A book about people who have had strong emotional reactions (including crying) looking at paintings, and about the relatively tearless twentieth century.

The Frick Collection in New York, which houses Bellini's painting of the  Ecstasy of St.  Francis.

A small jpeg of the room in the Frick Collection with Bellini's painting. It matters for the account in the book (uploaded here) that the décor of the room is never changed:  every time I go to see the painting, I see the same ancient green chairs, the same rug, the same woodpaneling, the same occasional tables.


Forever to the right of the Bellini there is Titian's portrait of Pietro Aretino, and that too affects my experience of Bellini.

Pictures and Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings

(New York: Routledge, 2001)

This is a book about people who have had strong emotional reactions to artworks. It tells a history of times and places when strong passions were expected, and contrasts them with the habits of the last hundred years. The book also has letters from people who have cried, and those who haven't or wouldn't.

Chapter 5 is "Crying Over Bluish Leaves." It is about my own experiences in the Frick Collection, looking at Giovanni Bellini's Ecstasy of St. Francis. At first I had a very strong reaction to the painting, but it was diluted and finally dispersed as I read art historical accounts of the painting, and of Bellini's cultural context. Art history is pictured here as a kind of poison well, which endangers certain kinds of responses.

The chapter here is not illustrated. The image at the bottom of this screen is adequate, but a better sense of the painting can be gotten with the help of Google Cultural Institute. You may want to look at the brief essay in the Huffington Post first, before reading the chapter.

The book is also in Chinese, Czech, Korean, Italian, and Farsi. See the Vita page for details and links.

Bellini's painting, discussed in Chapter 5. This is a typical reproduction: its color is crucially off. and it lacks all the details and textures that once made the original so compelling to me.