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The Art of Arts: Rediscovering Painting [Paperback]

Anita Albus , Michael Robertson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Oct. 23 2001
In this utterly original book, Anita Albus tells the story--in the birth and triumph of oil painting, the creation of perspective, and the very nature of paint itself--of how, when, and why the eye became king of all the senses.

Albus's subjects are the inventors of easel painting in oils, the van Eyck brothers and their followers. It was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in northern Europe that oil painting radically changed the way we perceived the world: the ear, through which we had previously received all knowledge, was replaced in importance by the eye. A painter of distinction herself, Albus re-creates this revolutionary time in all its intricacies, its familiarity, and its strangeness.

The Art of Arts is thus both a dazzling cultural history and the story of two explosive inventions: the so-called third dimension of deep space through perspective, and the shockingly vivid colors of a new kind of paint. Albus makes abundantly clear how, taken together, these breakthroughs not only created a new art but altered forever our perception of the world.

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The lovingly crafted little tome The Art of Arts might become a cult classic if there are enough Jan van Eyck fans out there--or enough readers who can chew their way through 775 footnotes--to make this work of special genius even an underground bestseller. It is filled with delectable details (for example, that an image of a mill in a landscape connotes a wanton woman, complete with a page of explanations why) and myriad perspicacious observations. In discussing such masterworks as van Eyck's Madonna of Chancellor Rolin, author Anita Albus draws the reader into a vanished world of alternative perspectives, painterly depths of color and atmosphere, and the mesmerizing minutiae of late-medieval and Renaissance symbolism. The last chapter of the book, "Of Lost Colors," combines metallurgy, history, meticulous scholarship, and the author's passionate comprehension of colors in a discussion of antique pigments and their physical properties and pictorial uses.

The book's mostly paragraph-long sentences may put off some readers, and the warm, wry, even sly prose--its liveliness, in other words--may raise the hackles of the dowdy art-historical crowd (not the stylish, open-minded one). But this miniaturist's view of the northern Renaissance will copiously reward those who peruse it slowly, especially artists. Although it is possible to become lost in some chapters, as Albus tiptoes unhurriedly toward some arcane, elusive point, in the end it's hard to resist the sort of book that declares of the late 17th century: "Research into arthropods was in the air." This volume is a work of art, complete in itself, meticulously ordered according to the artist's unique vision, and handsomely "framed" by a sensitive designer. --Peggy Moorman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Painter and writer Albus (The Botanical Drama) has translated writings by the Goncourt brothers into German, and has illustrated books, including one by Claude L?vi-Strauss. This seems to have been insufficient preparation for tackling the present project, an examination of how the invention of oil painting by Jan van Eyck and his followers changed human perception. Secondary sources, particularly the great Erwin Panofsky, are quoted so heavily as to almost overshadow the project, especially since Albus's own reflections are often banal. We are told, for example, that on seeing van Eyck's Madonna of Chancellor Rolin at the Louvre Museum, "you have to rub your eyes." The prose is often redundant. In one instance, a kind of paint is called "a senile dotard." Some of this may be clumsy translation, which also refers to a "thick-as-a-fist black eye," but observations such as "[j]ust as not all art is art, not all science is science" don't help. Discussions of some painters less well known than van Eyck, such as still-life masters Georg Flegel, Johannes Goedaeart and Otto van Schriek, are somewhat more engaging, and in the last 60 pages, painters' colors are described in some detail and to some point. These pages might have made an interesting short book or pamphlet, instead of a welcome respite from a tedious treatise. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I have recommended this book to several people and now it is available in paperback! It contains many nuggests of information a traditional oil painter will treasure. For example, the lapis lazuli-based pigment used by Van Eyck in his paintings contained tiny flecks of stone which added richness and sparkle to the paint. It was also irregularly ground and refracts light differently than the modern homogeneous synthetic "ultramarine blue" pigment available today. It was precious in Van Eyck's time, but today lapis lazuli ultramarine is more costly than gold per ounce. Albus devotes much of the book to historical pigments and shares recipes for making them.
My complaint with the book is that it is a strangely-shaped volume (it is extremely narrow and tall) and is uncomfortable to hold. Still, the early chapters on Van Eyck's paintings and the historical pigments will entice painters interested in effects not possible with modern pigments.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Traditional painters and Van Eyck fans will love this book! Sept. 11 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have recommended this book to several people and now it is available in paperback! It contains many nuggests of information a traditional oil painter will treasure. For example, the lapis lazuli-based pigment used by Van Eyck in his paintings contained tiny flecks of stone which added richness and sparkle to the paint. It was also irregularly ground and refracts light differently than the modern homogeneous synthetic "ultramarine blue" pigment available today. It was precious in Van Eyck's time, but today lapis lazuli ultramarine is more costly than gold per ounce. Albus devotes much of the book to historical pigments and shares recipes for making them.
My complaint with the book is that it is a strangely-shaped volume (it is extremely narrow and tall) and is uncomfortable to hold. Still, the early chapters on Van Eyck's paintings and the historical pigments will entice painters interested in effects not possible with modern pigments.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In Praise of Painting Dec 22 2012
By M. Kane - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you want to know what painting was, the story is here. How pigments were ground and mixed. What is lapis lazuli and why the color never fades. Why some green pigments age to brown. How many layers of paint and glaze are to be found in Van Dyke's portrait of the Arnolfinis. You might be interest to read that discussion of perspective in the Arnolfini predates by tens of years Hockney's discovery of flaws, so-called. If you want to make your own pigments, recipes from the 16th century are here too.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing, beautiful design Jan. 13 2014
By leon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Albus is biased no doubt, but we don't have to agree with everything she said. Anyway, most of the things she said are spot on, if not eye opening. All artists (esp painters) should read this book.
The design of the book is equally exquisite - great typography and layout. Full colour reproduction of the paintings in question inserted in the book, some with fold-out.
5.0 out of 5 stars Cool Book Dec 13 2012
By I. Speakthetruth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed reading this book, very nice insight into the art world. Would make a nice gift for the art lover too.
5.0 out of 5 stars well expressed with a nod to the painting studio process May 30 2012
By tnNative - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This could very well be a boring book for anyone looking to clarify art history. It isn't that. It's something different. The copious footnotes are indeed there but it shows a well researched and wide ranging application of resources, they're not something to be read as the text. The writer's eye toward the physical aspect of painting is undeniable. Most painters love the connections between the historical works and the enduring thread to their current practices. The work is well researched and her writing, to me, never gets that clinical. Her history is not data but the flesh and sinew of oil painting. It's not "well illustrated" but provides a number of fold out images that reinforce her narrative points. The section dealing with the paint itself is a glimpse into the sense and interest of the painter about the importance of color, it's visual function, surface substance, and how the artist was connected to the growing aspect of scientific personal discovery. If you like to go back to a book that you've read before and randomly open it and just start to read...it can be that kind of book. I suspect every reader will find a section that drags a bit. It's not a thriller. Lovely written, often poetic, the kind of book that ends up on your shelf.
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