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The cover shows Vermeer’s Girl with a Red Hat. It illustrates Anthony Bailey’s ‘The World of Jan de Witt‘, which focuses on the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic in the 17th Century.

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De Witt, as Grand Pensionary of the province of Holland was effectively in charge of the United Provinces from 1653 to 1672.

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The merchant-aristocrats with whom De Witt was now closely tied imposed a lasting influence on Dutch society, manners and architecture. For them, the stately town houses rose along three great new Amsterdam canals – Herrengracht, Keizergracht and Prinsengracht – while for the lesser burghers who emulated them, smaller but similar houses were built on the streets running between. The term “regents” denoted the trustees, or syndics, of guilds, charitable organizations and almshouses; as time went on, the regents married into and absorbed the old nobility, and gradually became a self-perpetuating caste, favoring their own relatives for positions within their oligarchies. De Witt, no exception, got his brother appointed governor of Putten, his father a post on the Chamber of Accounts, and numerous cousins various other government positions. But he also refused favors to those he thought lacking in merit…

The regents’ government created a republic that Plato might have approved, ruled by an aristocracy of leading men. The great majority of people, though excluded from power, were satisfied with policies that avoided military entanglements of a kind the House of Orange might involve them in.

Neverthless, De Witt was eventually assassinated by supporters of William of Orange when the French invaded.

The issue contains a portfolio of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age:

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Also in this issue:

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Another Dutchman, pioneering abstract painter Piet Mondrian, is subject of an article by Peter Gay.

Mondrian was the most reluctant of revolutionaries: the deliberate, hesitant pace of his artistic career is a measure of the difficulty and the daring of the move to abstraction. It was not until 1911, when he was nearly forty, that Mondrian went to Paris and was, he recalled, ‘immediately drawn to the cubists, especially to Picasso and Leger.’ But ‘gradually’ he adds, ‘I became aware that cubism did not accept the logical consequences of its own discoveries; it was not developing abstraction towards its ultimate goal, the expression of pure reality’… [It] was not until 1917, when he was forty-five, that he took the last step and began to compose canvases consisting entirely of rectangles. The grids that won immortality for him are the work of an even older man: they date from 1920.

His unfinished Victory Boogie-Woogie is seen in his studio in 1944, and in colour:

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Arthur Koestler provides the introduction to ‘The Trial of Julius Háy‘, in which Háy, Hungary’s leading playwright, writes about his trial and imprisonment in the wake of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

According to Koestler:

It is a fact – which sounds strange if not incredible to Western ears – that the most dramatic popular uprising in postwar history had been initiated by a handful of writers: novelists, playwrights, historians, literary critics…[Where] opinions are regimented, whether it be czarist Russia or the Hungary of 1956, every independent voice, if it succeeds in making itself heard, carries an explosive potential. Hence the deep, reverberating echoes of Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn – or of the voice of the Hungarian Writers’ Union during that Budapest summer full of hope and promise…

Háy’s principal crime was a literary creation – Comrade Kucsera, a satire on the jackbooted party boss, ‘the bureaucrat in the seat of power, the exploiter of our society…

‘I really do not like Comrade Kucsera – and I have my reasons. Nor does Comrade Kucsera have any liking for me. For that too, there is a reason…

‘Kucsera is the great mistake in our History. Kucsera is the know-nothing by conviction and passion, who looks down on us from the pedestal of his ignorance and clings fanatically to the fallacious principle of the permanent sharpening of the class struggle.’

Literally overnight, Comrade Kucsera became a household word, like Scrooge or Tartuffe, a national symbol for the little Neros who ruled the country…

Stanley Kauffmann writes in ‘My Verdi‘ about how he discovered opera:

When I was twelve I began to do some writing for the old Metropolitan Opera House Program – biographical notes and verses and fillers. There was no money; I was paid in tickets. Those days, in the late 1920’s, were the days of vocal splendor (as phonograph records prove) and of empty houses. That boy of twelve or thirteen or fourteen attended many performances (over which opera lovers now weep), and sometimes he sat in a box alone, his feet extended on a gilt red-cushioned chair, and listened to Rosa Ponselle or Beniamino Gigli or Elisabeth Rethberg or Giuseppe de Luca or Ezio Pinza, watched Tullio Serafin conduct. And often, very often, it was Verdi. The Aga Khan could not have had opera in greater luxe or glory.

In 19th century Italy, operas were being commissioned all the time – La Scala in 1820 had eleven works in repertory, with four premieres:

…it could almost be said that, for an Italian talent of his day, it would have been more remarkable if he had not been drawn to opera.

This theatrical vocation meant for Verdi, as for all composers to whom opera has meant more than grinding out stage fodder, a concern with story, structure, characterization, and language that sometimes surprises those today who vaguely assume that the librettos were somehow always there and the verses unimportant. Verdi’s correspondence with his librettists quickly proves the opposite: ‘The phrase must have a turn that grips you!’ he wrote to one. ‘Theatre…theatre!’ More to the recurrent point of his concern with theatre was his continuing struggle with production problems, and especially with singers. As soon as he had enough reputation to stand up to opera stars, who requested alterations from composers at their whim, he did so.

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John Pfeiffer writes in ‘The Life and Death of a Great City’ about the project to map Mexico’s Teotihuacán.

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The city was begun about 100 BC and started going downhill around AD 750. He describes what the finds tell us about the life of the city:

As the city grew and consolidated, farmers to the south came down from their defensive hilltop positions to live on and exploit the abundant lowlands more fully. This implies that they no longer had anything to fear, since Teotihuacán was now in complete command of the area. The extent of the city’s power may be revealed in other developments. For example, in one hinterland area local populations declined by more than 60 per cent, probably because people from all over were migrating to the metropolis, and not necessarily of their own free will. Government troops may have forced some of them to move as part of a conscription drive for more workers.

The poet John Ashbery writes about E.V. Lucas and George Morrow‘s 1911 book What a Life!, whose use of collage (with images from the Whiteleys store catalogue) anticipated surrealism.

The book’s importance as an object of fantastic art was consecrated in the 1936 Museum of Modern Art exhibition of fantastic art, Dada and surrealism, where two of its illustrations were included at the suggestion of the writer Jay Leyda, who was at that time on the Museum’s staff and had discovered What a Life! in London a few years before.

Although there is no evidence that Max Ernst knew Lucas and Morrow’s little book, the resemblances between it and a work such as Ernst’s collage novel Une semaine de bonté are striking.

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P.S.: On the masthead I noticed the name of James F Fixx as Managing Editor. He later wrote The Complete Book of Running – then dropped dead at the age of 52 while running.

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