Mario Buatta: Anatomy of a Decorator, by Emily Evans Eerdmans (Rizzoli): Though Mario Buatta (1935–2018) became New York’s preferred decorator to the great and good, he never let grand company drive him to grandiloquence; indeed, he was famous for deploying a fake cockroach as a gag at opportune moments. That lack of self-seriousness imbued his decorative strategy, and his rooms often injected a bit of playfulness into what could have been chilly tableaux. In Mario Buatta: Anatomy of a Decorator, Buatta’s former colleague Emily Evans Eerdmans examines what she calls his “joyous and beautiful rooms,” which wear their historical learning lightly and cheerfully. —BR
Justinian: Emperor, Soldier, Saint, by Peter Sarris (Basic Books): Inaugurated by Justinian the Great in 537, the Hagia Sophia—which passed from Orthodox to Catholic and back in the thirteenth century before becoming a mosque in 1453 and then, from 1935 until very recently, a museum—is a perfect symbol of that Byzantine emperor’s divided legacy. Justinian sought to revive the Roman Empire and retake its western portions, but his Gothic War (535–54) thoroughly devastated the city of Rome. The so-called Code of Justinian traces back to ancient Roman civil law, but its practical effect was to consolidate imperial rather than republican government. And then Justinian’s ambitions for his envisioned “Orthodox Republic” helped ensure the survival of Christianity, but they also gave rise to some of the most ruthless persecutions conducted in its name. The historian Peter Sarris teases out these tensions and more in his new biography of Justinian, illuminating a central figure in a signal period in the history of the West. —RE
“A Foreigner Called Picasso” at Gagosian on West Twenty-first Street, New York (opens November 10): Picasso was something of an artistic vagabond. In almost every decade of his career, the Spaniard underwent more and greater artistic transformations than do most artists over a lifetime. He migrated from style to style, making each his home, before wandering off to stake his claim in another, sometimes returning sporadically later in life as his whims so prompted him. A paradox thus arises: the artist belonged to many movements but was never permanently bound to any one. A similar paradox defined his citizenship. Picasso settled in France in 1904, and in many ways is the quintessential Parisian artist, but the country never granted him citizenship. A new show opening at Gagosian this week, “A Foreigner Called Picasso”—featuring a selection spanning the length of the artist’s career as well as a fully illustrated catalogue—takes this strange dual identity as its starting point. —LL
Beethoven, Saint-Saëns & Simon at the New York Philharmonic (November 9–12): From the Renaissance until today, the French, out of all the national schools, have sustained likely the most robust and dynamic tradition with the pipe organ. Yet until the 1880s, that school’s record with the symphonic form was sparse. It was down to Camille Saint-Saëns to rectify that oversight by combining the Romantic idiom with the strengths of the French organ school in his Symphony No. 3, “Organ.” This symphony, dedicated to Liszt’s memory, has its solemn and grave moments, but it subverts the symbolism of the medieval Dies Irae chant in one of classical music’s grandest firework finales. Hear it performed by the New York Philharmonic on one of four dates at Lincoln Center this week, together with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Carlos Simon’s Fate Now Conquers. Stéphane Denève conducts, Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider solos in the Beethoven, and Kent Tritle steps into Saint-Saëns’ organ shoes for the symphony. —IS
“Music for a While #81: Pictures, souvenirs & more.”
Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
“A wake-up call for Israel—& America,” by James Piereson. On anti-Semitic & anti-American sentiment.
From the Archives:
“The James Cult,” by Joseph Epstein (October 2012). On the work of Henry James and his loyal following.