An Il­lus­trated His­tory of Books in Paint

Foreword Reviews - - Contents - by Matt Suther­land, Michelle Anne Schingler

Jamie Cam­plin, Maria Ranauro, Getty Pub­li­ca­tions (OC­TO­BER) Hard­cover $34.95 (256pp) 978-1-60606-586-0

As props go, a vase of flow­ers or bowl of fruit may qual­ify as the painter’s fa­vorite sub­ject—ex­cept­ing, of course, a por­trait of the per­son pay­ing the artist’s fee in ad­vance. But artists through­out his­tory have also shown a fond­ness for the printed word. In fact, the great masters seemed es­pe­cially in­trigued by the use of books. Why? Was it to make evoca­tive sug­ges­tions about the hu­man sub­jects of their works? Or were they sim­ply im­ply­ing that books are beau­ti­ful, im­por­tant cul­tural ob­jects, as well as a flat­ter­ing re­flec­tion back on the painter? In any case, the vis­ual and lit­er­ary arts had a thing for each other, and five hun­dred years of that re­la­tion­ship are the win­some topic of The Art of Reading: An Il­lus­trated His­tory of Books in Paint.

Cer­tain paint­ings re­veal men’s at­ti­tudes to­ward women, if we trust the mor­al­iz­ing crit­ics of Au­gus­tus Leopold Egg’s Past and Present, No. 1 (1858)—de­pict­ing an adul­ter­ous wife col­lapsed on the floor at news of her af­fair reach­ing her hus­band, along with the scan­dalous name “Balzac” on the cover of a book within her reach. Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Lam­bert’s The Son­net moves in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, fea­tur­ing a volup­tuous nude wo­man as the imag­i­nary cre­ation of the son­net be­ing read by a stern man.

In all, more than one hun­dred and fifty paint­ings are in­cluded, ac­com­pa­nied by all man­ner of cul­tural com­men­tary and his­tor­i­cal con­text from Jamie Cam­plin and Maria Ranauro. “Spring Land­fall” 2006 pho­tomon­tage from Hearts and Bones: A Ret­ro­spec­tive of Tom Cham­bers’ Pho­tomon­tage Art, by Tom Cham­bers (Pho­tog­ra­pher). Used with per­mis­sion from Uni­corn Pub­lish­ing.

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