Friday, July 11, 2014

Jonathan Brown's "In the Shadow of Velázquez"

Jonathan Brown is the Carroll and Miton Petrie Professor of Fine Arts, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, In the Shadow of Velázquez: A Life in Art History, and reported the following:
In In The Shadow of Velázquez: A Life in Art History, I draw upon my experience to show the ways in which personality is a determinate of the study of art history. I begin, naturally, with my youth and family, which centered on my parents’ commitment to the collecting of the avant garde artists of the 1920s-70s, and my subsequent rebellion by becoming a scholar of Baroque Spanish Art, at a time when Spain was a dictatorship. Later chapters explore questions of artists and authenticity. My obsession with the art of Spain culminates in a new interpretation of Velázquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas.

I would argue that my p.99 does indeed pass the test. This page presents the reader with both of my main themes—the question of authenticity and the ways in which the artist is shaped by his personal and professional lives. As p.99 mentions, we know little about Velázquez the man: “As indicated by these few observations on Velázquez’s private life, which I have extracted from circumstantial evidence, there remain large gaps to fill if we are to achieve a well-informed view of the man who confidently stands in front of the easel of Las Meninas.” One of the key concepts is his struggle to gain acceptance as a nobleman in the court of Philip IV—to be recognized not merely as an artisan but as a creator. This is a struggle that also confronts the art historian, as he attempts to authenticate works attributed to a famous painter but which may very well be products of his workshop or even simply copies. Does the historian have the authority to claim authenticity? Will his attribution be accepted or will a battle ensue, one which, perhaps, is more about the power of various art historians rather than a search for the true painter? These are significant questions and ones with which In The Shadow of Velázquez attempts to answer through its study of authenticity in the works of Ribera, El Greco, and Velázquez.
Learn more about In the Shadow of Velázquez at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue