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Christopher Allen

Christopher Allen
Christopher Allen is currently Senior Master in Academic Extension at Sydney Grammar School. He is the national art critic for The Australian.

Christopher Allen reviews ‘The Trojan Horse and Other Stories: Ten ancient creatures that make us human’

April 2024, no. 463 25 March 2024
The gods of the Greeks are uniquely anthropomorphic; they are not only imagined with human bodies but with thoughts and feelings largely similar to our own, except for the fact that they cannot grow old or die, and are thus spared the greatest part of human pain and suffering. They can feel anger at the misbehaviour, or pity for the fate, of mortals, as when Zeus sees that his beloved son Sarpedon ... (read more)

Christopher Allen reviews ‘The Cambridge Companion to Greek Lyric’ edited by Felix Budelmann

September 2009, no. 314 01 September 2009
It is easy to be complacent about the Greeks. We know they invented democracy, philosophy, drama, the principle of free speech and other things that we value highly; but how often do we read the works of Homer and Hesiod, of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, of Herodotus and Thucydides, of Plato and Aristotle? How often do we reflect that the Greeks gave the West the very idea of literature? The ... (read more)

Christopher Allen reviews 'A History of Art History' by Christopher S. Wood

April 2021, no. 430 23 March 2021
The history of art history in the West over the past five hundred years is rich and complex and yet rests on clear historiographical foundations, themselves grounded in inescapable historical realities. Authors and artists in the Renaissance looked back to the civilisation of Greco-Roman antiquity, all but lost in the catastrophe of the fall of the Roman Empire and succeeded by centuries of dramat ... (read more)

Christopher Allen reviews 'Heaven on Earth: Painting and the life to come' by T.J. Clark

June–July 2019, no. 412 23 May 2019
Giotto’s frescoes invite us to ponder the nature of what we instinctively, conveniently, but not very satisfactorily call realism. Compared to the work of his predecessors, these images have a new kind of material presence. Bodies become solid, take on mass and volume, and occupy space. Those in front overlap with and partly occlude our view of those behind, for Giotto wants to set them in the s ... (read more)

Christopher Allen reviews 'Keeping Their Marbles: How the treasures of the past ended up in museums ... and why they should stay there' by Tiffany Jenkins

May 2018, no. 401 26 April 2018
There are cases in which it seems, on the face of it, unambiguously right to restore stolen or misappropriated cultural objects to their original setting or at least to their last known address: we can think of the lamentable looting of museums and archaeological sites during the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and the riots of the pitifully misnamed Arab Spring. And yet because their origin ... (read more)

Christopher Allen reviews 'Palmyra: An irreplaceable treasure' by Paul Veyne, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan

March 2018, no. 399 30 November 2017
France’s higher education system can seem arcane to outsiders, especially those from the English-speaking world. Although the Sorbonne is coeval with Oxford and Cambridge, there is far greater prestige in attending one of the Grandes Écoles such as Polytechnique or the École Normale Supérieure, only accessible by notoriously difficult entrance examinations. Perhaps even less familiar is the C ... (read more)

Christopher Allen reviews 'Imperial Triumph: The Roman world from Hadrian to Constantine' by Michael Kulikowski

April 2017, no. 390 30 March 2017
Mary Beard’s new history of Rome, reviewed here in March 2016, ended at the point where Edward Gibbon began his great Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in what he called the happy age of the Antonines. That is also where Michael Kulikowski takes up the story in this book, the first of two intended volumes, although, as he admits, he will not follow Gibbon all the way to the Turkish conquest ... (read more)

Christopher Allen reviews 'The Holy Roman Empire: A thousand years of Europe’s history' by Peter H. Wilson

December 2016, no. 387 28 November 2016
Empires of a thousand years’ duration are not common in the history of the world. Adolf Hitler’s dream of a thousand-year Reich evaporated after little more than a decade, and Napoleon’s conquests were not much more lasting. Even the Roman Empire, depending on the dates we set for its beginning and ending, succumbed to internal decline and barbarian invasion after some six or seven hundred y ... (read more)

Christopher Allen reviews 'SPQR' by Mary Beard

March 2016, no. 379 24 February 2016
At the very bottom of Hell, Dante represents Satan with three mouths, each of which endlessly devours a figure personifying treachery and rebellion against God. One of these, predictably enough, is Judas. What may be surprising to the modern reader is that the other two are Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar. In the medieval vision of the universe and of human history, however, the ... (read more)

Christopher Allen reviews 'Art as Therapy' by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong

February 2014, no. 358 19 January 2014
Art, in all its diverse manifestations, from storytelling to picture-making, from singing and dancing to poetry, is as distinctive and universal an activity of the human mind as language. It is, in essence, a way of thinking about the world, of shaping experience as it is felt to be and reshaping it as it could be, that long predates the development of rational reflection. Stories have been told f ... (read more)
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