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Published: Sun Jul 1 2012
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
The Enduring Appeal of the Western Canon

Caravaggio was a closet Muslim, converted at twenty-three by the Turkish dye-merchant
Who supplied a rare brown needed for the Virgin Mary’s eyes.
Degas attended his first ballet to gawk through binoculars at naked ankles.
Perspective, in the first years of the technique, much like polyphony made European churchgoers vomit.
“The truly new in art can be identified only by its emetic effect.”–Salvador Dali, 1929.
Michelangelo had the model for David pinch a grape with his buttocks.
Surrealism was born when a young Luis Bunuel, peering through a hole into his landlady’s bathroom,
Saw she had “a small tail, with a curl like a pig’s.”
For Titian to have produced all the paintings ascribed to Titian,
The most conservative estimate is he would have had to have started painting at age 10
And painted at least sixteen hours a day
Every day until his death at age 143.
Monet started out trying to stay inside the lines, then lost his glasses.
Every one of his haystacks contains a single needle, done in silver paint, using a single horsehair.
Giotto kept a black African assistant who, according to the biographer Giorgio Vasari,
“Sketched out the master’s frescos on the church walls, and sometimes completed them as well.”
The blackberries in the Dutch painter Jan van Os’s still life
Cause ants to abandon genuine grains of sugar
And head single-file for the wall:
Look up “Van Os Ants” on YouTube if you don’t believe me.
The Cubist Braque slept with the wife of his most prominent realist detractor
And painted, on her freckled shoulder, a single unshooably micro-miraculous fly.

Amit Majmudar’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The New YorkerThe Atlantic MonthlyThe New York Review of BooksAGNI online, PoetryThe New RepublicThe Best American Poetry 2007 and 2012, The Best of The Best American Poetry 1988–2012, as well as The Norton Introduction to Literature, 11th edition. He is also a novelist (Partitions, 2011; The Abundance, 2013) and a diagnostic nuclear radiologist. (updated 11/2012)

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