Jerry Brotton

Cameo Appearances

Medusa’s Gaze: The Extraordinary Journey of the Tazza Farnese


Writing in her 12th-century book Records on Metal and Stone, the Chinese poet Li Ch’ing-Chao reflected, ‘Where there is possession, there must be loss of possession; where there is gathering together, there must be a scattering – this is a constant principle of things.’ It is a wonderfully fitting conclusion to Marina Belozerskaya’s delightful little book on the history of the Tazza Farnese, and it could also act as an epigraph to every book written about objects over the last two decades. Just as any good biography requires an arresting individual who has lived an interesting and varied life, so any book tracing the vicissitudes of an object through time and space needs an eventful narrative of discovery and loss, rediscovery, jeopardy and ultimate triumph. While most historians have chosen either a generic object or substance (such as the tulip or salt, to take but two recent examples) or an artwork to be investigated along the lines of the ‘private life of a masterpiece’, Belozerskaya has cleverly chosen something that stands between the two and that offers a rich social panorama across the centuries.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Darley’s book is not a mad dash through this most compelling and complex of English counties. Nor is it another ti… ,
    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,