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Svetlana Alpers: Vermeer and Globalisation, 26 February 2009

Vermeer’s Hat: The 17th Century and the Dawn of the Global World 
by Timothy Brook.
Profile, 272 pp., £18.99, July 2008, 978 1 84668 112 7
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... Timothy Brook’s subject in Vermeer’s Hat is the ‘global world’ of the 17th century. Brook is a historian of China who wants to consider the lure of China for others. The dream of China, he argues, is the imaginative thread that runs through the history of early modern Europe’s struggle to reach the wider world; he admires the energy and drive of the Europeans who devised means to do this ...

I wouldn’t mind trying to teach him again

Svetlana Alpers, 6 April 1995

Hans Memling: The Complete Works 
by Dirk de Vos.
Thames and Hudson, 431 pp., £95, October 1994, 0 500 23698 4
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... I was not able to get to the major exhibition organised by the city of Bruges to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Hans Memling. But there is consolation in the fact that if one has ever been to Bruges one knows something of what his art is like. To a remarkable degree Memling has come to be identified with this city, whose centre is a preserve out of time ...

Questions of Dutchness

Svetlana Alpers, 4 August 1994

Dawn of the Golden Age: Northern Netherlandish Art, 1580-1620 
by Wouter Kloek, translated by Michael Hoyle.
Yale, 720 pp., £60, January 1994, 0 300 06016 5
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... Until not so long ago it seemed Fromentin had got it right in 1876 when he celebrated Dutch art as offering a portrait of a new, free state: ‘un Etat nouveau, un art nouveau’, as he put it in Les Maîtres d’ autrefois, an account of his travels through Belgium and Holland. The humanised universe of Italian painting, with its emphasis on an idealised human body – indeed, the very notion of a universal humanity – was replaced, as he saw it and as many have seen it since, by the depiction of a specific and most ordinary visible world: a particular place, its towns, its landscape, its skies, domestic settings, the manners of its people ...

Dutch Interiors

Svetlana Alpers, 15 November 1984

Masterpieces of 17th-Century Dutch Genre Painting: Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Royal Academy 
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 397 pp., £20, March 1984, 9780876330579Show More
The Golden Age: Dutch Painters of the 17th Century 
by Bob Haak.
Thames and Hudson, 936 pp., £40, September 1984, 0 500 23407 8
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... For all the obvious pleasures offered by Dutch art of the Golden Age, it is remarkable how much puzzlement and antagonism it has aroused. Even as it was being made and marketed, commentators throughout Europe reacted against the ordinariness of its subjects, the frequent vulgarity both of the people and of the activities it presented in such loving and repetitive detail ...

Grope or Cuddle

Peter Campbell, 12 January 1995

Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence 
by Svetlana Alpers and Michael Baxandall.
Yale, 186 pp., £35, September 1994, 0 300 05978 7
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... Tiepolo,’ Svetlana Alpers and Michael Baxandall write, ‘is not a difficult painter. He is accessible and easy to like.’ Well, up to a point. For example, while I did not find the Tiepolos in the Royal Academy’s exhibition of 18th-century Venetian art ‘difficult’ in any obvious way, I did not find them ‘easy to like’ either ...

Paintings about Painting

Nicholas Penny, 4 August 1983

The Art of Describing 
by Svetlana Alpers.
Murray, 273 pp., £25, May 1983, 0 7195 4063 1
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... is, we are supposed to reflect that ‘dewy vapour and sunshine’, like lemons, won’t last. Svetlana Alpers has caused quite a stir by challenging the now prevalent emblematic interpretation of Dutch art. In her book (and on its dust-jacket) there is a good colour illustration of a self-portrait and still-life painted by David Bailly of Leiden in ...

At the Courtauld

Peter Campbell: Giambattista Tiepolo, 23 March 2006

... as it moves about in front of it or below it. In Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence (1994), Svetlana Alpers and Michael Baxendall have described the way this works with Tiepolo’s Four Continents – the ceiling of the staircase in the Würzburg Residenz – where ambiguities that defy geometrical analysis seem to exploit the changes in the ...

Gestures of Embrace

Nicholas Penny, 27 October 1988

Rembrandt’s Enterprise: The Studio and the Market 
by Svetlana Alpers.
Thames and Hudson, 160 pp., £20, May 1988, 0 226 01514 9
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The Light of Early Italian Painting 
by Paul Hills.
Yale, 160 pp., £20, March 1987, 0 300 03617 5
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Italian Paintings in the Robert Lehman Collection 
by John Pope-Hennessy.
Metropolitan Museum and Princeton, 331 pp., £50, December 1987, 0 87099 479 4
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... In the first chapter of Rembrandt’s Enterprise, Professor Alpers devotes much attention to a small etching of 1655. This, she says, depicts a goldsmith in his shop just putting the finishing touches to a figural group representing a woman (Charity, or Caritas) with two children. While his right hand works with a hammer to fasten the metal to its base, the artist lovingly embraces the women with a huge left hand ...

Goddesses and Girls

Nicholas Penny, 2 December 1982

... to comply with it? Can the painting really, as Downes proposes, following a learned article by Svetlana Alpers, possess a ‘philosophical and Christian significance’? Are we to suppose that he was devising a highly sophisticated test for the pious, akin to decorating a prayer-book with erotica? Both Downes and ...

Merry Companies

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: The Golden Age of Dutch painting, 20 January 2005

Dutch 17th-century Genre Painting: Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution 
by Wayne Franits.
Yale, 328 pp., £45, June 2004, 0 300 10237 2
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... ostensibly broken down at the beginning of the 19th century, the fierce debate that erupted when Svetlana Alpers attempted to challenge the iconological consensus in her Art of Describing (1983) made it clear that some of the old sensitivities still lingered. Rejecting an interpretative method that she saw as biased toward the kind of knowledge found in ...

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