chapter  5
10 Pages

Historical perspectives

In Muriel Spark’s (1961: 11) novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Miss Brodie is telling her class

of young girls about her summer holiday: ‘I must tell you about the Italian paintings I saw.

Who is the greatest Italian painter?’ Back comes the reply, ‘Leonardo da Vinci, Miss Brodie’.

‘That is incorrect. The answer is Giotto, he is my favourite.’ The satirical intent is clear in the

self-centredness and certainty of the answer, although, on reflection the question as to how a

teacher strikes a balance between appropriate guidance and indoctrination is not easy. There is

another interesting issue here, however, to do with whether it is entirely appropriate to com-

pare two painters born nearly 200 years apart who had a significant but different impact on

the history of painting. Towhat degree should judgement be based purely on response to their

work or to what degree should historical and contextual issues also be considered?