Paul Barolsky

Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the History of Art

“In a broad sense,” writes art historian Paul Barolsky, “all art, even abstract or decorative art, is in some measure representational, and as such is an illusion or at least allusive, even when its meaning is elusive. The word ‘illusion’ is rooted in the word ludere, ‘to play,’ reminding us that all art, no matter how serious, is a form of play...” Such playfulness, such whimsy endows Barolsky’s own discourses on art history. In the very titles of his books Michelangelo’s NoseWhy Mona Lisa SmilesInfinite Jest, and The Faun in the Garden, Barolsky promises merriment—and delivers that and ever so much more in language as bright, pellucid, and refreshing as the waters of a tropical (or pre-industrial Venetian) lagoon. With the vividness and motivity of a master storyteller, Professor Barolsky invites his readers—not only professional colleagues, but also a broader audience of non-specialists—to tag along on his intellectually picaresque journeys. But make no mistake: though the narrative in his many books and essays sometimes seems as footloose as it is (blessedly) footnote-less, Barolsky knows the terrain of classical and Renaissance art and literature as intimately and entirely as Virgil knew Mount Purgatory’s.

The Commonwealth Professor at the University of Virginia’s McIntire Department of Art, Paul Barolsky is the Ricardo J. Quinones Distinguished Lecturer for Academic Year 2006-07. Established in honor of the founding director of the Family of Benjamin Z. Gould Center for Humanistic Studies, the Quinones Lectureship brings to the CMC campus some of the world’s preeminent intellectuals, writers, and public figures. Among Dr. Barolsky’s other honors and awards are the Phi Beta Prize for his book Walter Pater’s Renaissance; appointments as Resident Scholar at the American Academy in Rome and the Getty Research Institute; and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Dr. Barolsky’s Athenaeum presentation included a slide show of works of art that illustrate Ovidian themes.