The Death of Michael Baxandall

The passing of a great art critic stirs mixed memories

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I have just read the obituary of Michael Baxandall in the Telegraph. I was deeply affected by his Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy . As the obituary says, the book "demonstrated that context should be taken much more widely. to include not just the learning of humanists, but also practical skills -- and not just those of the elite, such as dancing and manners, but also those of the merchant and the artisan, such as the valuation of minerals and the gauging of barrels."

I remember being struck by Baxandall's explanation of the use of the colour ultramarine in renaissance painting to demonstrate a patron's wealth. Before then I'd just thought it was a most beautiful shade of blue. When I was in Italy last month, I went to see some Piero della Francesca frescos in Arezzo and Monterchi I thought about Baxandall for the first time in years.

I was first introduced to this wonderful little book by Steve Milner, a great enthusiast about hip-hop as much as renaissance art, who is now Professor of Italian at Manchester University. At the time he was going out with my great friend Catherine Wearing, who also died this year. If anything, she was even more passionate about art, music, politics than Steve. Such people are rare. With the loss of both Michael Baxandall and Catherine Wearing, the world is a lesser place.

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