My article “At new Smithsonian African-American history and culture museum, Catholic stories emerge” appears in National Catholic Reporter.
My article “Why Was This Italian Artist So Interested in Painting Synagogues?” appears in the Jewish Daily Forward. Here’s the lede:
Nearly 275 years after Alessandro Magnasco’s death, experts still aren’t sure what to make of his work — particularly four paintings of synagogues.
Known as il Lissandrino, Magnasco was born 350 years ago Feb. 4th. He wasn’t Jewish, but synagogues were among his most frequent subjects, notes the Cleveland Museum of Art, which owns “Interior of a Synagogue” (c. 1725-35). The museum describes the work as “mystical, dark, and imaginative,” adding that the artist likely viewed Jews as outsiders. “Magnasco’s personal views on Judaism in Italy remain unknown,” it states.
Some 350 miles west, the Art Institute of Chicago owns Magnasco’s “The Synagogue” (1725-35). A third Magnasco synagogue resides in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. Here, a rabbi covers his head with a tallit and officiates from within a circle of candles, which may be a reflection of Magnasco’s lack of experience with synagogue services, though some scholars insist he would have been familiar with the Livorno synagogue.
My article “Two painters, two styles, one city: Seville takes a lead in cosmopolitan 17th-century art” appears in National Catholic Reporter.
Here’s the lede:
Visitors to Santa María de la Sede, Seville’s cathedral and the world’s third largest church, need to peer over the baptismal font from behind a stanchion to glimpse Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s dimly lit “Vision of St. Anthony of Padua” (1656).
The painting still bears the scars of a late 1874 theft, in which thieves cut off the bottom right corner of the canvas — where St. Anthony kneels — and sold it. About a year later, an antique dealer in New York recognized the re-stretched canvas, purchased it and turned it over to the Spanish consulate. It returned to Seville after Prado Museum conservators restored it.
“That story needed to have this end, because San Antonio is the one who finds everything that we lose,” said guide Elisa Simon, on a tour of the cathedral. “If you lose something, you don’t have to search for it. You pray to San Antonio, and it comes back.”
Standing before the painting, Simon calls attention to the obvious elements: the saint’s attributes (a lily vase, open Bible and the Christ Child), as well as the flying putti circumscribed by clouds. But she also notes a less apparent element: the interior design.
“This is the typical floor that we have in Seville,” Simon said. “It is a convention.”
My article, “Do We All Have an Inner Gandhi — and a Hitler Too?” appears in the Jewish Daily Forward.
Writing in the LA Review of Books, S. Brent Plate kindly observes the following:
Critics and journalists rarely diverge from the secular gaze when it comes to using art and spirit in the same sentence. Apart from Holland Cotter’s usually astute observations in The New York Times, and a handful of others such as David Van Biema and Menachem Wecker, few critics get the variety of ways artists engage religious traditions, or, what’s more, the ways art can become religious above and beyond its overt symbolism — in other words, the way people use art. Reviews of exhibitions and artists’ retrospectives often go out of their way to dismiss, willfully ignore, or downplay the clear religious dimensions.
The full article, titled “Reports of the Death of Religious Art Have Been Greatly Exaggerated,” appears here.
My article “A Smithsonian Gift Shop Sells Anti-Trump and Pro-Hillary Paper Dolls” appears in National Review.
My article “Infiltrating the CIA’s Secret Art Collection” (excerpted here) appears in the Jan./Feb. 2017 issue of Playboy.
My short article “Archie Rand Put a New Tryst on the Bible” appears in the Jewish Daily Forward.
My review “We’ve Seen Martin Luther From Both Sides Now” of the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Martin Luther exhibition appears in the Jewish Daily Forward.
My article “Behind taxidermy display halls are lots of donors of (unsolicited) dead animals” appears in Washington Post. Here’s the lede:
David Skelly returned to his desk one day to find a two-headed snapping turtle in a mayonnaise jar. “I still don’t know where that came from,” says Skelly, director of Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.
For years, Skelly brought the turtle to elementary schools as a teaching tool, but then a colleague borrowed it — and lost it. “There is nothing like a two-headed turtle to get everyone’s attention,” he says. “It is a great conversation starter.”
Walking through taxidermy mount halls at natural history museums, visitors are likely to hear a lot of conversations start. Incredulous children often ask parents or teachers, “Is it real?” But one aspect of the stuffed animals that isn’t much discussed is how they arrive and end up so pristinely preserved.