Term Break

Only 3 weeks (whoops 7 days) ‘til back to school.


The break started with good intention: the goal of finishing my term paper about the relationship between Jackson Pollock and Tintoretto to make it publisher ready.

Thomas Hart Benton had taught Pollock about Tintoretto, and I used him as a surrogate for the more elusive Tintoretto. But Benton’s character came through so strongly that the presence of Tintoretto got lost. This was inevitable given the strength of Benton’s character. I therefore needed to make Benton invisible but still show his influence.

I had tied Pollock’s move to larger scale works to his interest in the Mexican Muralists, especially Orozco. I knew that the Orozco’s mural that Pollock most admired, the one at Pomona College, was derived from El Greco’s painting of San Sebastian. However, the connection between painting composition learn from Tintoretto and the lesson of scale from Orozco was rather disjoint. What I needed was a means of tying Pollock, Tintoretto and Orozco (or large scale work) together without the strong emphasis on Benton.

In the break, I found the magical connection between Tintoretto and Orozco’s painting at Pomona College.

El Greco’s painting of San Sebastian on which the Pomona mural is based, was thought to be derived from a similar painting by Tintoretto. Although it was painted after Tintoretto painted his painting, there is a strong connection between Tintoretto and El Greco. For Pollock, the problem in studying Tintoretto is the absence of monumental works in the USA. Hence the lessons of Tintoretto’s ‘grand design’ that Pollock learn from Benton would not have been visible in the works he saw, but it would have been present in the mural by Orozco.  The mural at Pomona provided in essence a monumental El Greco, and by association, a monumental Tintoretto.

So, I have resolved the outstanding research problem. I just need to state it succinctly in writing.


As a continuation of what I had learnt during the last term, I read “How to Write Faster” by Liz Hayes. This goes a lot deeper than what was covered in class and has some really useful examples, including to write the first draft in narrative form, and not to focus on the details (e.g. spelling and style) in the earlier drafts as these may not even make it into the final version. By reading other books about writing, I am also discovering that being a good writer does not necessarily make one a good writer about the art of writing.


I lost my writing momentum when I started to catch up on my backlog of Minerva, Ancient Warfare, Ancient History and History Today magazines. This is not a major problem because my interest in writing originated when I noticed how in these magazines, good writers not only write well but have a clarity of thought. My goal in studying writing was to develop in myself this clarity of thought. For me writing is a means and not an end. However, treating it merely as a means will never let me get the full value from it.


Luckily, I did get to read one of my bucket list books: Venice and Vitruvius by Margaret D’Evelyn. Interestingly, at the start of the book, she emphasizes how architects in the Renaissance advocated that being a good architect was not enough; being able to write well about it was essential. Unfortunately, the book does not follow their example. The book is a major chore to read but full of amazing information. The writing does not do the research justice. It reinforced for me the importance of good writing. The Review is below.


Now, I am reading Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia by Gregory Aldrete. My aim is to complete the Pompeii class text before the start of class. I have also completed the Great Courses class on Experiencing Rome by Tuck. This and other Great Courses truly great courses. I have also browsed a lot of books apart from the texts so that I know where to get details. The book I wanted most was Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space by Laurence and Newsome. Although only just published in the USA, this was previously published in England, and the GMU library had a copy.  This is a great resource for class. It actually contradicts some of the basic assumptions about Pompeii, such as the idea that you can track traffic in Pompeii by the depth of the cart rut marks in the stones. They state that the marks were more likely caused by the vehicles doing the excavation and are not historic. This is a really provocative statement.

I still have not made scones or done any cooking.


Yesterday morning, I booked Amtrak to New York to look at the Boscoreale frescoes at the Met and see the show on Roman silver at ISAW. There was only a four week window to see both these and the Delacroix mega show at the met.  The show includes my two favorite Delacroix paintings: the Mount of Olives and Medea. I saw Medea in Lille in the 80’s and again at the Met several years later. As the show at the Met included studies and drawings for the work, the evolution of the image could be observed. The Medea is an amazing painting.


Oh well back to school soon. Three classes is a hell of a load for an old guy. Will be interesting to see how my knowledge of history stacks up against student knowledge. But I have cheated. I have already done my homework.









Amazing content but clarity of presentation is lacking.


Venice and Vitruvius is an amazing piece of research which leaves no stone unturned.


Part 1 deals with the history of architectural books and is the distillation of her thesis. As such, it is polished and tightly focused.


Part 2 is the bulk of the book and examines Daniele Barbaro’s view of Venice as being and becoming Vitruvius’s ideal city. In this area, the book has an immense amount of research. Not only does it deal with Barbaro’s commentaries on Vitruvius but also tracks the various versions of the book and the reasons for the changes.


The study of the evolution of the commentaries is fascinating. That Barbaro’s commentaries could be less descriptions once Palladio added his illustrations shows an interesting symbiosis between the two. Palladio’s removal of references to Alberti is an interesting insight into Palladio as a person. The evolution of Barbaro’s commentaries would have created a very powerful isolated study, especially if demonstrated through the collaboration of Palladio and Barbaro in Venice’s architecture. It is easy to see Barbaro as simply a humanitarian patron, but the book only just hints at him as an architect in his own right, although he did not see himself in that role. However, the other authors mentioned could have been better addressed as a separate part after or associated with the first part. Isolating the story of Barbaro and Palladio would have created a fantastic story.


The overall structure of Part 2 is that each chapter deals with a structural component of a building. The building component structure is not strong enough to carry the book.

The weakness of this structure is demonstrated by the fact that the last chapter is the first to address caissons, which are a basic foundation element. This should have been addressed in the first chapter which dealt with building foundations.


Several sections start with a single sentence as a narrative description of Venice and what it is like to walk around Venice, but then the thread ends. This an opportunity missed as she obviously has a good understanding of Venice. Elsewhere, the reason for the haphazard layout of ‘streets’ in Venice is well explained. Repeatedly, we travel back to Piazza San Marco and walk along the waterfront looking at San Giorgio Maggiore, but these passages are not contiguous and therefore do not build on the experience. The view from Piazza San Marco across to San Giorgio Maggiore is probably one of the most beautiful vistas in Venice, along with the vista to its right to Il Redentore. Both churches are by Palladio and although mention of them is sprinkled throughout the narrative, they warrant focused attention. A rich (almost personal) descriptive narrative would have enforced the primary narrative. This would have exhibited the love and understanding of the special arrangement of Venice that the author obviously possesses.




The book examines the evolution of Scuola Grande di San Rocco in detail. I felt this was a misplaced focus and may have been better served by just consolidating the sections on the Piazza San Marco or a Palladio building.


There is some information which should have been omitted. For example, the similarity between the placement of Palladio’s Villa Rotunda within the landscape and that of the emperor’s box in an amphitheater is phenomenal and an eye-opener. However, Villa Rotunda is not in Venice proper and not relevant to the point at hand.


In summary, the book would have been better structured into more than two parts. There is so much discussed that each individual topic: Barbaro and Vitruvius, Venice and Vitruvius, components of buildings, the vistas of Venice, the passageways of Venice and the Piazzas deserved a separate focus that would have been provided by isolation.


There are some issues in the use of voice in the writing. The writing style of Vitruvius and Palladio creeps into the author’s narrative. This and the use of passive voice makes the quotations and the author’s comments merge. Direct voice on the part of the author would have made the points more clearly and worked as a powerfully voiced commentary.



Despite the issues of readability due to a weakness in structure, the book is well worth reading. The content is amazing. I think that its best use may be as a reference book on specific Renaissance aesthetics topics as opposed to a book to give an understanding of Venice or Vitruvius.






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