This week: The Battle for Aleppo, the ADAA Art Show, wild men of Borneo & more.
The Field of Blood: The Battle for Aleppo and the Remaking of the Medieval Middle East, by Nicholas Morton (Basic Books): In late 2016, Gary Johnson all but sank his maligned Presidential bid on the set of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when he responded to a question on international policy by asking his interlocutors “What is Aleppo?” The moment was characterized by the media as a virtuosic display of ignorance, but I wonder if Johnson actually reflected the standard level of American knowledge about the ongoing humanitarian crisis that had been ravaging one of the Middle East’s oldest, largest, and most important cities for four years. First settled ca. 5000 B.C., Aleppo was an important center of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires before being conquered by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. It became a Roman province in 64 B.C., and was held by the Romans and Byzantines until 637 A.D., when it fell to Muslim forces. During the Crusades and the struggle for the Levant, it was again a city of significant strategic importance. On June 28, 1119, a decisive battle that fundamentally altered the momentum of the European Crusader campaign to recover the Holy Lands took place about thirty miles west of the city. Named the “Battle of Ager Sanguinis” (the “Field of Blood”) by contemporary Frankish historians, the event marked the first wholesale defeat of European forces by a primarily Muslim army. In his new book, The Field of Blood: The Battle for Aleppo and the Remaking of the Medieval Middle East, the historian Nicholas Morton makes a concise argument that the twelfth-century massacre was a watershed moment in the Middle East that deserves renewed study in light of modern developments in the region. —AS
The ADAA Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory & “James Castle: People, Places & Things” at the New York Studio School: The week’s big event on the New York art calendar is The Art Show, the annual art fair of the Art Dealers Association of America opening February 28 at the Park Avenue Armory—now, thankfully, set apart from the circus of next week’s “Armory Week.” Downtown, this is also the final week to catch “James Castle: People, Places & Things” at the New York Studio School; to mark the occasion, on February 28, at 6:30 p.m., the school will host a free panel discussion, moderated by Karen Wilkin and featuring David Breslin, Phillip March Jones, and Ann Percy, on Castle and his place in the history of American self-taught artists. —JP
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera (through March 16): Perhaps the most anticipated debut at the Metropolitan Opera this season was that of the Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho, who made her bow as Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly last week. The tragic geisha of the title is one of Puccini’s most beloved soprano roles, and the one in which Jaho has most distinguished her career, appearing to general acclaim in Paris, London, Sydney, and elsewhere. Met audiences have two opportunities to see her in her signature role this week, starring through March 16 in a revival of Anthony Minghella’s inspired 2006 production. She appears opposite Roberto Aronica as Lt. Pinkerton, with Roberto Frontali as Sharpless and the company veteran Maria Zifchak as Suzuki. Marco Armiliato conducts. —ECS
“The Last Wild Men of Borneo: A True Tale of Death and Treasure,” at the Explorers Club (March 5): The Explorers Club’s popular public lecture series, which hosts swashbuckling speakers on a variety of topics, continues next week with Carl Hoffman, a bestselling author whose Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest told the story of Michael Rockefeller’s mysterious disappearance in New Guinea in 1961. Hoffman will speak next Monday on his new book, The Last Wild Men of Borneo, about a treasure hunt gone very wrong. If the topic somehow fails to excite, readers still might treasure the chance to step inside the Explorers Club’s 1912 neo-Jacobean clubhouse, built originally as a townhouse for Stephen C. Clark, a noted art collector. The wood paneling and carving, leaded glass windows, and, of course, taxidermy, make 46 East Seventieth Street well worth a visit under any circumstances.—BR
From the archive:“Reporting Nuremberg” by Carl Rollyson (September 1998). On the war crimes trial reporting of Martha Gellhorn, Janet Flanner, and Rebecca West.
From the current issue: “Veronese at the Frick” by Karen Wilkin. On “Veronese in Murano: Two Venetian Renaissance Masterpieces Restored” at the Frick Collection.