It Didn’t Dry in Winter

Nicholas Penny

  • Wealth and the Demand for Art in Italy 1300-1600 by Richard Goldthwaite
    Johns Hopkins, 266 pp, £25.00, July 1993, ISBN 0 8018 4612 9

During the 18th century it was considered an edifying entertainment to trace the stuff of which the finery in the smartest London shops was composed to its distant origins: whalebone from the Arctic Sea, for example, or muslin from India. This exercise encouraged wonder at the abundance and variety of nature as well as at the enterprise of traders and the ingenuity of manufacturers, but little awareness of labour exploited, or lives destroyed. It also led to a blithe complacency about the global tribute paid to Britain. In the opening stanzas of Isabella, Keats contrived to adapt this to subversive ends. Isabella lived long ago, but in one of the first great modern cities, the Manchester of the late Middle Ages, Florence. Her brothers are merchants, ‘self-retired/In hungry pride and gainful cowardice’, ‘ledgermen’ who stay at home. Yet slaves sweated for them ‘In torched mines and noisy factories’ and

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