According to the art historian Francis Haskell, Titian was one of three artists who “for no extended period since their lifetimes” had not been considered great painters. (The others were Raphael and Rubens.) The high regard has been constant; but “what people have meant by Titian, what they perceived his high qualities to be – that”, James Fenton writes, “is still a question worth asking”. Biography can help to answer it, and it is all the more surprising that Sheila Hale’s should be the first full Life since 1877 – “it makes one wonder what other more pressing tasks (in the art history world) were in hand”, muses Fenton, who salutes a work that portrays Titian as both “the quintessential court artist” and “a beady-eyed old timber merchant”. Questions as to “whether ‘art’ and ‘art history’ are European concepts better not employed outside their region of origin” are “finessed” by the editors of Art in Oceania, but Andrew Sharp is in no doubt about the rich aesthetic and historical meanings of the works it records – best approached through the book’s “well-chosen and sometimes stunning” illustrations. Illustrations – 1,700 of them, “in all the glory of digital polychrome” – reveal the secrets of London’s hidden interiors, in a book J. Mordaunt Crook finds “electrifying”; while Allan Massie enjoys the poet Robert Crawford’s study of two ancient rivals, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Ten years ago, an article in the journal of the Dickens Fellowship included a passage from one of Dostoevsky’s letters, referring to his visit to Charles Dickens. The “meeting” gained currency in more than one subsequent biography of the English novelist, but specialists in Russian literature were not so sure. Eric Naiman was one, who decided that the article’s sources and its author, Stephanie Harvey, might bear further investigation. His researches drew him into a network of “mutually supportive” contributors to scholarly journals and online publications whose writings all appeared to point to the same raison d’être . . . . A remarkable tale of modern literary life unfolds in Commentary this week.AJ