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PLUNDER

NAPOLEON'S THEFT OF VERONESE'S FEAST

An engrossing, tumultuous history of a Renaissance painting.

How stolen art enriched the Louvre.

For Napoleon Bonaparte, artworks represented trophies of military success, might, and power. Prominent among the thousands of pieces his army looted from Italy, Prussia, Austria, and Germany, and displayed with bravado in the Louvre, was Paolo Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana, “a vast, sublime canvas that in 1797 the French tore from a wall of the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.” That Renaissance painting is central to Saltzman’s well-researched, discerning history of art as well as the art of war. As Bonaparte rampaged through Europe, he stipulated that “artistic indemnities go into the terms of peace,” forcing those he conquered to give up paintings and sculpture “as part of the reparations of war.” Even the pope capitulated to Napoleon’s demand for 100 artworks from the sumptuous Vatican holdings. Among the extraordinary pieces that Bonaparte plundered, the Veronese was outstanding: “a banqueting scene with life-sized figures and an illusion of reality so convincing that the feast appeared to be taking place in the open air.” Saltzman recounts the laborious process of removing the painting, then more than 235 years old, wrapping the stiff canvas around cylinders, transporting it for weeks on shipboard, and, finally, restoring it. “To put the canvas up on the wall,” writes the author, restorers “would have to build a new stretcher, patch some 360 holes, and retouch these repairs and any other places that had been abraded or left bare.” The project took three years. After Napoleon’s military defeats and downfall, nations that had been looted negotiated for the return of their art. The Veronese, though, was not among the repatriated works. Though it was removed from the Louvre several times for safekeeping during wars, it hangs still, testimony to Napoleon’s compelling desire to be seen “as an Enlightenment leader, an intellectual, and a friend of the philosophes.”

An engrossing, tumultuous history of a Renaissance painting.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-21903-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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ORDINARY NOTES

An exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness.

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A potent series of “notes” paints a multidimensional picture of Blackness in America.

Throughout the book, which mixes memoir, history, literary theory, and art, Sharpe—the chair of Black studies at York University in Toronto and author of the acclaimed book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being—writes about everything from her family history to the everyday trauma of American racism. Although most of the notes feature the author’s original writing, she also includes materials like photographs, copies of letters she received, responses to a Twitter-based crowdsourcing request, and definitions of terms collected from colleagues and friends (“preliminary entries toward a dictionary of untranslatable blackness”). These diverse pieces coalesce into a multifaceted examination of the ways in which the White gaze distorts Blackness and perpetuates racist violence. Sharpe’s critique is not limited to White individuals, however. She includes, for example, a disappointing encounter with a fellow Black female scholar as well as critical analysis of Barack Obama’s choice to sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in a hate crime at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. With distinct lyricism and a firm but tender tone, Sharpe executes every element of this book flawlessly. Most impressive is the collagelike structure, which seamlessly moves among an extraordinary variety of forms and topics. For example, a photograph of the author’s mother in a Halloween costume transitions easily into an introduction to Roland Barthes’ work Camera Lucida, which then connects just as smoothly to a memory of watching a White visitor struggle with the reality presented by the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. “Something about this encounter, something about seeing her struggle…feels appropriate to the weight of this history,” writes the author. It is a testament to Sharpe’s artistry that this incredibly complex text flows so naturally.

An exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780374604486

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2023

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