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Madonna the Missus

Ben Thompson, The Independent, May 2001

IN HENRY JAMES' 1873 short story ‘The Madonna of the Future’, the American protagonist visits the city of Florence, where he encounters a strange and charismatic fellow-countryman – an impassioned advocate of aesthetic excellence, who leads him on a guided tour of Renaissance art-works. Sadly, this would-be painter's devout appreciation of the wonders of Raphael has given him such an acute sense of his own nation's cultural inferiority – "the soil of American perception," he claims sorrowfully, "is a poor little barren artifical deposit" – that the canvas upon which his own masterpiece was to be painted remains blank until he goes mad and dies.

Total word count of piece: 926

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