Enfilade

Susan Tallman on Art History’s Loose Canons

Posted in books, reviews, site information by Editor on September 18, 2020

Willem van Haecht, Apelles Painting Campaspe, ca. 1630 (The Hague: Mauritshuis). Used as an illustration for Susan Tallman’s review in The New York Review of Books (24 September 2020).

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Note from the Editor

Thanks to all of you for your patience with postings that have grown far more irregular than I would have liked. My family and I have been well, though admittedly, diligence (generally) hasn’t been quite the virtue it was for me prior to COVID. I have good intentions of eventually resuming the regular rate of posts (more or less), though getting there may take some time (pandemic obviously continues to make regular parts of life, including teaching, more complicated). One realization I’ve had over the past few months: I’m much less excited generally about Enfilade in the absence of exhibitions. I don’t actually make it to that many exhibitions in a given year, a fraction of those listed on the site. And yet, exhibitions generate for me (even vicariously) lots of intellectual energy. To all of you who do that work in and with museums, I’m more grateful than ever. Thank you.

I experienced, however, a similar jolt of stimulation while reading the most recent issue of The New York Review of Books (24 September 2020). I love Susan Tallman’s review of Christopher Wood’s A History of Art History (Princeton UP, ) and Éric Michaud’s The Barbarian Invasions: A Genealogy of the History of Art (MIT Press, 2019). In addition to working as an engaging review, Tallman’s piece (“Who Decides What’s Beautiful?,” pp. 16–20) is one of the most concise, satisfying summaries of art history as a discipline I know of—effectively framing the discipline in relation to the ethical and moral stakes of this particular moment in time. Enfilade readers will likely find other reviews from the issue also of interest:

• David Bell on Maurice Samuels’s The Betrayal of the Duchess: The Scandal That Unmade the Bourbon Monarchy and Made France Modern (Basic Books, 2020).

• Kathryn Hughes on new studies of Wordsworth.

• Larry Wolff on Thomas Irvine’s Listening to China: Sound and the Sino-Western Encounter, 1770–1839 (University of Chicago Press, 2020).

• Leah Price on Anthony Grafton’s Inky Fingers: The Making of Books in Early Modern Europe (Belknap/Harvard UP, 2020) and Jordan Alexander Stein’s When Novels Were Books (Harvard UP, 2020).

Craig Hanson