Michael Sandel, the Harvard political philosopher, talked this evening about the topic of his most recent book on the subject of What Money Can’t Buy: the moral limits of markets, first published in 2012 and based on his Reith Lectures. It was an amazing performance, using the Socratic method (now the Harvard method) of using the audience to vote and then argue about moral issues. The first one was whether or not the city of Detroit faced by bankruptcy should plunder the pension payments of long-standing city employees or sell works from the Detroit Institute of Fine Arts. The vote was split. The argument was fierce and articulate about what value should be placed on works of art and to what extent they can, and should, be treated as commodities. The second issue was the extent to which citizenship should be available for purchase to the highest bidder, a case study from his book. Again there was rich discussion. It hardly needed the concluding remarks about the impoverishment of public discourse; and the alienation which results from the dependence of economists on markets as an instrument to determine the allocation of public goods.
Whilst on the subject of the interest in Leonardo amongst the early members of the Grand Lodge, I have checked that Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester, who bought the Codex Leicester whilst on the Grand Tour, was also prominently involved with the freemasons during the 1720s. He was, including being Grand Master in 1731. Is there a connection or was it just part of the general milieu of those with scientific interests round Newton ? He certainly was pretty deeply knowlegeable about antique and Renaissance culture, having spent six years on the Grand Tour, departing in 1712 aged fifteen with a tutor, Thomas Hobart, who was a Fellow of Christ’s, and a valet, Edward Jarret, who kept detailed accounts. A year later, aged only sixteen, he described himself as ‘a perfect virtuoso, and a great lover of pictures’. He attended the Academy in Turin in 1715 and wrote how ‘one of the greatest ornaments of a gentleman or his family is a fine library’. The second part of the year he spent in France and Germany, but returned to Italy in 1716 ‘to confirm myself in the language and virtuosoship of that Country’. He acquired the Codex in 1717 from Giuseppe Ghezzi, whilst also employing Joseph Smith to act as his agent in Venice , learning about architecture from ‘Signor Giacomo’ and spending time in Naples with William Kent.
We stopped on the way back to London at Rug Chapel, the private chapel of Colonel William Salesbury, the Governor of Denbigh Castle. It’s an astonishing and ecclesiastically extravagant display of carved and painted woodwork, dating from 1637, just before the Civil War.
This is the painted decoration on the roof trusses:-
Cow parsley at the front of the cottage:-
The white wall provides an intense background to seashells:-
After a day spent lounging about doing nothing except reading and eating hard boiled eggs, I thought I would go explore the less familiar south bank of the River Afon down towards the mussel beds and the Menai Straits:-
There were geese on the river:-
I went to buy the newspapers:-
We managed to book with the utmost difficulty a table at The Marram Grass which till quite recently was the café at the local caravan site, but once it was listed by the Good Food Guide became wildly popular.
One sees what one about to eat en route:-
We like the atmosphere which is as much middle America as north Wales:-
In discussing the first English translation of Leonardo’s Trattato in 1721, I had a faint idea that it might be connected to the early development of freemasonry because I remembered that John Senex, the bookseller, globemaker and mapmaker, who published the translation, was also the publisher of James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Free-Masons in 1723. Indeed, he was. Senex was an ardent Newtonian as well as freemason and was keen to promote the practice of experimental science based through his publications. In 1721, he also published a translation of the work of Claude Perrault on the Order of five species of columns according to the method of the ancient. But, as Harry Mount brilliantly suggested in his paper in the conference yesterday, the application of a rigorously experimental method to the practice of architecture and fine art had very limited success in the era of Lord Shaftesbury and Palladianism.
We have escaped to Anglesey for the bank holiday weekend where our cottage is thick with cow parsley.
This is the view out of the back door:-
Before breakfast, I walked out to the beach to see the sea:-
I spent the last two days attending, and speaking at, a conference at the National Gallery and Warburg Institute on the status of Leonardo as an artist and art theorist in Britain. What turned out is that he was better known than I had realised in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with works by him listed in seventeenth century inventories and in the collection of John Guise bequeathed to Christ Church, Oxford, as well as a Codex in the collection of the Earl of Leicester. But there was an inadequate appreciation of his style because his works were so widely scattered. It was in the early nineteenth century that collectors became much more interested, helped by the exhibition of the early copy of The Last Supper in the British Institution in 1817 and the later version of the Virgin of the Rocks, then in the collection of Lord Lansdowne, the following year. It turned out that during these years the Raphael Cartoons were also lent by the Prince Regent to the British Institution, where they were copied by Benjamin Robert Haydon (the Royal Academy already owned and displayed a set of copies by James Thornhill in the Great Room). So the question arises as to why there was so much interest in Leonardo during these years, which were not long after the establishment of Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Fitzwilliam Museum. Was it because of the renewed opportunities for foreign travel after the Battle of Waterloo ? Or the dispersal of works of art during the Napoleonic Wars ? Or the establishment of the Royal Academy’s painting school ? Whatever the answers, the acquisition of the early copy of The Last Supper by the RA on 14 June 1821 for 600 guineas looks more significant than I or others had previously realised, particularly given that it was hung immediately behind the speaker’s podium in the Great Room so visible for every student to see and study.