Archive for March, 2013

Piero della Francesca at The Frick


Piero della Francesca | Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels (1480-1482)
Williamstown, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Information wants to be free, as they say, but not all that free. That’s a credo and caveat for anyone who borrows content on the Internet and establishes attribution with a link. Outright plagiarism, though, is another thing, isn’t it? On the other hand, The Wasteland contained large appropriations of words which were a few centuries overdue from the library. Eliot once said, Good writers borrow; great writers steal outright. But he was an honest thief, and his footnotes were as funny and interesting and cool as the poem itself. Five centuries ago, Piero della Francesca left quite a bit of work unfinished and unsigned at his death, which meant, according to Vasari, that the parasitic Fra Luca del Borgo finished and claimed it as his own, as if he were Salieri trying to exact some glory, long in arrears, from Mozart. In Vasari’s book, Luca steals credit for Piero’s work and in the words of Vasari, he acted like those who “cover their own ass’s hide with the noble skin of a lion.” (OK, full stop. Have I actually stumbled onto the derivation of this phrase? Did “covering your ass” become public, as it were, with Vasari? If so, I hereby bequeath my accidental discovery to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary. I’m not about to pay the annual subscription of hundreds of dollars just to see if they trace the phrase back to Vasari or thereabouts, but knock yourselves out guys.)  So apparently poor Piero suffered by losing authorship of his own original work. Let’s put Richard Prince aside and imagine, in our own time, a mere work-for-hire craftsman who actually puts his own brand on a Koons or Hirst who, after the untimely death of said artists, “finished” the work and claimed it as his own. MORE