Monday, March 20, 2017
Nefertiti, that cheating hussy?
HISTORIAS INCREÍBLES DEL MUNDO DEL ARTE, BY MAUREEN MAROZEAU (EDHASA); 232 PAGES, 295 PESOS.
By Nicolás Meyer
For The Herald
For The Herald
There’s a lot of interesting material in Historias increíbles del mundo del arte, which covers three sculptures and nine paintings — some of them among the world’s best-known artworks, others somewhat less so but also having good tales to tell. But none of it tops the wallop delivered in the first chapter, dealing with the bust of Nefertiti (it comes first because the items follow a chronological order, only altered, and slightly so, by putting Raphael’s The Deposition ahead of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, painted just before).
This is a book for a general readership, not only for people who have a special interest in art, because there are heaps of gossip and twists and duplicity, and because of the working style of the author, Maureen Marozeau. She not only makes the most of every ingredient of intrigue and of all the outsize, shady or quirky characters behind these masterpieces, but often writes in a rather heavy-breathing style clearly meant to avoid making a simple, dry listing of facts.
Yet people with a knowledge of art history needn’t sniff at this book either, because while seeking to maintain a popular tone, it also does bring in a wealth of information. That extends right into the 2010s — because with some works, new data are still being found, or their stories are still taking new turns. Each chapter covers the actual history of the events or person depicted in the artwork, the history of the piece’s creation, and that of its later vicissitudes.
The latter are sometimes the best part of the story, featuring not only fastidious collectors as well as ignorant owners but likewise art thieves including Napoleon, Hitler, a bus-driver with a bee in his bonnet about special TV privileges for pensioners, and a pope.
Here are three examples of author Marozeau’s style. On the realist painter Gustave Courbet: “Thundering mountain of talent... modesty, discretion and decorum didn’t form part of his vocabulary.” (It seems that the painting of his that is the subject of one of the chapters here, The Origin of the World, can still get people’s accounts closed on social networks if they post it).
On the plethora of suggestions regarding Mona Lisa’s smile, identity and so on: “Take a number and queue up at the booth for (receiving) theories, please!” On Paul Delaroche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, after a 1930 report considers it of little artistic value and another in 1959 declares it to be lost: “The executioner’s axe falls on Lady Jane’s neck for the second time.”
Marozeau modestly calls her book a “compilation” of materials gathered by many experts, but the shaping of the stories is clearly her own.
As to her own identity, the information in both the book and the Web seems purposefully crafted to hide her nationality (and age), but states that she studied in the US and UK, and writes in French, including the original version of this book.
Back to Nefertiti. That chapter deals at length with the occasionally aired charge that the beloved bust is a modern creation — not even a copy replacing an ancient Egyptian original, but an out-and-out fake product, dating barely over a hundred years ago. (Made, however, using original materials).
That’s staggering. What’s next? The Statue of Liberty was originally meant to hold up a gun? The blockhead was right when he said he didn’t understand the fuss over the Discobolus, since what’s so great about a statue of a guy stealing hubcaps?
For the record, my own layman’s opinion is that all the concerns about the modernity of Nefertiti’s features, even the elongated, very Art Nouveau-ish neck, and the odd gaps in her discovery’s paperwork, can perhaps be dismissed. There are items to be seen at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum and in other major museum collections that also look astonishingly modern. The one thing that really sticks in my craw is the vertical cut of the bust’s shoulders — completely unheard-of in Egyptian art. Read Marozeau’s detailed information.
What are missing are photos of the works — as said, they aren’t all equally famous. You can google the images, but should you have to? Besides, with the perimetric panels to Raphael’s Deposition altarpiece, it isn’t so easy, and in the case of the angels on rams’ heads, apparently impossible. Also, Marozeau might explain why the Baglioni family that commissioned it wasn’t offended, under the discussed interpretation of it — pro-Rome, anti-Baglioni — what with St Peter stepping on the foot of a female identified with a member of the family, and all that.