Mark Lamster | Essays

Tiepolo Pink

I'm happy and honored to report that Master of Shadows has been named an Indie Next Notable Book for November by IndieBound, the organization of America's independent booksellers. But let me take a break from pimping my own work to mention Roberto Calasso's latest, Tiepolo Pink. Giambattista Tiepolo isn't a painter with whom Americans are too familiar, which is unfortunate. Here Calasso argues the Venetian has long had an unfair reputation as a lightweight, a painter of pretty, decorative pictures, and an exemplar of the Italian notion of sprezzatura, a kind of easy, effortless grace. He had that in spades, but Calasso makes a good case that there was an intellectual depth to his work that has eluded generations of flummoxed art historians. Calasso, a Milanese publisher, has written a very Italian book: It is florid, elliptical, dense, digressive, and almost preposterously erudite. You are not likely to find another study of Italian mannerism that references Sydney Greenstreet, which is probably a good thing. American art historical writing, by way of contrast, tends to be dry and straightforward, jargon-rich and politicized. Calasso, however, writes with the easy elegance of his subject (you can understand the attraction). Reading him is like unpacking a suitcase of ideas. Also, a dictionary will probably be required. The production department at Knopf ought to be especially commended for the elegant package; they have clearly lavished great care on this book. Illustrations, in color and black and white, are run through the text on thick, cream paper. Best of all is the jacket, designed by Peter Mendelsund, a lovely, spare, and clever presentation. It's not even pink.

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