Restoring Salvator Mundi, Swimming in Sub-Zero Water, and the Women Who Made Modern China
In his recent biography of Susan Sontag, Benjamin Moser claims that Sontag didn’t help her husband Philip Rieff write his first book, Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. She wrote the whole thing. If that’s the case (and it’s a big if), Len Gutkin writes in The Chronicle Review, what should we make of sections copied from other sources without attribution? Who is guilty of plagiarism?
Dianne Modestini writes about restoringSalvator Mundi: “While restoring the Salvator Mundi—work that I began in April 2005 and finished in September 2010—I made sure that my feeble retouches never masked these precious traces. To match the original paint, I built up the retouches in thin layers in the same sequence used by Leonardo. Fearful of covering any original paint, I used the tiny 000 sable watercolor brushes made by Winsor & Newton. Each brushstroke was carefully judged, based on knowledge of similar works and the formal structure of adjoining passages. Even so, many of the gadflies who make their living on the fringes of the scholarly art world appear to believe that a restorer—in this instance, me—is capable of creating the Salvator Mundi. I suppose I should be flattered.”
Lewis Pugh on what it’s like to swim in -3˚C saltwater: “If an untrained person were to dive into freezing water, death would come quickly. Even after all my preparation, as I braced myself for the plunge I knew my body would be fighting with all its might to stay alive. What does it feel like when you first get into the water? It burns. It feels like you’re on fire. But in temperatures like this, you don’t die of the cold. You drown. Within the first five seconds your body goes into shock; it’s very difficult to breathe. The only thing I can do is count every stroke, ‘One. Two. Breathe. Three. Four. Breathe.’ It doesn’t get any better after that.”
The women at the heart of modern China: “In their lifetime, and afterwards, the Soong sisters from Shanghai seemed like figures from a Chinese fairy tale. There were three of them: ‘One loved money, one loved power and one loved her country.’ They came from a family of prosperous Methodist converts and, for almost 100 years, one or other of them presided at or near the center of power in China. The middle sister, Chingling, married Sun Yatsen, the founding Father of the Republic, transferring her allegiance after his death to the small group of bandits, led by Mao Zedong, who formed the nucleus of the Chinese Communist party. To this day Chingling enjoys something like mythical status in the People’s Republic of China.”
Da Vinci’s bridge would have worked, a research group at MIT shows: “Da Vinci’s proposal was radically different than the standard bridge at the time. As described by the MIT group, it was approximately 918 feet long (218 meters, though neither system of measurement had been developed yet) and would have consisted of a flattened arch ‘tall enough to allow a sailboat to pass underneath with its mast in place…but that would cross the wide span with a single enormous arch,’ according to an MIT press statement. It would have been the longest bridge in the world at the time by a significant measure, using an unheard of style of design.”
François Pinault’s $170 million Paris museum to open in June 2020.
In praise of New York Review of Books Classics: “Founded in 1972, the imprint Lost American Fiction had a mission to reintroduce wrongly forgotten books. It had reprinted 29 of them by 1979, at which point the series was itself consigned to oblivion. Prion Lost Treasures brought out 26 before suffering the same fate. Ecco Neglected Classics only made it to 21. There is something poignant about coming across a volume labeled “lost” or ‘neglected’ in a used-book store, the designation having become prophecy, but the earthward trajectory of these quixotic enterprises is unfortunately all too predictable. Which is why the 20th anniversary of New York Review Books Classics—they hit 500 last year, with Wolfgang Herrndorf’s Sand—is such an improbable milestone.”
Essay of the Day:
What does Jeff Bezos want? To leave this world, Franklin Foer writes in The Atlantic:
“I spent five months speaking with current and former Amazon executives, as well as people at the company’s rivals and scholarly observers. Bezos himself declined to participate in this story, and current employees would speak to me only off the record. Even former staffers largely preferred to remain anonymous, assuming that they might eventually wish to work for a business somehow entwined with Bezos’s sprawling concerns.
“In the course of these conversations, my view of Bezos began to shift. Many of my assumptions about the man melted away; admiration jostled with continued unease. And I was left with a new sense of his endgame.
“Bezos loves the word relentless—it appears again and again in his closely read annual letters to shareholders—and I had always assumed that his aim was domination for its own sake. In an era that celebrates corporate gigantism, he seemed determined to be the biggest of them all. But to say that Bezos’s ultimate goal is dominion over the planet is to misunderstand him. His ambitions are not bound by the gravitational pull of the Earth.”
* * *
“When reporters tracked down Bezos’s high-school girlfriend, she said, ‘The reason he’s earning so much money is to get to outer space.’ This assessment hardly required a leap of imagination. As the valedictorian of Miami Palmetto Senior High School’s class of 1982, Bezos used his graduation speech to unfurl his vision for humanity. He dreamed aloud of the day when millions of his fellow earthlings would relocate to colonies in space. A local newspaper reported that his intention was ‘to get all people off the Earth and see it turned into a huge national park.’
“Most mortals eventually jettison teenage dreams, but Bezos remains passionately committed to his, even as he has come to control more and more of the here and now. Critics have chided him for philanthropic stinginess, at least relative to his wealth, but the thing Bezos considers his primary humanitarian contribution isn’t properly charitable. It’s a profit-seeking company called Blue Origin, dedicated to fulfilling the prophecy of his high-school graduation speech. He funds that venture—which builds rockets, rovers, and the infrastructure that permits voyage beyond the Earth’s atmosphere—by selling about $1 billion of Amazon stock each year. More than his ownership of his behemoth company or of The Washington Post—and more than the $2 billion he’s pledged to nonprofits working on homelessness and education for low-income Americans—Bezos calls Blue Origin his ‘most important work.’”
Photo: Val Poschiavo
Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.