Archive for February 7, 2010

Modigliani mystery solved?

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment

HAIFA (Press Release) –A century after Amedeo Modigliani painted the Portrait of Maud Abrantes, the mystery behind the painting might be solved. Ofra Rimon, Director and Curator of the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa, discovered that hidden in the painting is the portrait of another woman. “Modigliani was probably not happy with that painting and decided to paint over it in favor of a portrait of Maud,” she claims.

In 1908 Modigliani painted the Portrait of Maud Abrantes on the same canvas as he had painted Nude with a Hat earlier that year. Like many painters with limited means during that period, he turned the canvas over to use the other side. But unlike common practice, he also turned it upside down. Even though this was such an irregular act, and despite the fact that the two paintings are central to most Modigliani exhibitions over recent years, art researchers have not given their attention to this oddity.

Even at the Hecht Museum, where the canvas hangs in a special panel that enables viewing it from both sides, Maud Abrantes and Nude with a Hat have alternatively ‘stood on their head’ since 1989, without causing much wonderment over why the artist did such an unusual thing.

Just recently, as Rimon showed this unique work to guests at the Hecht Museum, she suddenly noticed another woman: In the area of Maud’s neck and chest a sharp eye can make out the outline of the face of a woman in a hat.

“For years I have passed by the painting almost every day and have stood in front of it providing countless explanations. But I never noticed anything irregular about the portrait, and have only been frustrated by Modigliani’s disregard for onlookers who are made to view one of the paintings upside down. Then, just out of the blue, when I was escorting guests in the art wing and drew their attention to this fantastic Modigliani piece, the mystery was solved. In my excitement, I shrieked, ‘Here’s the answer! The mystery is solved! There is another portrait beneath Maud ‘s and this one is facing the other direction to Maud.’ The eyes, facial outline and hat can be discerned. It turns out that Modigliani painted the portrait of this mysterious and hidden woman before painting the portrait of Maud Abrantes. He decided not to keep the first painting and blurred it with brushes of color. But that did not suffice: he also turned the canvas over and began to paint anew on the clean part of the canvas,” she explained.


Preceding provided by the University of Haifa.


Sarah’s here!

February 7, 2010 1 comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Jerusalem–Sarah Palin is still with us. “Us” is appropriate, insofar as any American presidential prospect must provoke concern here and elsewhere.

“Concern” is a neutral word. My guess is that Israelis who applauded George W. Bush are warming their hands at the prospect of a Palin presidency.

I am less than enthusiastic, but I am not surprised at the support she has. Different sex, skin color, and politics than Barack Obama, but in other respects a clone. Just as Obama differed in color and politics from GWB, but was a clone in the same ways as Palin resembles him. Not too long ago, Jimmy Carter was in the same category.

Photogenic, articulate, demagogic, inexperienced, and naive about the postures that make them attractive candidates. Electable, but not likely to make the world or the United States better places.

Other democracies demand a long apprenticeship for their national leaders. Typically the ladder goes from local or regional office to the back bench of a party delegation in the national legislature, to a gradual climb through minor ministerial appointments to candidacy for party leadership.

Americans claim to admire democracy. Commentary about the president’s health reform also features the assertion that Americans know what is good for them, in contrast with Europeans held slaves to their governments and high taxes. In the same cultural mix are assertions that political parties have too much power; that the right policies will come from good people who think primarily about the national interest.

This an American syndrome: parochial, promoted by people who know little about Europe, think that the more democracy the better, do not recognize the roles of strong parties in imposing discipline on would be demagogues, and think that low taxes are good indicators of personal freedom. I am amazed by what I read about the superiority of the United States, and conclude that the authors have not flown on a European airline, traveled on a European train, driven on a European road, made a serious comparison of European and American health care, elementary or secondary education, statistics for violent crime, or pondered the quality of political debate and living standards that make Europeans at least the equal of Americans on measures of personal freedom and opportunity.  

By some measures the United States is the most democratic country on the planet. Most states allow the people to vote directly for important issues of public policy: whether the government can borrow money or increase taxes, as well as religious issues like same sex marriages and limits on abortion. Most state judges must stand for election, along with those who aspire to numerous offices that in other countries are filled by political party committees, or appointed by senior civil servants concerned with the professional backgrounds of the applicants.

The downsides of the American democracy are extremely low turnouts for almost all electoral contests below those for president, governor, and United States Senator, as well as low turnouts for those key offices when compared to turnouts in other democracies; and the simplification of referenda by people who create the issues, raise money for the campaign, define the wording that is initially the subject of petitions and later on the ballot.

Complexity of the population and procedures have saved the United States from catastrophe. The separation of powers designed by the framers still works to make it easier on those who want to kill a proposal than to pass a law. The consequence is a difficult in keeping up with international standards. Barack Obama’s party has a majority in both Houses of Congress, but not enough of a majority in the Senate to overcome procedural features added over the years to the basic frustrations of legislation created by the separation of powers.

No one should try to make the United States like a Western European democracy. Histories and cultures are different, as are government structures and the rules (formal and informal) of politics. A campaign to insist on more experience for presidential candidates would be condemned as elitist. And if the likes of Jimmy Carter, GW Bush, Barack Obama, and Sarah Palin are any indication, such a campaign would also be un-American.


Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.