Sometimes the art of looking requires an extra level of instruction. Last May, on the Greek island where he lives, one of my oldest friends took me with a small group into a Byzantine chapel dating back to the 13th century, celebrated for its wall paintings.

After I had stared dutifully but unmoved at a fresco of Saint Nikolaos, finding it somehow hard to relate to, my friend, an art historian, observed tactfully that I might be looking at it in the wrong way.

He then made an electrifying point. Ever since the Renaissance, when we first formed the habit of looking at paintings as windows ...


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