heaped misery upon misery, the great statesman and thinker marshaled all of his faculties to achieve what no man, he later claimed, had done before: ut ipse per mes litteras consolarer—that is, as Michael Fontaine has it in How To Grieve, to “talk myself out of depression.” The result of these efforts was Cicero’s Consolatio, described by Fontaine as “equal parts philosophy and motivational speech,” and it had a ready audience wherever misery was to be found in subsequent years—and there was plenty to go around—but fades from the literary record around the fourth century. A purported manuscript was published in 1583 in Italy, however, puzzling many philologists until its authenticity was firmly disproven in the 1990s. So why translate it anew, as Fontaine has done here (and for the first time in English since 1767)? Not only is the text abundantly Ciceronian, quoting, paraphrasing, referring to, and glossing his many other works and even approximating his discursive style. By adapting Cicero for the Renaissance, it also suggests that the statesman’s most personal sentiments, philosophically considered, may even have some bearing on our own age. —RE
The Wandering Army: The Campaigns that Transformed the British Way of War, by Huw J. Davies (Yale University Press): In May of 1745, the Duke of Cumberland, commanding a British-German force some fifty thousand strong, suffered a blistering defeat to the French under the Comte de Saxe at the Battle of Fontenoy. Attributed to outdated battle tactics and poor leadership, the loss ignited a period of reform that modernized the British understanding of the art of war. In his new book The Wandering Army, Huw J. Davies tracks the transformations in philosophy, leadership, and military strategy that the British Army underwent in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Rather than relying on ancient treatises and British campaign histories, officers began to draw inspiration from contemporary experiences on the Continent and around the empire, forming loose military “knowledge networks” that led to much-improved battlefield efficacy. With its extensive archival research on leaders such as Wolfe, Clinton, and Howe, Davies’s new book provides a comprehensive look into the British military’s modernization, a development that culminated in victory against Napoleon. —JW
“Rob de Oude: Unison” at McKenzie Fine Art, New York (January 6–February 12, 2023): The abstract painter Rob de Oude finds a light deep beneath his patterned surfaces. Through rigorous constructions and subtle variations, he illuminates his hard-edge compositions. Opening this Friday at McKenzie Fine Art, “Rob de Oude: Unison” presents nearly two dozen of these marvels, all painted in the last year—meditative works that appear to glow through prismatic color and light. —JP
A Tale of Two Monkeys: Adventures in the Art World, by Anthony Speelman (Paul Holberton Publishing): Anthony Speelman’s memoir of a life dealing pictures glitters. A quick scan of the book—with its references to the turf season in Deauville, boat trips to Monaco, and lunch at Wiltons—might give an impression of superficiality. But these tales are adornments to the real stories, those of paintings discovered and sold to the art world’s most discerning collectors, museums included. The joy Speelman expresses in connecting collector with work is unmistakable. Handsomely produced, this title deserves a place in every art library. —BR
From the Archives:
“A transparent world: the notebooks of Paul Klee,” by Deborah Rosenthal (January 1993). On Klee’s notebooks as a tutorial to his personal visions.
“A studio visit with Elizabeth Higgins,” by Luke Lyman. On the art and career of Elizabeth Higgins.