Recent links of note:

“New York Gallery Files Suit to Block Return of Ancient Artifact to Italy”
Tessa Solomon, ARTnews

The theft of priceless art is always to be condemned, and yet one might also be tempted to regard the recent explosion of repatriation claims with a bit of suspicion. Consider the recent track record of the Italian government, perched as they are upon their country’s priceless stores of undiscovered Roman sculptures, mosaics, artifacts, and the like. Some of their repatriation cases, such as the demanded return in 2011 of the 2,400-year-old “Getty Aphrodite” that was likely excavated and stolen from Sicily, deserve our support; others, such as the Italian claim on the Getty’s Victorious Youth, which is demonstrably of Greek provenance and was found in international waters, ought to raise more eyebrows than cheers. Where Italy’s claim on the so-called “Head of Alexander,” which was seized from Manhattan’s Safani Gallery last February, fits on this spectrum of fair play should soon be made clear: the gallery has filed a lawsuit against the Republic of Italy to block the repatriation claim, and we can expect a thoroughly protracted court case as a result. 

“Bad manners”
Jacob Willer, The Critic

The science of attributing paintings can approach something of an art, as Jacob Willer demonstrates in a recent piece for The Critic. His subject is a portrait of Rembrandt, supposedly from the hand of an understudy, that was recently put up for auction at Christie’s. The painting outsold its estimate of $15,000–$20,000 by a factor of more than thirty, ultimately going for $675,000. While the Dutch art expert Jan Six insists that the painting is indeed a fine work but not from the hand of Rembrandt, Willer disagrees, arguing lucidly that the rarefied quality of its brushwork, shading, and color temperatures could only be the mark of the master.

But the real issue, Willer explains, is not so much the attribution as it is the blatant disregard that the painting’s former owner, the Bass Museum in Miami Beach, showed for it. The Bass’s stated mission, calibrated with an imaginary and therefore impossible target in mind, is to “create connections between international contemporary art and the museum’s diverse audiences”—a statement that does little except make “international contemporary art” seem an even more unwieldy subject than it already is. Clearly such a definition leaves no room for this seventeenth-century work, and the utter indifference with which it was cast to the curb for what amounts to chump change in the art world—an expected return of $15,000?—betrays the utter indifference, or even disgust, with which the museum’s curators briefly entertained the prospect of taking so much as a serious look at the painting. Willer concludes that, regardless of its attribution, the painting “is clearly a work of outstanding quality, deserving of greater study and, more importantly, appreciation. And anyone who is blind to that simple fact should have no business pretending to be interested in art, let alone in deciding which artworks a local community should get to see.”

Podcasts:

James Panero on Turner’s watercolors
A new podcast on a recent trip to Mystic, Connecticut.

Music for a While #13: Rustles, hisses, and slogs
Jay Nordlinger, music critic of The New Criterion, talks music—but, more important, plays music.

Dispatch:

Capital jealousy
by Paul du Quenoy
On a new production of Verdi’s Otello by the National Opera in Washington, D.C.

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