Letters to the Editor

Our readers respond

Is it a masterpiece?

Having been a prints and drawings curator at the Yale University Art Gallery in the 1950s, I was delighted to read how another, far later curator there felt on discovering a promising Spanish baroque painting in the basement (“The Velázquez in the Basement,” September/October). But why publish it in its present terrible condition? Why not have had it cleaned by a competent restorer first? Why not tell us about the back of the canvas? About X-rays? About other, possibly less enthusiastic views?

Why has Dr. Marciari seemingly not consulted Gridley McKim Smith or Jonathan Brown, America’s leading Velázquez specialists? The second [see next letter—Eds.] has published a rebuttal of the Velázquez attribution. Or met with the stable of Velázquez scholars at the Prado?

Let’s make sure before sharing with us just how it “feels to discover a masterpiece” that both author and editor/publisher let us know far more about just what that “masterpiece” is, or, more reliably, what one hopes it might prove to be.

Colin Eisler ’52
Robert Lehman Professor of Fine Arts
New York University
New York, NY


For what it’s worth, I studied the Yale “Velázquez” in August, in the company of Art Gallery curator Laurence Kanter, and I concluded that it is an anonymous pastiche, one of many that were painted by followers and imitators in Seville in the 1620s. I published my views in ABC, a daily newspaper in Madrid, a few days later. Many veteran Velázquez specialists share this view. It’s a truism to say that time will tell, but we know that, in art as in life, not all opinions are equal.

Jonathan Brown
Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Fine Arts
New York University
New York, NY


I applaud John Marciari for rescuing Education of the Virgin from Yale’s basement. It is a beautiful painting, and I am glad to read that it is being prepared for display. However, I strongly doubt his attribution. I am not an art historian. I am a painter.

Sometimes painters and art historians don’t see eye to eye on these things. But much of the painting seems clumsy and tentative and does not bespeak Velázquez.

There are other problems. The way the figures relate in space is awkward, and the volume of the figures underneath their garments seems badly understood in parts. I think that attribution of this work will always be tentative, partial, and conditional. Yet it remains an enchanting painting.

Paul Kane ’84
Bloomington, IN


Nothing could be more exciting for a scholar than to discover a lost masterpiece in the basement or an important rare book in the folio stacks.

With an amazing eye for the characteristics of a Velázquez painting, John Marciari has brought to light from a dark basement storeroom at Yale an early masterpiece, Education of the Virgin, by the great Spanish painter. To the curator’s list I would add the presence of a variety of wonderful dogs in Velázquez’s domestic scenes and royal portraits, including Las meninas; La túnica de José, Felipe IV en traje de cazador; El Príncipe Baltasar Carlos, cazador; Infante Felipe Próspero; etc. At the bottom of the damaged canvas of Education of the Virgin are discernible a reclining dog and also a cat.

The curator’s personal account of his extraordinary discovery of a masterpiece reminds me of the surprise and thrill I experienced when coming across the 1894 Raccolta Colombiana—a collection of Christopher Columbus’s writings—in the dusty folio stacks of the University of Miami. I personally returned the Raccolta to the head librarian at the University of Miami. The book is now preserved in the university’s Rare Book Room.

Kay Brigham
Coral Gables, FL

Want to judge the Yale Velázquez for yourself? The Art Gallery has decided to put the painting on display before undertaking an extensive restoration campaign. Visitors can come see the painting until February 20, 2011.—Eds.



The West Campus adventure

I write to congratulate the magazine on its article about the West Campus (“Deal of the Century,” September/October). The entire Yale community now understands the size and scope of that venture. The article would have been even better if it had also provided an assessment of what the West Campus represents, and what it may mean for Yale going forward.

One of the justifications given for purchasing the West Campus property is that it was the bargain of a lifetime. However, experience shows that construction accounts for less than 20 percent of the lifetime cost of buildings. Yale purchased the West Campus for about one tenth of what it would have cost to construct similar buildings on that site, but it will be paying for the 80 percent part at 100 cents on the dollar. Thus, even if the previous owners of the West Campus property had offered to give it to Yale for nothing, Yale should not have accepted it unless the role that real estate could play in the life of the institution was clear.

In short, it is not obvious that Yale was wise to embark on the West Campus venture. Its costs are substantial, and its benefits speculative. Let us hope that this gigantic enterprise can be managed in such a way that it does not turn into the white elephant it now seems set to become.

Peter B. Moore ’61
Sterling Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus
North Haven, CT


I was disappointed to read that Yale has chosen to restrict access to the West Campus with a “serious security checkpoint at the main entrance,” as if it were still a pharmaceutical company. Public engagement is central to the culture of a university. It is antithetical for the campus of a great university to have a checkpoint at its entrance. I hope that Yale will soon open the West Campus to all who would like to enter.

Michael Rogawski ’80MD, ’80PhD
Sacramento, CA



Theories on the fringe

I suspect a “lunatic fringe,” before being a fashionable hairdo (You Can Quote Them, September/October), described an asylum inmate’s appearance a few weeks after his hair was clipped uniformly short to prevent the spread of lice.

Chris Kubiak ’97JD
Pittsburgh, PA


Are there no female lexicographers? The term “lunatic fringe” is used in the book Little Town on the Prairie, in a story which is purported to take place in 1882. Pa uses the term to refer to Laura Ingalls’s attempt to cut her bangs.

There are millions and millions of copies of that book in print since the mid-twentieth century.

Mindy Herzfeld ’94JD
Silver Spring, MD


Many well-read elementary school girls could have given you the original usage of this phrase! I knew the phrase sounded familiar to me, and racking my brain, I realized that I had encountered it while reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books innumerable times as a child.

I understand the use of fringe, since my husband is English, and all my nieces still use the word, but I’m curious as to how “lunatic” was applied to it.

Lisa Peterson-Grace ’90
Cortlandt Manor, NY


Your discussion of the earliest use of “justice delayed is justice denied” goes back to the seventeenth century. I believe you can go much further back. My Passover Haggadah says, “Our rabbis taught: ‘The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied.’” The cite is to a Mishnaic text that dates to the third century.

Ben A. Solnit ’84JD
Morris, CT



Missing Catholics?

As a Roman Catholic alumnus of Yale Divinity School and a recipient of its annual alumni award, I was rather surprised to find that Roman Catholics were, I assume, lumped in the 10 percent of “other” denominations in “Alumni by the Numbers” (Light & Verity, September/October). In the same issue I read: “For most of the past two decades, Roman Catholics have represented the second largest denominational groups at YDS after Episcopalians.”

Perhaps you could explain why a statistical analysis of a “multifaith” divinity school omitted a rather significant denomination of mainstream Christianity.

Robert Nugent ’84STM
New Freedom, PA

Both items were correct, though we see the potential for confusion. The “Alumni by the Numbers” chart showed only the denominational affiliations of Yale Divinity School alumni who are ordained clergy—information collected in a YDS survey. The other item  (which appeared in the School Notes from YDS) referred to the affiliations of all YDS students. Many students who attend YDS, including most of the school’s Catholic students, do not pursue ordination.—Eds.



Pavlov’s Yale connections

“Pavlov’s Beef-Steak” (Object Lesson, September/October) described the meeting of Ivan Pavlov with pioneering neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing, Class of 1891, at the 1929 International Physiological Congress at Harvard. Interestingly, there is a more intimate connection between Yale and Pavlov from that same visit to America.

After Cambridge, Pavlov attended the International Congress of Psychology meeting at Yale. Pavlov gave one of the formal evening presentations, speaking in Russian with an accompanying translation. Pavlov spoke with such enthusiasm that the audience burst into applause. Over 800 psychologists attended. One report noted that the guests were “delightfully housed together at the Harkness dormitories,” although I doubt that the 80-year-old Nobelist slept in a dorm.

W. Scott Terry ’76PhD
Sherrills Ford, NC



Grant me the sense of humor …

The endless back-and-forth about the Serenity Prayer (You Can Quote Them, July/August), much of it acrimonious, has become intellectual comedy of the highest order. In the absence of Molière, perhaps we could assign it to Tom Stoppard.

Bruce Berger ’61
Aspen, CO



The oldest living Yalie

In response to your article on Benjamin Nassau ’28, ’30LLB (“Eighty Years Out and Counting,” Light & Verity, July/August), I wanted to note that my father, Henry R. (Hank) Merrill ’29, is currently 103 and will turn 104 in November. This makes him just about six months younger than Nassau. My dad is definitely the sole surviving member of the Class of 1929 and may well be the second-oldest living Yale graduate.

The interesting thing is that Merrill knew Nassau pretty well, and just the other day he recounted a story to me about a certain basketball team trip to Hanover, New Hampshire. In the early winter of 1928, the team traveled up to Dartmouth by train, and the train made a scheduled stop in Northampton, Massachusetts. Merrill and another teammate immediately jumped off the train, found the public telephones, and started calling women at Smith.

Apparently Merrill became totally absorbed in a conversation and didn’t notice that the train was leaving; the coach was frantically searching for him. Merrill did notice that he sat on the bench that day, while Nassau played the entire game in his place.

Jack Merrill ’67
Southbury, CT


Benjamin Nassau, who was the oldest known living Yale alumnus when we wrote about him, died peacefully in his sleep in mid-August.

We believe Henry Merrill is now the oldest living Yale alumnus. The magazine staff has worked with him for many years in his capacity as Class of 1929 secretary; we’re proud to carry his name in our Yale College Alumni Notes and glad to know he had such an enjoyable youth.—Eds.



Malpractice report

Your report on the miserable malpractice suit against the School of Medicine (“Malpractice Plaintiff Awarded $12 Million Verdict,” Light & Verity, September/October) was a sign of light and verity—and healthy journalism in an alumni publication: good for you.

Budd Whitebook ’66, ’71PhD
Washington, DC



Play to win

It is apparent that “The Evolution of Yale Sports” (Q&A: Rick Levin, September/October), at least in terms of official policy, is a deliberate retrogression. No true athlete accepts the goal President Richard Levin now articulates: “to be competitive within the Ivy League.” When President Levin took office, that goal was to be the best among peers. Whatever the actual results may end up being, aspiration to win must be the goal, not middle-of-the-pack mediocrity. Nor should anyone take pride in admitting that Yale has “significantly fewer recruited athletes than the Ivy League allows.”

May I make a modest suggestion? Please take a survey of current Yale athletes and ask them if their goal is to “be competitive”—or to win. If the latter is, as I suspect, the overwhelming choice, why not consider realigning Yale’s athletic policy in order to support the preferred and proper athletic goal?

George W. Shuster ’67, ’73JD
Harmony, RI



A more inclusive roast

I’m all in favor of new traditions at Yale, but I’d hope for more inclusive ones than the Jack Hitt Last Day of Classes Pig Roast (“Pig Deal,” Light & Verity, July/August). What about Muslims, Jews, and vegetarians? Plus, I’ve got a hard time thinking there’s anything sustainable about pecan pie.

My in-laws in Indonesia can send the recipe for roasting goat and making stock from the bones, baking yams, and whipping up delicious greens from the leaves. Jack Hitt/Ramli Cambari Saka Last Day of Class Roast, anyone?

Eliot Cohen ’78
Hong Kong




A story on a School of Public Health program to help international public health leaders, “Tackling Global Health Problems, One at a Time” (Light & Verity, September/October), misstated the first name of Rhoda Peters, a Liberian health official. We regret the error.

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