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"She was discovered on a rocky Greek island, but,
as Gregory Curtis writes, "like so many other provincials
who were blessed with talent, intelligence or beauty,
her life did not really begin until she arrived in Paris....
" In "Disarmed," the tale of that singular armless Greek
statue known as the Venus de Milo is narrated in clear-as-water
prose by Curtis, a former editor of Texas Monthly. The
book never feels padded, as do so many cultural histories
that shave off an extremely thin slice of the world
and inspect it from every possible angle. Rather, Curtis
manages to spin out lively digressions on the origins
of art history and the deductive methods art historians
use to identify a work; on early 19th century French
politics and culture; on the tempestuous fortunes of
the Louvre; on the myth of Venus (to the Greeks, she
was Aphrodite), goddess of love and female sexuality.
And he introduces us, in precise capsule biographies,
to the sailors, scholars, curators and politicos who
have crossed paths with the statue."
"The Venus De Milo receives throngs of admirers
every day in the Louvre, her white marble luminescent,
her pose enigmatic since no one knows what pose her
missing arms once took. Every bit as iconic as the Mona
Lisa, this powerful Greek statue has elicited far less
modern research. This combination of ubiquitousness
and invisibility inspired Curtis to take a fresh approach
to the deliciously convoluted tale of the stone goddess'
discovery by a French naval ensign on the unlovely Aegean
island of Melos in 1820, and all the anxious and nefarious
wrangling, debate, and controversy that followed, including
the convenient disappearance of an inscribed base that
attributed the statue not to one of Greece's golden
age sculptors, as claimed, but rather to "nobody"
working in the civilizations declining years. His pleasure
in his complex subject palpable on every sparkling page,
Curtis parses nineteenth-century Europe's fervor for
all things classical, provides gossipy profiles of amazingly
eccentric officials, and, finally, reviews our appreciation
for a masterpiece as beautiful as it is mysterious."
"Mr. Curtis' story is filled with striking and compelling characters, many of them esteemed scholars and cultural figures eclipsed and discredited today, all of whom he treats with the evenest of hands. One of the chief pleasures of this lively and engaging book is its author's empathy with, and compassion for, these figures of the benighted past."
"Most engaging, however is the story of how an
obscure statue, probably a copy, not mentioned in any
ancient text, has so powerfully captured and held the
"Curtis' new book, "Disarmed," is a
work of investigative art history that penetrates the
veil of mystery long surrounding one of the world's
greatest works of art - one of the true icons of the
art world - the Venus De Milo. It is also a story of
political intrigue that, surprisingly, has never been
"Curtis is a Texas-based magazine writer and editor
who brings to the story of one of the most engaging
pieces of art on earth an open mind and an innocence
of artspeak or any of the other often stultifying predispositions
that too often constitute a heavy price for reading
about art. The resulting book is fresh, full of adventure,
conflict, and a sense of discovery. Perhaps the most
famous statue on earth, the Milo Venus reached the Louvre,
the property of the French nation, through deeply disputable
wrangling and worse that began immediately after its
discovery on the island of Melos in 1820. Curtis reaches
out to offer his own reasonably persuasive answer to
the riddle of who the sculptor was. He does a creditable
job of laying out just why the piece is of paramount
beauty and importance."
"Curtis has a gift of making the ideas, passions and personalities of scholars like Winckelmann come alive, and the story becomes even more dramatic in the latter part of the 19th century, when another great German scholar, Adloph Furtwangler (father of the famous conductor), made the case for Alexandrous and the later era. Curtis also provides a colorful portrait of Furtwangler's friendly rival and intellectual sparring partner, Saloman Reinach, a French Jewish polymath."
"Unlike Reinach, Furtwangler and the other brilliant
and passionate 19th century scholars, many of our contemporary
scholars, Curtis notes, adopt a snide and superior attitude
toward this great work of art. But thanks to this engaging
book, in which Curtis also gives us his own, very sensible,
theories about the statue, we now have an enthusiastic
and enlightening guide to one of the most awe-inspiring
specimens of beauty ever created."
"Curtis, a former editor of Texas Monthly magazine
is a writer of genius wit, who packs his book with delicious
portraits of the scholars, writers, artists and politicians
who contributed to the mythologizing of the Venus de
Milo. I was completely taken with this book."
"Never judge a book by its cover - or its groaner
title. Curtis's story of the world's most famous statue
is part thriller (smuggling her of the island of Melos
in 1820), part art history (who carved her and when),
part rumination on the Greeks (who wondered if it was
beauty that lifted humankind above brute nature). Curtis,
who first visited Melos this March, writes faster and
better than just about any academic art historian -
and makes you ling for the days when Frances's big issue
with Britain was who had better art in its national
"The Venus de Milo's naked breasts, missing, arms,
and impressive expression have tattooed themselves on
the popular imagination. Mysterious women can do that.
In this colorful history of the statue and the riddles
surrounding her,m Curtis breathers warm life into this
icon of female inscrutability."
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