Recent links of note:
“Obsidian spirit mirror used by John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s court astrologer, has Aztec origins”
Gary Shaw, The Art Newspaper
John Dee—rumored to be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Prospero—was a sixteenth-century mathematician who advised Elizabeth I on a variety of subjects including medicine, economics, and navigation. At some point, though, he began to dabble in shadier disciplines, attempting séances both in England and on a trip to Bohemia, where he is suspected to have acquired a circular black mirror made from obsidian, now on display at the British Museum. Researchers from the University of Mississippi, the University of Manchester, and the Russian Academy of Sciences have recently published a study (currently open access) showing that the mineral originated in Pachuca, Mexico, a former Aztec region. It is not hard to see why Dee, who developed a strong interest in the Americas in his role advising English explorers, might have found the object attractive: in Aztec culture obsidian was associated with the underworld, and the god Tezcatlipoca, who had the power to predict the future, is often depicted wearing mirrors. Sad to say, none of Dee’s divinations rendered him impervious to the whims of the next monarch—James I scorned the study of magic, having authored the anti-witch tract Daemonologie, and the former court favorite died a pauper around 1608.
“Camille Saint-Saëns’s Deep Catalog”
Barrymore Laurence Scherer, The Wall Street Journal
This week in TheWall Street Journal, Barrymore Laurence Scherer makes a case for Camille Saint-Saëns, whose critical reputation began to decline around the turn of the twentieth century. The composer is known only for a handful of works today, such as Danse macabre (1874) and Le carnaval des animaux (1886) (a piece he did not want performed publicly in his own lifetime). Bothered by this, Scherer traces his development from a child prodigy to a virtuoso, composer, and teacher, who counted Gabriel Fauré among his students. Unafraid to experiment with musical ideas from different eras and regions, Saint-Saëns acknowledged his own eclecticism, saying, “perhaps this is a great defect, but it is impossible for me to correct it: one cannot alter one’s nature.” A new thirty-four-CD release of Saint-Saëns’s compositions by Warner Classics allows listeners to enjoy over a century’s worth of symphony, opera, and chamber music recordings, including some Saint-Saëns himself made between 1904 and 1920.
“All aboard—the transporting art of Jack B. Yeats”
Tom Walker, Apollo
In the October issue of Apollo, Tom Walker reviews a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland on the “decidedly taciturn” painter Jack B. Yeats (the brother of the poet William Butler Yeats) coinciding with the 150th anniversary of his birth. Yeats began his career as an illustrator in London before moving on to watercolors; it was only in his late thirties that he took up oil painting, a medium conducive to the impasto technique he used increasingly in his later years. Capturing scenes from modern life—many of his works feature passengers on trains and Dublin trams—his compositions are nevertheless mysterious. Walker argues that “Yeats’s work is at once grounded in actual places and people, yet highly imaginative and metaphysical,” pointing out curious recurring motifs such as black clothed figures and singing mouths.
“Conrad Black & James Panero discuss ‘Is America in Irreversible Decline?’ ”A conversation featuring the Visiting Critic and Executive Editor of The New Criterion on Black’s Circle Lecture forthcoming in the November issue.
“Carnegie Hall kicks off,” by Jay Nordlinger.On a concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra, opening the Carnegie Hall season.