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
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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.
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