If When Giorgione Died: A Rebilungsroman in Two Volumes sounds familiar, perhaps that's because of the reference to one 'Giorgione' in its title: a Renaissance artist about whom little is known (although much has been speculated, as he's received scholarly attention over the centuries).
One might expect that an art history and biographical sketch holding such a title and topic would be limited to the attention of Renaissance-era experts and art historians; but one of the pleasures of When Giorgione Died is its ability to reach out to lay readers who may be interested in art matters, but who lack an art researcher's credentials.
Gloria Kury's approach to her subject cultivates a chatty, warm style that eschews the usual dry approach of art histories to add a lively and fun set of insights into the artist and his times, using language that is accessible to all: "Giorgione. He was never quite real. Not real like Titian. Maybe that's why people back then, during the 16th century, said he went into hiding after Titian outdid him in painting the facade of a building on the Grand Canal."
Famous for a particular style of painting and for being so mysterious that even his dates are hypothetical, with his background as shadowy as his art works, this exploration seeks to make shadows visible and provides two very different 'volumes' under one cover to fully express the ironies and inconsistencies, providing an artistic approach that examines the processes peculiar to understanding elusive artists and their works.
Much-cited books needing new translations, objects and subjects, art works which fabricate an artificial alternate reality, and mirages, scams, and clues to Giorgione and his paintings are all presented using almost surreal insights and language, translating a wealth of conflicting speculations and facts about the man and juxtaposing them with bright, intense words that promote a different way of viewing the world.
When Giorgione Died is no linear analytical production for the typical art historian, and so it requires (and even demands) of its reader an unusual affinity for non-linear thinking: an approach that involves delving behind appearance to embrace the strange coincidences and surrealistic impressions that are as much a part of the art world as intellectual discourse.
Lest one wonder: two volumes actually reside under one cover, here, so there's no need to look for a second book. The 'two volumes' mention fits neatly into the light-hearted exploration of the ironies of art history presentations and traditional biographical treatments of artists. As an added bonus, 27 illustrations accompany a text that unfolds like a slideshow lecture.
Bam! Bam! Slap! Slap! Listen! Look! These are not typical words in art histories, but they are highly appropriate here, illustrating the one-two punches of a survey that is as steeped in fun as much as it's backed by the authenticity and insights of a Vassar graduate well versed in both art and psychology. Her absorbing treatise takes a cloudy history and transforms it into a mercurial, surrealistic vision.
While no art history collection should be without its delightfully unique approach, general-interest readers will find When Giorgione Died to be wonderfully accessible, lively, and thought-provoking. Slow reading is a requirement here, as well as re-reading. There's so much to see, hear, and absorb in a treatise that is neither a scholarly tome nor a light treatment; but an intriguing affair that compares literary and artistic figures alike as it romps through the art world of Renaissance times.
D. Donovan, Midwest Book Review, February 2016
A form of intellectual autobiography, yet cultural history and, more particularly, history of art, but also an expose of art history as well as work of prose poetry, this kaleidoscopic or, should I say, protean and novelistic meditation reflects a remarkable sensibility. Gloria Kury has written a book like no other. It is as if the twin histories of art and literature had been dissolved in a suggestive reverie. Shakespeare, Browning, Pater, Morelli, Burckhardt, Henry James, Frans Liszt, Eliot, Pound, and William Gaddis, among countless others, are all here–like so many ghosts to suggest that art history, criticism, and biography can be re-conceived in ways never before imagined–in an almost Joycean flux of both pop and high culture. Written in many voices, this challenging, labyrinthine book is utterly beguiling.
Paul Barolsky, author of Walter Pater's Renaissance and Ovid and the Metamorphoses of Modern Art
A memory book with a fierce verve for piercing the false enchantments of memory, its dangerous nostalgias, its zombies and composite monsters, its necrophilia and kitsch. Exuberantly in love with art, Gloria Kury works to disentangle the blind-paths of connoisseurship and historical scholarship, what so often gets forgotten there - and what hides in plain sight. A brilliant story teller herself, she trusts other storytellers - Shakespeare, Henry James, Edith Wharton, William Gaddis, Cindy Sherman among others - to lay bear the strangeness of things, even as she invites "the wild-eyed prophets, the crystal gazers, the code breakers, the hypnotists, the psychics, the psychologists, the parapsychologists, the time travelers, the explorers of the fourth dimension" to say their part. Seeded within this complex slide show is a sharp, cohesive, often comic and sometimes chilling meditation on how any life is lived and remembered, how "smoke gets in your eyes..."
Kenneth Gross, author of The Dream of the Moving Statue and Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life