Wednesday, January 4, 2012
January 2, 2012 Issue
This week’s issue serves up a rare treat: Peter Schjeldahl, in a piece called “The Reign In Spain,” reviewing a book about Diego Velázquez, titled Velázquez and the Surrender of Breda: The Making of a Masterpiece, written by long-time New Yorker contributor Anthony Bailey. Reading it, I experienced triple bliss. The piece brims with inspired writing. Regarding Velázquez’s Las Meninas, Schjeldahl says:
To behold it, transfixed by the eyes of the devastatingly pretty Infanta, as she accepts a little red jug from a gracefully bending maid, while a departing courtier pauses to look back, and a boy kicks a dog, is to ride a whirlwind of fact and conjecture into metaphysical infinity.
That “whirlwind of fact and conjecture” is very fine. Schjeldahl is unfailingly generous in his praise of Bailey’s book. This is as it should be; Bailey is one of The New Yorker’s greatest writers (see my “Interesting Emendations: Anthony Bailey’s ‘Outer Banks,’” January 13, 2011). Schjeldahl deliciously quotes Bailey as follows:
Bailey’s description is a tour de force of visual gourmandise, lingering on such passages as “the recess, barely a dimple, under her right shoulder blade” and identifying a zone of her lower back “painted with such skill that words fall away, useless.”
Schjeldahl is, as I am, a Bailey fan. In one of my favorite Schjeldahl pieces, a review of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Vermeer and the Delft School” (“The Sphinx,” The New Yorker, April 16, 2001; included in Schjeldah’s wonderful 2008 collection Let’s See), he refers to Bailey’s Vermeer Then and Now: A View of Delft, saying that it “perfectly complements” the Met’s show. I would say the same about Schjeldhal and Bailey: they perfectly complement each other. What a pleasure it is to see their work combined in one piece. What a great start to the new year!