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Perfection’s Progress

E.H. Gombrich, 5 November 1981

Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900 
by Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny.
Yale, 376 pp., £20, March 1981, 0 300 02641 2
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... with, as in Edward Young’s ‘Conjectures on Original Composition’ of 1759, which had a strong echo in Germany. Henceforward the term ‘A Roman Copy’ was tantamount to a condemnation. In a sense, it demonstrates the strength of the ‘canon’ that the critical spoilsports were so slow in moving in. There had been rumblings before, but it was not before ...

Under threat

Frank Kermode, 21 June 1984

Tributes: Interpreters of our Cultural Tradition 
by E.H. Gombrich.
Phaidon, 270 pp., £17.50, April 1984, 0 7148 2338 4
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... Sir Ernst Gombrich here collects various memorial lectures and memoirs of distinguished colleagues. He is a lecturer of high accomplishment – indeed I doubt if he has any serious rival in the shaping and illustration of an argument. Normally he uses not one but two magic lanterns. Some years ago he gave the Romanes Lecture and was denied the use of even one, but this did not deter him, for he simply used the interior of the Sheldonian as an image source, and voyaged on, with Karl Popper, as usual, his pole star, into very difficult waters: the relations of synchronic and diachronic in art history, the problems of canonicity and value ...

Canons and Conveniences

Charles Hope, 21 February 1980

Ideals and Idols 
by E.H. Gombrich.
Phaidon, 224 pp., £9.95, November 1980, 0 7148 2009 1
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... Sir Ernst Gombrich is not only one of the very few historians of art now alive whose ideas have aroused wide interest outside his immediate discipline, but he is also an astonnishingly skilful lecturer. It is therefore only appropriate that he should so often have been invited to give those formal university lectures devoted to the discussion of general cultural issues ...

At the National Gallery

Peter Campbell: Pisanello, 29 November 2001

... as tapestry-like decorations over a background which fails to recede. One may doubt whether E.H. Gombrich, who died on 3 November, ever passionately liked, or was even very curious about, individual paintings, except in so far as they could illustrate the deeper matters on which he was so illuminating, in particular what goes on when people make marks which ...

Why We Weep

Peter de Bolla: Looking and Feeling, 6 March 2003

Pictures & Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings 
by James Elkins.
Routledge, 272 pp., £14.99, October 2001, 0 415 93713 2
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... project, announcing at one point that he had nearly given up after receiving a letter from E.H. Gombrich. This letter, in a slightly abridged form, comprises the ninth segment of correspondence reproduced in the appendix. Gombrich, it appears, never wept in front of a painting and ‘hardly ever laughed’, in spite of ...

Blite and Whack

Paul Seabright, 19 January 1984

A Pocket Popper 
edited by David Miller.
Fontana, 479 pp., £4.95, August 1983, 0 00 636414 4
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The Postscript to the Logic of Scientific Discovery. Vol. I: Realism and the Aim of Science 
by Karl Popper, edited by W.W. Bartely.
Hutchinson, 420 pp., £20, March 1983, 0 09 151450 9
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The Philosophy of Popper 
by T.E. Burke.
Manchester, 222 pp., £16, July 1983, 0 7190 0904 9
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In Pursuit of Truth: Essays in Honour of Karl Popper’s 80th Birthday 
edited by Paul Levinson.
Harvester, 337 pp., £25, May 1983, 0 7108 0424 5
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Science and Moral Priority 
by Roger Sperry.
Blackwell, 135 pp., £12.50, February 1983, 9780631131991
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Art, Science and Human Progress 
edited by R.B. McConnell.
Murray, 196 pp., £12.50, June 1983, 0 7195 4018 6
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... of all the best brains on technology’. There are two splendid lectures in the volume, from E.H. Gombrich and the late H.D.F. Kitto. Kitto discusses Sophocles in terms of Arnold’s line: ‘He saw life steadily and saw it whole.’ Gombrich explores in a sparkling way the analogy between evolutionary processes in which ...

In Praise of History

Earl Miner, 1 March 1984

A History of Japanese Literature. Vol. I: The First Thousand Years 
by Shuichi Kato, translated by David Chibbett.
Macmillan, 319 pp., £20, September 1979, 0 333 19882 4
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A History of Japanese Literature. Vol. II: The Years of Isolation 
by Shuichi Kato, translated by Don Sanderson.
Macmillan, 230 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 22088 9
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A History of Japanese Literature. Vol. III: The Modern Years 
by Shuichi Kato, translated by Don Sanderson.
Macmillan, 307 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 34133 3
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World within Walls 
by Donald Keene.
Secker, 624 pp., £15, January 1977, 0 436 23266 9
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Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Literature 
by Makoto Ueda.
Stanford, 451 pp., $28.50, September 1983, 0 8047 1166 6
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Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake 
by Edward Seidensticker.
Allen Lane, 302 pp., £16.95, September 1983, 0 7139 1597 8
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... symphony of French horns. It is shared by many literary historians themselves. As E.H. Gombrich put it, there is no innocent eye. Or, there is no transparent method or object of study. The very word ‘history’ is not simple. For although it is founded on a realist presumption, it designates not one thing but several. ‘History’ is primal ...

Just How It was

Anne Hollander: The work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, 7 May 1998

Tête à Tête: Portraits by Henri Cartier-Bresson 
edited by E.H. Gombrich.
Thames and Hudson, 144 pp., £32, February 1998, 9780500542187
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Henri Cartier-Bresson: Europeans 
edited by Jean Clair.
Thames and Hudson, 231 pp., £29.95, January 1998, 0 500 28052 5
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... Like Titian’s, Cartier-Bresson’s work began as the mirror of one epoch and is ending as that of another, simply because he invented the best mirror and kept polishing it Cartier-Bresson’s influence has been immense since his beginnings, not just on photography but on cinema and photojournalism, so that he has been largely responsible for 20th-century notions of what a superior realistic camera image should look like ...
Rembrandt by Himself 
edited by Christopher White and Quentin Buvelot.
Yale, 272 pp., £25, June 1999, 9781857092523
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Rembrandt: The Painter at Work 
by Ernst van de Wetering.
Amsterdam University Press, 340 pp., £52.50, November 1997, 90 5356 239 7
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... for the so-called human condition. John Rupert Martin, Kenneth Clark, H.P. Chapman and E.H. Gombrich (respectively) were, each of them, writing out of a scholarly knowledge of the 17th century. Nonetheless, their terminologies raise a major problem: does the strength of our emotional response to Rembrandt lead us into conceptual anachronisms? Did ...

Something of His Own

Jonathan Rée: Gotthold Lessing, 6 February 2014

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: His Life, Works and Thought 
by H.B. Nisbet.
Oxford, 734 pp., £85, September 2013, 978 0 19 967947 8
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... a literature of its own. Since then generations of German schoolchildren have been taught, as E.H. Gombrich once put it, to see Lessing as a ‘Moses who led his people out of French servitude towards the promised land of Deutsche Klassik’. The ‘father of German literature’ was inevitably conscripted into Goebbels’s fantasy of Germany as ‘the ...

Bristling Ermine

Jeremy Harding: R.W. Johnson, 4 May 2017

Look Back in Laughter: Oxford’s Postwar Golden Age 
by R.W. Johnson.
Threshold, 272 pp., £14.50, May 2015, 978 1 903152 35 5
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How Long Will South Africa Survive? The Looming Crisis 
by R.W. Johnson.
Hurst, 288 pp., £12.99, July 2016, 978 1 84904 723 4
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... it can even be uncanny, with a touch of Hogwarts about it. Where else could the art historian E.H. Gombrich be transformed by a feat of necromancy into his son Richard, and suddenly appear as ‘a distinguished Orientalist’? What other magical city could induct a wizard of Johnson’s calibre and pack him off to France to discover Jean-Marie Le Pen’s ...

Durability

Peter Lamarque, 15 September 1983

The Critical Historians of Art 
by Michael Podro.
Yale, 257 pp., £15, November 1982, 0 300 02862 8
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A World History of Art 
by Hugh Honour and John Fleming.
Macmillan, 639 pp., £17.50, September 1982, 0 333 23583 5
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The Test of Time: An Essay in Philosophical Aesthetics 
by Anthony Savile.
Oxford, 319 pp., £20, July 1982, 0 19 824590 4
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... were detailed and elaborate, even advancing a cyclic view of stylistic development. The echo of Riegl is in the isolation of a ‘root of style’ independent of cultural determination, arising exclusively from a visual tradition in painting. Podro offers some powerful criticisms of Wölffin’s theory of an autonomous visual tradition and the idea ...

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