Christopher Allen

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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 Gi ...

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 a ...

Christopher Allen reviews 'SPQR' by Mary Beard

Christopher Allen
Wednesday, 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 an ...

Christopher Allen reviews 'Art as Therapy'

Christopher Allen
Sunday, 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 rationa ...

Christopher Allen on Antiquity and the Renaissance

Christopher Allen
Thursday, 28 November 2013

When the intellectuals, writers, and artists of the Renaissance sought a theoretical basis for the new styles they were developing – at a time when the new meant all’antica and the term modern was still coloured by associations with the Middle Ages – they found that ancient sources were relatively abundant in some areas and scarce or non-ex ...

Christopher Allen on 'Confronting the Classics'

Christopher Allen
Monday, 27 May 2013

When Confucius was asked by his disciples how they should become wise, he would enjoin them to study the classics; over two millennia later and much closer to home, Winckelmann declared that it was only by imitating the supreme masterpieces of the Greeks that we too might one day become inimitable – putting his finger on the paradox that the greatest originality a ...