What We Are Reading Today; Goya: A Portrait of the Artist by Janis Tomlinson

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Updated 22 September 2020

What We Are Reading Today; Goya: A Portrait of the Artist by Janis Tomlinson

The life of Francisco Goya (1746–1828) coincided with an age of transformation in Spanish history that brought upheavals in the country’s politics and at the court which Goya served, changes in society, the devastation of the Iberian Peninsula in the war against Napoleon, and an ensuing period of political instability. 

In this revelatory biography, Janis Tomlinson draws on a wide range of documents—including letters, court papers, and a sketchbook used by Goya in the early years of his career—to provide a nuanced portrait of a complex and multifaceted painter and printmaker, whose art is synonymous with compelling images of the people, events, and social revolution that defined his life and era.Tomlinson challenges the popular image of the artist as an isolated figure obsessed with darkness and death, showing how Goya’s likeability and ambition contributed to his success at court, and offering new perspectives on his youth, rich family life, extensive travels, and lifelong friendships. She explores the full breadth of his imagery—from scenes inspired by life in Madrid to visions of worlds without reason, from royal portraits to the atrocities of war. 

She sheds light on the artist’s personal trials, including the deaths of six children and the onset of deafness in middle age, but also reconsiders the conventional interpretation of Goya’s late years as a period of disillusion, viewing them instead as years of liberated artistic invention, most famously in the murals on the walls of his country house, popularly known as the “black” paintings.

A monumental achievement, Goya: A Portrait of the Artist is the definitive biography of an artist whose faith in his art and his genius inspired paintings, drawings, prints, and frescoes that continue to captivate, challenge, and surprise us two centuries later.


What We Are Reading Today: A Place for Everything by Judith Flanders

Updated 23 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: A Place for Everything by Judith Flanders

A Place for Everything fascinatingly lays out the gradual triumph of alphabetical order, from its possible earliest days as a sorting tool to its current decline in prominence in our digital age of Wikipedia and Google.
Historian Judith Flanders draws readers’ attention to both the neglected ubiquity of the alphabet and the long, complex history of its rise to prominence.
A Place for Everything presents the study and analysis made by the author of the alphabet’s origins and its development as a sorting tool.
“This book will be very interesting to a narrow audience of people — particularly librarians,” said a review in goodreads.com.
Deirdre Mask said in a review for The New York Times for The New York Times that Flanders, a meticulous scholar who has written books on Victorian London and the history of Christmas, “prioritizes thoroughness, and at times her book can read a bit like the encyclopedias she writes about. The footnotes get some of the best lines.”
Mask is the author of The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth,
and Power.